cover image The Riverman

The Riverman

Aaron Starmer. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $15.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-36309-3

Starmer (The Only Ones) explores the relationship between creation and theft, reality and fantasy in this haunting novel, narrated retrospectively by Alistair Cleary as he looks back at the autumn of 1989. It's then that a classmate, Fiona Loomis, invites him to write her biography. After 12-year-old Alistair tentatively agrees, Fiona tells him about her repeated trips to a land called Aquavania (via a cylinder of water in her house's boiler), where she and other children can shape reality as they choose. Alistair is understandably skeptical, believing that Fiona has invented this fantasy to cope with some kind of trauma, but the novel's strength is in the pervasive aura of unknowing that Starmer creates and sustains. Is Fiona's uncle a scarred veteran or a menace? Is the Riverman hunting down Aquavania's residents responsible for the disappearance of children in the real world? Starmer makes the possibilities presented by Fiona's stories feel no less improbable (or unsettling) than the scenarios Alistair constructs to explain them away, or the actions he takes in an attempt to protect her. Ages 10%E2%80%9314. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Mar.)