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Class Trip: A Novel by Emmanuel Carrere
Metropolitan Books (an imprint of Henry Holt and Company).
Reviewed by Stephen M. Davis

First, a word about dust-jackets: the more jacket blurbs I read, the more I learn to rely on blind chance in choosing my reading material. According to one critic, Emmanuel Carrere is "the Stephen King of France, in terms of genre." Emmanuel Carrere is no Stephen King, and I for one am thankful for it. In fact, Carrere defies comparison with any writer of horror I've come across recently.
Class Trip could serve as a guidepost for writers of fiction in any genre: at no time does the element of horror interfere with Carrere's prose. At its most basic level, Class Trip is just good writing, all the way through. The reader is not required to suspend his disbelief at any point in the novel. The reader does not have to consider the possibilities of a regenerating car, a vampire who writes diary notes, nor a Chinese puzzle that grants access to various hellish dimensions.
The reader need only believe in a neurotic school-child in his early teens who has an awkward time trying to fit in with his classmates. Class Trip begins with this child, Nicolas, arriving at a ski retreat for a two-week outing with his class in France.
We learn that Nicolas' father is a prosthesis salesman who has insisted on driving his son personally to the location of the ski outing. We also learn that Nicolas still occasionally wets the bed and that he -- along with his classmates -- is terrified of Hodkann, a fellow student who alternates between gestures of compassion and statements of raw malevolence. On learning that Nicolas' father sells artificial limbs, Hodkann comments, "If I were your father, I'd use you for demonstrations. I'd cut off your arms and legs, I'd fit on the artificial ones, and I'd show you to my clients like that. It'd make a great advertisement."
The main tension in the novel centers on Nicolas' reaction to the disappearance of a child from a local village. Nicolas spins a story for Hodkann in which he borrows liberally from a warning his own father had given him about organ traffickers who remove organs from young children. Nicolas is so convincing he begins to believe that his father -- who has been out of contact for several days -- may actually have been kidnapped or killed by organ traffickers who had abducted the missing boy -- Rene.
When the missing boy turns up dead, Nicolas' fantasies grow from slightly neurotic to downright paranoid. Hodkann bolts from the chalet after overhearing two police officers who've arrived. Marie-Ange and Patrick, two instructors at the chalet, begin acting in a manner that does nothing to resolve Nicolas' fears. Nicolas' father still has not resurfaced, and Nicolas is certain the worst has happened. "The worst" is in fact worse than Nicolas' wildest imaginings.
Reading Class Trip was a delight; the characters occupy more than two dimensions, the dialogue is believable, and none of the plot twists are readily foreseeable. I came away from it remembering why I'm drawn to the good horror story, and why I've felt so dissatisfied with much of what I've read recently.
Class Trip is available from Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company. Emmanuel Carrere's first novel was The Mustache.