Horror isn’t always about monsters. Some of the best horror – quiet horror, if you will – deals with loss, life, and love.
No one seems to know this better than Tim Lebbon, and he’s willing to share with readers in the most effective manner in his novella, The Thief of Broken Toys (Chizine Publications). Beautifully crafted and elegantly delivering blow after blow to readers’ hearts and souls, this 2010 publication is a relentless study of the destruction death delivers to loved ones, and especially to parents.
When a father loses his son and his wife leaves him, he cannot tear himself away from the small fishing village where the boy’s memories reside. They’re all he has left. Thinking that his life is all but over, he takes to wandering the cliffs, carrying broken things that he always promised his son he would fix, but never did. They’re a sign of his failure, and they keep little Toby close. And then he meets the thief of broken toys, and everything begins to change.
The book deals with Ray, and English father whose young son, Toby, has died. How Toby died isn’t important, though Lebbon alludes to it being sudden, but not through any nefarious deed, but rather it’s the impact of his death that matters here. The boy’s death rips Ray’s marriage to shreds and leaves him a loner living in the martial home now devoid of any other life other than Ray’s and, more so, vacant of any joy. Adding to the melancholy blanketing the home is the fact that Toby’s room, though changed somewhat since the lad’s death, still contains reminders of the boy – specifically a box of broken and busted toys.
As any parent can tell you, broken toys are commonplace with young children, and just as common are those empty promises of fixing or replacing them. Instead of living up to our oath to our children promising their repair, the toys are more often forgotten, discarded, and left to become useless piles of plastic.
Ray sees this while sitting in Toby’d room in a scene that will bring tears to the eyes of even jaded readers. The throat-punch reminder of broken promises resonates. It hurts to be reminded that we, as the parents and sworn protectors of the little souls in our homes, too often fail them in many ways.
But Ray’s strange sadness is lessened when a mysterious old man who resides in a vacated structure along the sea’s shore appears and begins repairing those broken toys. As he mends the small items that brought young Toby so much joy in his life, he’s also somehow allowing Ray to accept his son’s death and recognize the time he had with him as a gift.
To say too much more will spoil the book, but if you’re a parent, you need this book – not only for the gorgeous passages and thought-provoking views, but for a little nudge and reminder of how precious our children truly are.
Lebbon is a author who led the charge when Leisure was in its prime. He possesses a rare ability to force readers to look inward, not always outward, for the scariest things in the world. While we may not like what Lebbon is showing us, and I’ll admit I wasn’t too happy with him during some of the book, there’s no denying the man knows his stuff.
The Thief of Broken Toys is an easy read with its 146 pages, but not an easy mirror for the parents of the genre to gaze into. Regardless, seek it out and let it steal some of your time. You won’t regret it.
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Great review. Been a Lebbon fan since reading “White” but have not caught up with his more recent work. He is adept at grounding his stories so strongly in domestic family scenarios that it gives them a solid base to build all sorts of fantastical flourishes on.