Max Porter’s “Lanny” Is a Dark, Wonderfully Tactile Reimagining of the Folktale

One of the particular pleasures of a folktale is discovering the story’s entryway to magic. In Max Porter’s beautiful, imaginative novella “Grief Is the Thing with Feathers,” it is mourning. In his whimsical follow-up, “Lanny,” which came out in May, it’s the natural world and a child’s unique sense of wonder.

“Lanny” is the story of a child gone missing, lured away by Dead Papa Toothwort, a shape-shifting trickster who is as old as the earth. But Porter also focuses on the adults in the narrative: Lanny’s parents, a former actress turned horror writer and her less-than-extraordinary husband, and Mad Pete, a curmudgeonly artist who takes Lanny under his wing. As in “Grief,” Porter creates a kind of long-form prose poem, but the language of “Lanny” is as mutable as Toothwort himself. Some sections mime Lanny’s absence with bountiful white space and short, clipped declaratives. Others, describing the village-wide search for Lanny, are rushed run-ons, lacking attributions and quotation marks, creating a sense of muddled panic and frenzy.

 

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