Good writers know that the stories that stay with us the longest are those that deal with the most difficult things for us to look at, exposing them to the light of day in ways that we can recognize and relate to. Matt Haig writes from this place in The Radleys, a fast moving story about a family who has denied its destiny for too long, and the consequences of that denial. The Radleys are in deeper denial than most families, with more at stake: they are a family of vampires. Before you write this off as another hormone-drenched, sweaty palmed romance about handsome, blood-sucking teenage vampires, you should know that this book is for adults, and not because of violence, sex, or language (although Haig uses all three to good effect when needed). No, The Radleys is the story of a family in a midlife crisis, a story most of us can identify with.
“How can I be expected to live my whole life not being me?” Peter Radley asks his wife as he tries to convince her that denying who they truly are is not necessarily the best way to live their lives. This is the real question that this book explores: What happens if we deny who we really are, day after day and year after year? “I don’t know,” Helen Radley says truthfully. “I really don’t.” Once the teenage Radley children discover their true identity, there is no going back for the family, and the Radley’s entire middleclass neighborhood is forced to come along for the ride.
Haig is a master at structure: the book blazes through a four day time span in 100 short chapters (the longest is 8 pages, the shortest is a few paragraphs) that propel the story along, barely slowing down for sharp corners, making for a thrilling ride. The point of view rotates with each chapter, and while it can sometimes make your head spin, it lends a sense of dizzy urgency to the book that keeps you biting your nails to the very end. The point of view shifts allow us to identify with his theme of repression in many ways: as young adults, as a middle aged parent in a ‘bloodless’ marriage; as a washed up police detective. We can even recognize ourselves in the devilish but likable Will Radley (think Jack Kerouac as a vampire).
Haig, in The Radleys, shows us why writing about vampires might actually be socially relevant. The Radleys is a well told cautionary tale of the strength of repressed desire, the power of our own destiny, and the ultimate triumph of truth.