by Charles Lambert
208 pages, Aardvark Bureau
Review by J. S. Colley
Morgan Fletcher is scarred, both emotionally and physically. After his father and mentally unstable mother die, and his sister abandons him, he becomes a self-imposed recluse on the family’s sprawling estate. A benevolent housekeeper, Engel, mysteriously arrives to take care of him and, soon after, stray children begin to appear. First comes five-year-old David and then others, sometimes one at a time, sometimes in groups. Morgan takes the children’s comings and goings in stride, but he occasionally looks askance at them and wonders exactly who they are and where they came from.
When one of the younger children becomes ill, we are introduced to another major character, Dr. Crane. The doctor all but abandons his other patients to provide medical care to the household and companionship to Morgan. He soon procures a room in the vast house. Like Morgan, he is trying to understand how he fits into the world. His innocent curiosity leads him to discover strange, hidden items on the estate.
The first two-thirds of this book had me making notes such as: keeping me deliciously off-kilter; I don’t know what is real and what isn’t. What is the meaning of the strange items the children and Dr. Crane find? Are the children—all of it—a figment of Morgan’s imagination, made manifest in order to help him come to terms with his life, or are they something more sinister? The answer is not what I anticipated.
This is a beautifully written and atmospheric novel. While personal redemption appears to be the underlying theme at the beginning of the story, the narrative shifts focus during the climatic events. If readers approache this novel as a scary, gothic tale, they might be disappointed—although it is that—but, in the end, it takes on a broader symbolic meaning.
As an allegory, The Children’s Home can be interpreted in many different ways, depending on your political and social ideology: is it a treatise on corporations and inherited wealth, or a commentary on how we “grow” our children and send them out into the world, or is it an indictment on how we treat our unborn? Even if we can’t quite put our finger on it, we know that there is evil in the world and this author is attempting to show us just how entrenched it is.
On a more personal level, Morgan must accept his scarred face—not turn away from it—as if he is at fault for the moral failings of those around him: his father, as a collector of wealth and objects; his mother as a self-absorbed narcissist; and his sister for how she controls the old family business.
A few reviewers have noted a dissatisfaction with the ending, perhaps because Morgan’s connection to this greater symbolism is oblique. The reader is left feeling slightly unmoored while contemplating the loose tie between Morgan’s personal, wounded life and the evil that defaces the entire world. But maybe that’s the point—we are all personally, and universally, conduits for what happens in this world, even if we can’t always fathom the connection.
This is one of those novels where I’d love to sit down and have a conversation with the author. As is, if I discussed things in any greater detail, there would be spoilers.