“Zephyr, Alabama, is an idyllic hometown for eleven-year-old Cory Mackenson—a place where monsters swim the river deep and friends are forever. Then, one cold spring morning, Cory and his father witness a car plunge into a lake—and a desperate rescue attempt brings his father face-to-face with a terrible vision of death that will haunt him forever.
As Cory struggles to understand his father’s pain, his eyes are slowly opened to the forces of good and evil that are manifested in Zephyr. From an ancient, mystical woman who can hear the dead and bewitch the living, to a violent clan of moonshiners, Cory must confront the secrets that hide in the shadows of his hometown—for his father’s sanity and his own life hang in the balance.” – Amazon’s summary
This is a story of the magic of childhood (along with sprinkles of actual magic that only children will accept with no question) mingling with the evils of the world. Cory’s recollections from the year that he and his father stumbled across a violent crime shows how both these things, magic and evil, live side by side everywhere. Cory watched the knowledge of the crime and the inability to do anything about it almost kill his father. As he watched, he tried to solve it himself – but he was also going about the normal activities of children. He and his friends enjoyed summer, running around the town, and having run-ins with bullies and the criminals in town. Cory’s tight band of friends have the same comradery as the Loser’s Club in It and the kids from Stand by Me. Each one is loveable and you care for them just as much as Cory does. I’ve always adored the way authors will include admiring thoughts about each other within friend groups, and the way Cory praises his friends lifted my heart.
Since the novel is set in Alabama in the 60’s, it’s not surprising that race played an important role in the town. There is a separate community for the “colored folks,” and they are expected to stay there. Some they even fear, such as The Lady – an old woman who is believed to be a witch. Cory’s parents are not racist and so he flinches at the hate he becomes aware of in some of his neighbors – some of whom take jabs at his family for associating with The Lady and a handyman whom she enlisted to be their personal fix-it man after one of Cory’s heroic trysts that The Lady was thankful for. Though his father is not racist, he was afraid of The Lady because he thought her magic was unholy. The Lady wants to help release Cory’s father from the heavy burden laid upon him, because she too experienced dreams linked to the dead man who went down with the car into the lake. However, Cory’s father refuses to go to her time and time again out of his fear. All the time he is agonizing over what he saw and still sees in his dreams, Cory gets closer and closer to the truth. And once Cory’s father finally accepts help from The Lady, the mystery picks up a lot of speed and both Cory and his father find themselves confronted with the conclusion separately. It all collides and, after a frantic car chase, the son and father find themselves back at the edge of that lake – but this time with answers and a resolution.
Robert McCammon writes beautifully. The magic that Cory feels around him is transferred to the reader through his words. The small details of southern life are comforting and true to life and helps to transport you completely into the story. The reader is also reminded of the magic of childhood that they may have already lost completely or realize has been leaking out of them without even feeling it. Cory’s childhood was certainly more action-filled than mine, but in the moments where he was just horsing around with his friends, I was reminded of simpler times and felt that magic again.