Title: The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac
Plot Type: Magical Realism
Ratings: Violence—3; Sensuality—3; Dark Humor—2
As you would expect, Eli's preoccupation with Mr. Krantz affects his family members in all kinds of negative ways. What you wouldn't expect are the monsters—both literal and figural—that haunt all of their lives. The literal monsters include a flock of ominously prescient starlings, a bird-legged purveyor of disturbing oddities, a lake monster, an evil gypsy fortune teller, a tentacled grandmother, and Mr. Krantz himself. The figurative—very personal—monsters include guilt, hysteria, paranoia, rage, and rebellion.
This is a weirdly terrific book, with well-drawn characters and inventive situations. The author weaves supernatural elements from myths and fairy tales into a family saga that lays bare the human frailties found to some degree in any family, although I must admit that the Roebuck family is quirkier and creepier than most. The writing style is a mash-up of the plot peculiarities of Ransom Riggs, the character eccentricities of early John Irving (e.g., Setting Free the Bears, The World According to Garp) and the grotesque imagination of Franz Kafka. Occasionally, a character (like Eli's first wife) fades into a one-dimensional cut-out, but generally, Shields does a great job of creating a wildly diverse family group. Among the weird plot elements, the only one that feels slightly amiss is the Zoophilia Support Group (ZSG) that Agnes eventually joins (a very Irving-esque contrivance). The puppy babies are a bit over the top, even for this quirky novel. The ZSG does have its humorously ironic moments, though, particularly since this all-female group is led by an earnest but condescending man who lauds the group as the "first women-only Inland Empire chapter" and tells them that "We're all here to help one another. We're here to stop loving beasts."—paternalistically including himself as one of the "We."
As Shields tells her story, she skillfully intermingles mythological events and real-life experiences, mysterious creatures and mystifying humans, arcane monsters and mundane misfits, until the reader is drawn into a bemused state of suspense, waiting with bated breath to see what bizarre event or entity will generate the next fateful twist or turn in the chronicle of the ill-fated Roebuck family. Click HERE to read the first chapter of this novel.