Picks and Pans Review: A Face at the Window
by Dennis McFarland
Splintering families are a McFarland specialty. The author's quietly mesmerizing first novel, The Music Room, dealt with a young man's attempts to come to terms with his brother's suicide, while School for the Blind centered on the complex and troubled memories of an elderly brother and sister. Now, in the phantasmagoric and frustrating A Face at the Window, McFarland is decidedly upping the stakes. He focuses on a fragile family and the way it's all but undone by a troubling clan of ghosts.
The story is narrated by Cookson Selway, the son of a sociopath who has a history of drug abuse (he made a bundle in the cocaine trade) and a less documented link to the paranormal. With their beloved only child settled in boarding school, Selway and his wife, a mystery novelist, settle for a protracted stay in England at a hotel recommended by their broker. But almost immediately, Selway begins hearing music no one else can hear, seeing people who register only with him. He becomes increasingly attached to these spirits and increasingly detached from the realm of the real—putting his marriage, ultimately his life, at peril.
The story is rarely less than compelling, and McFarland's angular prose gleams. But this new novel never makes sufficiently clear why the ghosts glom on to Selway. McFarland seems to suggest that the gaggle of ghosts represent different aspects of the troubled Selway, but the connection is never quite fused. This journey into the paranormal begs for a bigger payoff. (Broadway, $25)
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