Heavy subject. Breezy presentation. That’s really the brilliance of Clay McLeod Chapman. The ability to pick apart a heady emotional construct in a way that’s engaging, insightful, and most of all frightening!
In his latest novel, Clay McLeod Chapman preys on the darkest of our fears. A demonic cocktail of the inadequacies of parenting mixed with society’s unwavering need to make sense of the unknown by pushing nonsensical but brain-pleasing narratives.
Set simultaneously in 1982 and 2013, Whisper Down the Lane features a fascinating device where each chapter vacillates between Sean (Damned If You Do) and Richard (Damned If You Don’t) who are two individuals who’ve been deeply and spiritually impacted by the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.
Dungeons and Dragons, Black Sabbath, and even Cabbage Patch Dolls — yes, Cabbage Patch Dolls — are all subject to our nation’s collective ease with technological change, the Cold War, and shifting morals. Clay McLeod Chapman slowly and interestingly metes out the subtle ways that church-going members of our communities can viciously glom on to something as benign as a Cabbage Patch Doll or a McDonalds Happy Meal toy.
Five-year-old Sean becomes the victim and vessel for a terrified and Satan-obsessed community hell-bent on pinning their sexually repressed frustrations on a well-meaning and beloved elementary teacher. Sean is forced to contend with the possibility that Satanic ritual abuse may have very well occurred in his school and he may hold the truth about this freaky happening.
At the other end of the spectrum is a late 30s teacher, Richard, who’s dealing with similar issues set in the modern era. A questionable marriage, a new stepson, and modern parents with very modern educational demands. Both Richard and Sean are connected in a way that holds the magnifying glass to our collective fears.
Clay McLeod Chapman is able to euphemistically explore many of the themes and demands of our current-day educational system. Underfunded. Teachers are constantly under unnecessary scrutiny and unrealistic demands. Under attack by right-wing lunatics convinced that there are Adrenochrome harvesting Satanists under every school desk.
Whisper Down The Lane is a wonderful dissection of our most banal and unlikely worries as parents and members of our local communities. While the Satanic Panic of the 1980s has evolved into lizard people and baby harvests — which honestly makes the 1980s seem quaint by comparison — what hasn’t changed is the lunacy all parents are capable of in defending their children. The close-knit duality between Sean and Richard that Clay McLeod Chapman allows to unfold shows a very dark and sinister psychological underbelly within the most even-keeled among us.
Run to your local store down the lane or pick up your copy here!