The Gray Man is a novella that combines a historic legend, an approaching hurricane, and three characters living on Pawleys Island into a compelling story.
As Hurricane Caleb slams into the small town of Pawleys Island, South Carolina, twenty-four-year-old Liam weathers personal storms in his own life. Reeling from an unexpected tragedy, he wanders the coast like an invisible man. He lives largely unnoticed, save for his friend, Aubrey, and her mother who lives with dialysis. As the threat of the storm draws closer, eerie encounters and strange dreams awaken old traumatic memories for each of them in a Low Country haunted by a few old ghosts of its own…
Based on one of the most famous spirit tales of the Carolinas, Gray Man is a quick and engaging read with a fast-paced plot, interesting, complex characters, and powerful themes of love, loss, and friendship. This poignant novella is a love letter to Pawleys Island that might just leave you with a few new thoughts on an old legend…
Marc van Bulck’s novella Gray Man is a character-driven story with a strong sense of place. Set on Pawleys Island, South Carolina, it takes place during and in the days leading up to Hurricane Caleb hitting the barrier island. Each of the main characters, Liam, Aubrey, and Aubrey’s mother Janet, tells their part of the story in chapters authored from alternating points of view. I found each character to be likable and warmly written, and readers will enjoy the realistic dialogue that van Bulck crafts between the three. Though, due to the constraints of the novella form, we don’t hear much about the characters’ backstories enough of their pasts are described to help the reader get a sense of what has shaped the characters and their actions.
I also enjoyed the use of the folktale of the Gray Man to drive the story and appreciated how van Bulck used the figure to show his characters’ experiences with grief. The inner monologue about Liam’s encounters with the Gray Man at times of stress was, I thought, particularly well done. Overall, this was a worthwhile read that would be enjoyed by those looking for a well-crafted story with kind characters.