Fade is possibly the blackest of Cormier’s realist young-adult novels, and there is some question whether it is a young-adult work at all. Cormier seems to be aspiring to the popular adult genre (popular with teenagers, as well) presided over by such writers as Stephen King and V. C. Andrews. The sex, the violence, and, more than anything, the tone of this supernatural story raise questions about its appropriateness for the teenage audience.
The summary printed on the publishing information page (a common practice in young-adult novels) only hints at the violence of the novel: “Paul Moreaux, the thirteen-year-old son of French Canadian immigrants, inherits the ability to become invisible, but this power soon leads to death and destruction,” The novel itself is broken into five uneven parts.
In the first, Paul Moreaux narrates the story of his realization in 1938, at the age of thirteen, of his fateful power. Paul discovers, from his Uncle Adelard, that every generation of this fated family produces a member with the supernatural power to become invisible. The nomadic Adelard has it; now he identifies it in his nephew Paul. The power seems to be a teenager’s fantasy come true: to be able to go into houses unseen and spy on lives. What Paul witnesses while in “the fade,” however, hardly brings him joy: He sees only the evil, including his own, of which humans are capable, especially behind closed doors. In particular, he witnesses two sexual acts (cunnilingus and incest) and spies on and lusts after his own Aunt Rosanna.
The power of the first half of the novel lies not only in Paul’s story of his newfound invisibility but also in the broader background of Paul’s history. In no earlier Cormier novel has there been such a rich historical setting: the French Canadian family struggling to survive in late 1930’s America, the labor struggles of a depressed New England factory town, and the violent strike that ends the struggle. Paul sees personal evil in the fade, but in his normal self he witnesses the evil that socioeconomic conditions produce.
The second half of the novel is much choppier. In the next segment, and in present fictional time, a young female cousin of Paul works with his literary agent in New York trying to determine if the manuscript fragment that is the first half of Fade is really the work of the famous “Paul Roget,” the novelist who died at age forty-two in 1967. The third and fourth sections continue the manuscript, as Paul discovers who has the “fade” in the next generation and tracks him down. This is where the “death and destruction” begin, for the thirteen-year-old Ozzie Slater, the abandoned son of Paul’s sister Rose, has become a psychopathic killer who is terrorizing the small Maine town where he lives. In the novel’s final violent scene, the older fader must kill his successor.
What bothers some critics and reviewers of young-adult fiction about this Cormier novel is more than its sex and violence. The sexuality in the first part is certainly adult, and is sickening to the young Paul. In the second half of the novel, the sex disappears and is replaced by grisly violence, in a supernatural story that rivals those of Stephen King and other practitioners of this adult genre. What is most bothersome is that there is no serious theme to balance the sex and violence; rather, the focus of the novel is on the effects themselves, and the author’s aim seems to be to startle and frighten the reader.
Many of the elements in the novel are autobiographical, but Cormier seems to be unable to find the lessons from his story that have been the strengths...
(The entire section is 920 words.)