As in his previous novels, Schmidt throws a lot of complexity and subplots in here, and this time not all of them are a comfortable fit or lead anywhere.
There are horror stories that involve werewolves, vampires, and other monsters of myth and fantasy, creatures that crawl out of overwrought imaginations and nighttime fears. And then there are the horror stories that involve the ordinary, everyday ways that human beings treat and mistreat one another. The first type can be fun, if you have a taste for that sort of thing. The second, especially in the hands of a master, is simply horrific; the kind of thing that, while you are reading it or thinking about it, makes it hard to breathe, or swallow, or see clearly through unshed tears.
And that's just the first half of what is really two stories in one novel. The second half, considerably lighter than the first, though not without its own horrors, is the road trip of three teen boys, each of them unknowingly seeking understanding and redemption. All the different subplots are fascinating, and each, such as a crew race or the discovery of the wreckage of a slave ship, has metaphorical resonance with the main story. Schmidt has emerged as a writer of rare power who spins emotionally and intellectually complex tales in a gorgeously literary style that makes every scene, every setting, every passing breeze, spring vividly and completely to life.