Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Devil in the Valley by Castle Freeman


Being offered three wishes is a common theme in fairy tales.  But what if you weren't in a fairy tale?  And what if instead of three wishes, you had as many as you wanted for months?  And what if all you had to do in return was sell your soul?

Those are the questions that Langdon Taft must answer early on in The Devil in the Valley.  He is visited by a smooth-talking but overall jocular man who claims to be from hell.  The man makes his offer to Taft and after a little deliberation, Taft accepts.  From then on, Taft chooses what will happen in his small Vermont town and whom it will affect.  All the while, the costume-changing demon tempts him with wealth and women and revenge.

The Devil in the Valley is a modern retelling of the centuries old tale of Faust or Dr. Faustus.  Castle Freeman puts his trademark New England spin on the story.  Taft is not startled by the appearance of the demon nor does he agonize over his decisions.  He is soft-spoken and logical even reasoning that taking the deal doesn't matter to him because he doesn't believe in souls anyway.  Freeman's writing is straightforward but his characters are always sly enough to keep you off-kilter.  The little jibes in the dialogue and the small touches in the plot inject humor into what could have been a maudlin tale.  This short novel is worth your time if only to spark your imagination about whether or not you could be trusted with almost unlimited power.

If you like this book, you might want to read the orginal Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.

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