Title: The Watcher
Author: James Howe
Length: 173 pages
My star rating: ★ ★ ★
In the distance, she could hear the steady roar of the ocean. She ran along strange paths, past wild blueberry bushes and tall reeds whispering reeds
wild blueberries and whispering reeds
Until she came to the dunes and then she ran across those and at last she came to the ocean.
Her heart was happy and sad at the same time.
Happy because the ocean went on forever and promised freedom.
Every day, a young girl sits on a set of wooden stairs going down to the beach and watches. In particular, she watches the other main characters—a fourteen-year-old boy named Evan and his family, as well as a lifeguard named Chris—and imagines they are part of a fairytale world where she lives trapped in a beast’s castle. Evan, meanwhile, tries to come to terms with the possibility that his parents may soon divorce, and Chris battles demons of his own.
The Watcher is more of a novella than an actual novel and deals with some weighty topics, child death, abuse, and divorce among them. Unfortunately, because of its brevity and the comparative size of its cast, these topics all feel somewhat rushed and underdeveloped, as do the characters themselves.
That’s unfortunate, because James Howe has a way with words. I liked his choice to interweave the titular “Watcher’s” fairy tale fantasy with actual events, especially since these sequences were virtually the only insight he provided into her otherwise mute, almost invisible character. That said, I think it was a device put to better use in Antonia Michaelis’ longer novel, The Storyteller—also a weighty story, but one supported by its length and character development.
Howe did not play much with setting or plot, either. I’m a fan of character studies, but again, even that aspect of Howe’s book was hindered by its length.
Ultimately, The Watcher was a thoughtful story with some truly poetic passages. It handles some intense, important topics. It reads like the compelling beginning of something good—but one that’s been left sadly unfinished.