The Caretaker of Lorne Field
Jack Durkin has inherited the job of clearing Lorne Field from his father, who in turn inherited it from his father, who in turn inherited it from his father, and so on and son going back 300 years. You see the weeds of Lorne Field aren’t just any weeds but maelvelont, intelligent, vicious creatures that if left to grow will destroy the world in days. Or so Durkin believes much to the chagrin of his wife and children who endure his claims that he is saving the world every day, while being forced to live in near poverty since the caretaker’s stipend isn’t what it used to be.
The oscillation between doubt and certainty plays a very large role in The Caretaker of Lorne Field; particularly when it comes to the reader’s own involvement in the story. The narrative perspective of the novel is fixed firmly in the third person limited split infrequently between two characters: Durkin and his wife. Durkin’s certainty feels so rock solid from the start of the novel it is only due to the additional perspective from his wife that doubt even begins to creep in. That doubt occurs over a slow and subtle creep that is both thrilling and terrifying. Zeltserman’s lavish attention on Durkin’s characterization and our limited view of characters outside of that perspective puts the reader’s judgment into question right alongside Durkin’s. Complicating matters is that the event that causes the most doubt occurs off screen during one of Zeltserman’s brief excursions to a new character.
The Caretaker of Lorne Field works well as horror on multiple levels. On the one hand watching not just a man’s life, but a centuries old legacy, torn apart is absolutely tragic and quite terrifying on its own. Add in the potential threat of horrid monsters that will rip apart the world as a result and you get quite caught hoping on the one hand that Durkin is as mad as everyone thinks he is, fearing that he isn’t, and sometimes echoing Durkin’s own hopes that the vicious weeds of Lorne’s Field will show the world that he really is its saviour. Zeltserman’s writing, while not diverging into outright laugh out loud humor, invests Durkin with a crotchety old man vibe that certainly adds a gentle element of black humor to the proceedings particular in Durkin’s interactions with his wife.
The Caretaker of Lorne Field also serves quite well as a somewhat cogent commentary on the modern world. The mocking tolerance of the town towards Durkin’s work serves quite well as a metaphor for the marginalization of the elderly in our own society while their doubt as to the truth behind his work serves well as a commentary on the loss of wonder and mystery that seems to be one of the hallmarks of the modern world. That last bit is can be particularly cogent in a young lawyer’s desire to commercialize the legend of Lorne Field, a lawyer who uses Salem as his template. What Zeltserman seems to be asking, with a bit of a smile and wink, is “what if?”
While it never achieves an outright air of terror or dread The Caretaker of Lorne Field manages to feel like an extended campfire story or cautionary tale. The eerie and frightening aspects of the novel are woven tightly into the human drama never taking center stage over the trials and tribulations of Jack Durkin. Landing somewhere at the intersection of social commentary, horror, and family drama The Caretaker of Lorne Field is a wholly enjoyable novel that is difficult to put down. If you’re looking for new and interesting fiction to read that is a bit off the beaten path I highly recommend the uniformly excellent The Caretaker of Lorne Field.