Review: The Glister by John Burnside

The Glister had a great premise: boys are disappearing in a small town that is dominated by an abandoned chemical plant. It seems certain that the plant has poisoned the town, both physically and mentally. The townspeople are deeply distrustful on the land where the plant was situated and of what went on there. Is it somehow responsible for the disappearances? I read the book and I still can’t tell you.

Leonard is a teenage boy living in Innertown, the wrong side of the tracks. Rich folks here live in Outertown (no hidden meaning there, I’m sure). His father is dying, probably from exposure to chemicals when he worked at the plant; lots of the folks in Innertown are coping with the fallout from the mysterious toxins they worked with, poison that seeped into the groundwater, twisted the trees and mutated the animals in the forest around the old plant. Still, Leonard feels most at home in those woods and he spends a lot of time alone there.

Sherriff John Morrison is crumbling under a load of guilt. He’s not responsible for the boy’s disappearances, but he’s responsible for the cover-up that has followed. Instead of calling for back-up and investigating the first body he found in the woods, he called Brian Smith, local millionaire…and murderer? Who can say?

This is one of those books that keeps you intrigued right up until the last moment. The final chapters take a turn for the metaphysical that lost me completely. I’ve heard it described as a treatise on good and evil, that Innertown is Purgatory before these boys go on to a better place, but I’m not sure I buy that. The ending certainly did not live up to the early chapters at least for me; they seem entirely mismatched. I found myself wanting to read either the ending that went with the intriguing mystery, or the more mystical build-up to the final strange chapters.

My copy of The Glister was an Advanced Reader Edition; you can order your copy at

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