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Library Journal Review
A wood spirit known as Papa Toothwort hovers over a village outside of London, surveying the passing scene while snatches of conversation swirl around him. Observing everything with folksy humor, he takes particular interest in Lanny, a curious young boy who lives with his mother, a former actress now at home writing thrillers, and his Dad, who works as an asset manager in the city. To encourage Lanny's creative bent, Mum arranges lessons for him with their neighbor, "Mad Pete," whose glory days as an avant-garde artist are mostly in the past and who's viewed as dodgy by his fellow villagers. The unlikely friendship that blossoms between the old eccentric and the young boy troubles the nosy neighbors. So when tragedy strikes, it comes as no surprise that Pete is first to fall under suspicion. However, it isn't long before Lanny's parents, village outsiders, are also considered suspect. VERDICT This imaginative novel starts off dreamily, picks up speed, and races to a propulsive conclusion. A guaranteed edge-of-your-seat read. [See Prepub Alert, 11/26/18.]-Barbara Love, formerly with Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
In his bold second novel, Porter (Grief Is the Thing with Feathers) combines pastoral, satire, and fable in the entrancing tale of a boy who vanishes from an idyllic British village in the present day. Lanny is an elfin, perpetually singing child "more obviously made of the same atoms as the earth than most people these days seem to be." He is a mystery to his parents, recent transplants to the picturesque, increasingly fashionable (and expensive) town: the mother is a former actress working on a gruesome novel, and the father's a yuppie commuting to London. Lanny's somewhat cloying eccentricity ("Which do you think is more patient, an idea or a hope?") captivates a reclusive artist, "Mad Pete," who gives him drawing lessons, and enchants Dead Papa Toothwort, the town's ancient and resilient presiding spirit: "[The villagers] build new homes, cutting into his belt, and he pops up adapted, to scare and define." Toothwort is a mischievous, Green Man-esque deity who prowls the village "chew[ing] the noise of the place" and especially enjoys feasting on Lanny's song. When Lanny goes missing, the suspicion falls on Mad Pete, and the resulting media blitz turns the village into a "hideous ecosystem of voyeurism," exposing its rifts and class resentments. In the novel's satisfying conclusion, Toothwort stages a hallucinatory play that reveals Lanny's fate. This is a dark and thrilling excavation into a community's legend-packed soil. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The much anticipated second novel by Porter (Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, 2016) delivers quite the punch with its combination of unlikely effervescence, authentic emotion, and literary exploration. Deliberate without being obvious, Porter explores the scope of the storytelling tradition in this tale of an unnamed, present-day English village in commuting distance from London. Dead Papa Toothwort, a folkloric figure in the mode of the ancient figure of the Green Man, is tuned into the lives of the villagers and provides a mythical stratum to the suspenseful plot about a missing boy, the titular Lanny. Alternating the points of view of Lanny's parents, Jolie and Robert, and the village art teacher, Mad Pete, Porter builds a complex but eminently readable story in which he considers the nature of trust, parenting, and community. The author's deftness in rendering typical contemporary reactions to the situation while also delving into the past and the imagination reveals the depth of human life and the fine line between the mystical and the everyday. Porter has created both an entertaining tale and a novel of exceptionally creative experimentation and genre extension.--Shoba Viswanathan Copyright 2019 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
An off-center sophomore novel by Porter (Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, 2016) steeped in British folklore and a canny sense of the uncanny."He knows people were cheated of the story they expected. Or wanted." So writes Porter toward the end of this slender story, which turns on a surprising twist indeed. A couple of hundred pages earlier, at the start, the first character to appear bears the unlikely name of Dead Papa Toothwort. He has been waiting patiently across the seasons, and now Dead Papa Toothwort, coughing up "Victorian rubbish," listens for a newcomer to the village, the child of once-ambitious but now resigned Londoners who have moved an hour outside the metropolis, still within commuting distance, to get some peace and quiet. Lanny is more gifted than his Mum and Dad know, and when he disappears, it develops that he has taken full advantage of the freedom his smarts have given him: "Parents of missing Lanny admit he was free to wander the village," scolds the press. Numerous players enter into the story along the way, including an eccentric artist known as Mad Pete, who knows more than he lets on, and an earth-mother type called Peggy, who communes with a gnarled oak chest to send a message: "I know you. / I know what you're up to. / Give the boy back." The chthonic spirit of the place, Dead Papa himself, is in no mood to comply, and meanwhile, as the story progresses, it seems that Lanny has a few supernatural abilities himself: "It was easier to accept that Dad was lying than it was to have no rational explanation," recounts Mum of one incident. Porter is an enchanter with words; at no point does his story, recalling British tales of the Green Man, seem improbable, even as its eerier and more inexplicable moments come faster, revealing the leafy darkness that threatens the unwary.Elegantly mysterious: a story worthy of an M.R. James or even a Henry James and a welcome return by an author eminently worth reading. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.