The Donors is one of those rare books that manages to challenge, and indeed alter, your perceptions. I started the book in complete sympathy with the 'lizard men', so much so that I looked forward to their appearance on the page. It made me feel guilty, and a bit dirty, but I took no small amount of pleasure in the pain they inflicted upon the human monsters of the tale.
Until, that is, the course of the story began to change, and the certainties that I held were not only challenged, but ultimately proven wrong. It takes a skilled storyteller to build up that kind of monstrous allegiance, and then to tear it down - without coming across as a cheat - but Jeffrey Wilson deftly manages it. If you've ever thought that, just maybe, the end does sometimes justifies the means . . . and wondered what might be at the bottom of that slippery moral slope, then this book gives you a lot to think about.
What immediately struck me about the book is just how well Wilson immerses us in the voices of his characters. Dr. Gelman hits all the right notes in drawing the reader into his world of long hours, difficult decisions, and painful histories. You really get the sense that this is a man stretched thin, but passionate about what he does. Similarly, Nathan is pitch-perfect in creating the literary illusion of childhood, portraying a sense of vulnerability, innocence, and child-like wonder.
As for the lizard men, Wilson smartly keeps them shadowy and creepy, never quite putting them all the way out there for the reader to dissect. It's a gamble, but it maintains the suspense, and really helps sell that twist in perception I mentioned earlier. What they really are and where they come from isn't important. What is important is the role they play in the shared experiences of Dr. Gelman and Nathan. It takes a long time for that role to become clear, for their connection to prove itself, but it sets up a climactic battle that works as a climax, rather than just as a means of tying up the storylines.
Creepy and suspenseful, with definite heart, this is a horror story that keeps you engaged, builds a relationship with you, and ultimately allows you to exit with a smile of contentment upon your face. I find my greatest struggle with most horror novels is that the end never quite lives up to what has come before, but Wilson succeeds here where so many others have failed. Definitely worth a read.