Given current official reconsiderations of our country’s stance on torture and the Iraq War, J. Robert Lennon’s newest novel, Castle, seems an apt examination of the effects of violence, both on those subjected to it and those who administer it. While Castle isn’t really an “Iraq War novel” per se, it establishes our country’s detention and interrogation facilities as specters hovering around the main character, Eric Loesch, as he returns to his small, upstate New York hometown to purchase and renovate a large plot of wooded land.
As Eric — an eerily emotionally detached, acetic Iraq War vet — moves into the property’s farmhouse and begins work, he senses a haunting threat resonating from a small piece of land in the middle of his property where sits a rundown, castle-like compound that, as it turns out, does not belong to him.
Eric’s initial interactions with his new property are frightening in their mystery and supernatural undercurrents, but when certain events of Eric’s past come to light later in the novel, Lennon’s story loses its otherworldly momentum. The story becomes less engaged with the intellectual machinations of fear, power and violence, and more focused on providing a somewhat uninspired psychological cause and effect narrative.
Still, Lennon’s character development impresses. Eric is scary and believable in the repressed, mechanical ways by which he conducts the to-do list of his life. Though ensconced in a veil of self-assuredness, Eric ultimately lacks real agency, and this mix of firm resolve with heavy predetermination makes for a chilling yet empathetic character — one aware of his weaknesses, but glad for the freedom from responsibility that they can afford.
Had Lennon allowed Eric’s pathology a bit more uncertainty instead of importing past traumas to tidily explain his personality, Castle could, perhaps, have delved deeper into the concept of violence itself and surfaced with an insight. As it stands, the story seems to get distracted by the activity of explaining exactly how Eric became the way he is instead of focusing on what it means now that the damage has been done.