A ghost having sex with a manatee? Strange imagery abounds in Gary McMahon’s The Concrete Grove, the first part in a trilogy about a rundown housing development that’s apparently also a portal into another dimension.
Single-parent Lana, her daughter Hailey and another resident of the area called Tom come into contact with the effects of this another realm while dodging a local loanshark and dogs wearing human faces. It’s a slow boil, and murky throughout; things progress very slowly and not much is revealed. What are the hummingbirds? Or the things in the TVs? By the end of the book I’m not much wiser about any of what I read.
While the writing is reasonably fluent, the pacing is a bit odd. Stylewise it seems like a cross between young adult fantasy and dark fantasy. It’s all very disconcerting, but not in a nice, giggly way. I admit I may have issues with this sort of suburban fantasy; while unicorns in bars might be intended to inspire awe, my own reaction is more on the lines of damn, that’s just ridiculous.
In the end the book just seems like a mess. There’re many ideas here but none of them are reasonably well explored or explained. Sure, weird for weird’s sake can be ok, but not if the weirdness comes consistently in such droves that it overwhelms everything else. The Concrete Grove just overdoes it all, it becomes a smorgasbord of manatees and hummingbirds, yet it doesn’t amount to much more than the sum of its ingredients.
A special mention must go to the surprise appearance of Arthur Machen, it’s a nice tip of the hat but sadly so very incongruous. But so’s everything else in the book.