October 23, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

toplinToplin by Michael McDowell


Toplin is not a horror novel. It elicits a wide swath of emotions — sadness, pity, disgust, and despair, to name a few — but it doesn’t quite horrify. It’s dark, but to call it horror suggests it’s something it’s not. Horror is a genre for people who like to embrace the darkness; Toplin is for the kinds of readers who like to confront it.

The book is a look into the mind of a deranged man where nothing can be taken at face value. He’s the most unreliable narrator, convinced of his own perfection in a story where everything is wrong. We follow his manias for a few days when his perfectly ordered world is thrown into disarray, all thanks to a simple sign in a store window.

Toplin is a book that can’t be trusted. It’s weird and surreal, a result of insanity that barely touches on reality. Its imagery is disturbing and disquieting, its conclusions vague and inconclusive. It succeeds at what it wants to do, which is take us into a disordered mind, and its intimacy brings us closer to the darkness that most of us would like. It reminds me somewhat of American Psycho, especially in the attention to and obsession with detail our narrator brings to the story.

McDowell has done something noteworthy with Toplin, and those who can stomach the ride and follow the twists and turns of its narrator will find an unusual but effective story. It doesn’t attempt to reassure the reader, nor does it provide a simple way for readers to decipher what’s real and what’s not. This is a book for readers who like a challenge, and for readers who want to stare into the darkness without flinching.

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