Pub. Date: 1/10/2019
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
A young boy is haunted by a voice in his head in this acclaimed epic of literary horror from the author of .Christopher is seven years old.Christopher is the new kid in town.Christopher has an imaginary friend.
Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with her child. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It's as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out.At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. for six long days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a treehouse in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.Twenty years ago, Stephen Chbosky's made readers everywhere feel infinite. Now, Chbosky has returned with an epic work of literary horror, years in the making, whose grand scale and rich emotion redefine the genre. Read it with the lights on.Since writing The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky has focused on screenwriting, making Imaginary Friend his first novel since 1999. It forms a major departure in both genre and style. Horror is a hard genre to nail. Although we all share certain deep fears in our Unconscious, we still all have different fright levels. Over the decades of his career, Stephen King has risen to the very top of the genre due to his ability to find those deep fears and play with them masterfully. He nails the slow build up of dread, the horror of a wise-before-their-age child, the monsters that hide in the dark, and above all, the cruelty of a grown up world. Each of these are frequently mimicked, but hardly ever truly surpassed. Imaginary Friend plays with many of the same themes: lost children, dark woods, cruel adults, the question of what is good and what is evil. Chbosky's novel left me truly torn, as I did enjoy it, but only finished it through sheer stubbornness and perseverance.
The set-up for Imaginary Friend is brilliant. A young boy and his mother arrive in a quiet, solitary town and shortly after, he disappears into the woods for days. When he returns he has changed and slowly the town around him begins to boil over. This roughly describes the first 2/3rds of the Imaginery Friend, at which point the novel seems to lose focus and becomes messier. An ending is difficult, especially if you're trying to imbue your scary story with the larger imagery of religion, conflict, Good vs. Evil, the Final Stand, etc. What this results in is that Imaginary Friend drags on. You can't help but lose interest after the second 'Do or Die' moment, which just ends in setting up the next 'Do or Die' moment. The twists and turns also keep coming, asking more and more suspension of disbelief from the reader. The stakes simply aren't high enough anymore at that point because you can only take your reader to the breaking point so often before it stops being dramatic or, well, good. I also had an issue with how cliche some of the imagery and character development is. My issue isn't that the tropes or characteristics are recognizable, it's that they're passe and never mined for anything deeper than their surface. The women in this novel are subjected to some truly horrible experiences, suffering both physically and mentally in a way the male characters don't. It is undeniable that unfortunately violence is a part of many women's lives, but Chbosky does nothing with these topics in his novel, which means that it comes across slightly antiquated and, again, cliche. The same is true for the religious imagery and themes in the book. You can see them coming from a mile off, but in the end they fell flat for me.
The novel's main problem is that it's way too long. Stephen King is the master of the genre because of how convincingly chilling he can be in few words. Imaginary Friend doesn't seem to stop. It gets more and more elaborate in its hundreds of pages which only weighs the progress of the narrative down. The cause for this is that Chbosky seems too enamored with his own mythology to cut out what was unnecessary. There are frequent repetitions of images and even language that become eye-roll inducing rather than scary. Many of the ideas and themes in Imaginary Friend are truly scary and could have a lot of impact, but being repeated so frequently they lose all their power. This means that, unfortunately, the payoff at the end is not really worth the journey. This also plays into the novels other problem: the many points of view. Much of it is told from Christopher's perspective, which means we're viewing Chbosky's world through the eyes of a 7-year old.. Christopher is a well-written character and the reader does start to genuinely care about him. However, too much is placed on his shoulders, both within the story and as a narrative device for the story itself, which means he becomes rather unbelievable towards the end. Aside from him, there is a whole array of characters, each of which has their narrative described in detail, which slows the whole novel down.
I give this novel...
Imaginary Friend is both an homage to Stephen King, as well as an attempt to dethrone him, it seems. Chbosky goes to great lengths to create a mythology of his own and thereby loses the plot and the reader. At over 700 pages, Imaginary Friend asks too much of its reader without offering enough in return.