There are a handful of novelists from the past century whom I think of as sorcerers. Like Merlin of Arthurian fame, such authors (T.H. White, A.S. Byatt and others) find a way to inhabit vast stretches of time, accounting for everything that’s happened before and what’s to come, making past and future converge with vertiginous force onto the present moment. Wordsworth and Coleridge, Keats and both Shelleys, Blake and Byron all worked this time-dissolving magic as well, weaving into a single spell the opposite principles of ancient myth and modernity, city and countryside, nature and the supernatural, individual history and collective fate.
Still in his 30s, Max Porter has securely joined this order of poets and novelists with two short novels. In Grief Is the Thing With Feathers (2015), a widower with two little sons suffers the shattering visitation of Crow. There is no way around grief, Crow instructs; you must grind through it, all its bitter nonsense, derangement and chaos. Now, in Lanny, Porter turns this same screw of his imagination, offering the ultimate incarnation of nature and its pitiless sovereignty: a being who haunts the edges of a village, chronicling every word uttered in pub, house or street. It calls to the sweet, brilliant boy Lanny, drawing him into the woods, away from his parents’ home and from his kind old friend Mad Pete. The creature summons little Lanny to a doom we cannot know or understand, even after we’ve read this magnificent story.
This awful, awesome personage—this human-hungry thing—goes by many names, such as Dead Papa Toothwort, Pan, Oberon or the Green Man. Toothwort sings the ancient, recurrent Song of the Earth, rising above a chorus of perplexed and panicked human voices. Boy, mother, father, artist, the entire village—all must face the music. All are done for.
Lanny is one of the most beautiful novels of the past decade.