The Glister
John Burnside
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Buy *The Glister* by John Burnside online

The Glister
John Burnside
Nan A. Talese
240 pages
March 2009
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This provocative novel is set against a bleak background: a defunct chemical plant leaking its poisons into the land for miles around. Strange life forms have morphed from the familiar, roaming the trash-strewn land near a poisoned forest, proliferating alongside the rodents. Jobs are nonexistent in the Innertown since the closing of Leo Glisterís plant, the last to go. Now gangs of disaffected youth gather, planning their next foray into malicious mischief.

Menace hovers over all, the now-routine disappearance of young boys weighing on citizenís minds. Meanwhile, the police temporize and make excuses for the disappearances: the boys have run off for adventure, they will return one day. Nobody believes the police, but most are too exhausted to pursue it further, even the distraught parents. The presence of menace is palpable, if not specific.

The story unfolds through the voices of assorted characters, a combination of horror and mystery. The voice of Leonard Wilson, a fifteen-year-old boy, reveals the institutionalized cowardice of an industrialized society facing the consequences of its damage to the very earth that must sustain life. Only Leonard remains unscathed by the tainted town; only his integrity is left somewhat intact, but even that is under siege: ďYou donít go looking for the devil, son. Didnít anyone ever tell you that?Ē

Leonard has a brief physical affair with beautiful, shallow Elspeth, indulges in a dangerous complicity with a local gang of misfits who roam the night in search of things to destroy, and forms a friendship with an infrequent visitor, the Moth Man. This is industrialized society at its predictable worst, a barren moral landscape with no hope of restoration. Somewhere in this bleak arena lurks a killer who savages children, the local police officer bending to the pressures of those who control the town.

Such a devastated terrain is unfortunately easy to imagine, as are the unhappy inhabitants of the Innertown. Location is irrelevant; this is a tragedy that bears no limitations. It is the ending that leaves me confused. I expected an answer no matter how gruesome, but as Leonard Wilson embraces his fate and an ineffective policeman his just rewards, the reader is left with only speculation and impressions.

The novel is horribly effective and utterly believable, but the ending leaves me dissatisfied. The future is not far away, but The Glister remains inexplicable. The story rocks all the way to the end, when for some reason Burnside refuses to leave his reader with more than a confusing resolution.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2009

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