Victor LaValle’s new novel The Changeling starts out as a gentle romance and a good-natured look at fatherhood in the age of smartphones. After Apollo Kagwa’s son is born, he gets swept up in the performativity of being a “New Dad,” a Baby Bjorn-wearing father who posts endless baby pictures on Facebook. But when Apollo’s wife Emma starts to receive mysterious pictures of their son via her smartphone, that’s your first clue that something terrible is happening.
The creepy smartphone pictures—which disappear as soon as Emma looks at them, and not because they’re on Snapchat—are just the first step in a horrifying journey. The Changeling has all of the qualities of a good page-turner, replete with twists, turns, and surprises (some grotesque and violent). Without giving any major spoilers, LaValle’s novel eventually lives up to the fairytale implications of its title, but it also keeps coming back to themes of social media and voyeurism.
In fact, The Changeling is the perfect reimagining of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen for the modern oversharing era. Much of the menace and dread in this book come from the realization that we all reveal way too much about ourselves on Facebook and other sites—and meanwhile, unscrupulous people are out there who can use our own technology to spy on us, even beyond the limits of our exhibitionism.
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