Once again, I seem to be in the minority because my review of a book will not be like the many, many glowing reviews it has received. The Chalk Man is mediocre at best, just a diluted version of Stephen King’s novella, The Body.
In The Body, a group of boys finds a dead body and one of them, now an adult, narrates a retrospective of what happened; chapters concerning the present are interspersed throughout. One boy struggles with the death of a brother; one has older parents; one boy is abused by a father; one is overweight; and the brother of one of the boys is the leader of a gang of bullies.
In The Chalk Man, twelve-year-old Eddie Adams and three of his friends (Metal Mickey, Fat Gav, and Hoppo) find a body. Ed, thirty years later, narrates the story of what happened; that story alternates between chapters set in 1986 and those set in 2016. The friends are forced to re-examine the murder and other crimes that were committed around that time. One boy changes after the death of his brother; Eddie has parents that “were older than other parents”; Nicky, also a member of the group, always has bruises and is never seen “without a brown or purple mark somewhere; Fat Gav is overweight; and Sean, the leader of an older group of bullies, is Metal Mickey’s brother. And these are just some of the similarities; if I were still a high school English teacher, I might encourage a student to write an essay comparing the two books!
The Chalk Man is full of plot weaknesses. There are so many coincidences; for example, the many connections among various characters are incredible. In both the past and the present, characters appear and take up residence in the town at the most opportune time. No one, not even an adult who should be well aware of medical confidentiality, thinks about the possible serious consequences of actions. The climax is over-the-top and outlandish; it requires much too much suspension of disbelief. And then there’s the last box that Ed takes with him at the end! Despite the book’s warnings about “assuming”, any astute reader will know the contents of that box. But is the reader really supposed to believe that Ed kept such a “treasure” and convinced himself he did it “To hold on to something. To keep it safe”?!
The author tried to create suspense but did so in amateurish ways, using certain techniques over and over. For instance, chapters often end with cliffhanger statements like “’I know who really killed her’” and “The worst had finally come” and “Chloe was gone.” Ed often has nightmarish dreams (which he calls “lucid dreaming”) that are supposed to add to the creepiness factor; their repeated occurrence just becomes annoying. Some scenes which are supposed to be horrific just don’t work. The fight at a funeral ends up being unintentionally funny. And didn’t Stephen King have exactly the same thing happen in Pet Sematary?
What also becomes tedious is the many clichés that Ed spouts as wisdom. Are readers supposed to be amazed at the profundity of statements like “Often, what comes with age is not wisdom but intolerance” and “We’re all just pretending to be civilized, when, deep down, we’re not” and “We all make mistakes. We all have good and bad in us” and “We ask questions that we hope will give us the truth we want to hear”?
Like chalk drawings exposed to the elements, this book’s fame will not be long-lasting. Read Stephen King’s The Body or watch Stand by Me, the film adaptation, instead.