Keith Donohue’s The Boy Who Drew Monsters is a slow building and eerie tale of a family haunted by a terrible tragedy. Jack Peter Keenan is ten years old and was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. In the old days, the days before, he was a difficult but loving child. He was able to function in the world and loved his mother dearly. But all that changed three years ago, when Jack and his friend Nick nearly drowned in the ocean. Since then, Jack has become withdrawn. He won’t leave the house on the shores of Maine, he lashes out when people touch him, even his mother. Jack has retreated into the world inside his head, and his only outlet is his drawings. He used to draw many things, but lately all he draws are monsters.
Donohue builds the characters and the mountain sense of dread slowly and carefully. Jack’s parents, Holly and Tim, and beginning to collapse under the pressure of caring for their son. The house in costal Maine was meant to be a vacation home, but now one of them must always be there. They disagree about what they should do about Jack. It is the portrait of a slowly disintegrating marriage full of frustrations and hidden pain. And then Tim starts seeing an apparition on the dunes; Holly hears strange sounds at night, and Jack’s drawings seem to come to life.
This is an intricately crafted psychological drama focusing on a small number of characters each haunted by the near-tragedy three years ago. Jack and Nick are bound together in a strange friendship by shared experience, and their families are irrevocably linked in their own patterns of secrets and jealousy.
Ultimately the ending looses the powerful sense of ambiguity that infused most of the novel, and the final revelation is less surprising than intended, but it functions equally as a slow march towards an inevitable doom.
Keith Donohue’s great strengths are in his sense of character and gift for constructing a pervasively eerie and unsettling mood. The Boy Who Drew Monsters was one of my favorite novels of the year.
*Received a Copy from NetGalley for Review