Bennett (The Troupe) gives the idealized image of the American dream a pan-dimensional twist with this alien invasion tale, part Bradbury and part L’Engle with a dash of Edward Scissorhands. Mona Bright, a former cop with a tragic past, inherits her long-dead mother’s house in Wink, N. Mex., a picture-perfect hamlet built as a support community for a government lab conducting experiments in quantum physics. As Mona pieces together a history that bears no resemblance to the childhood she remembers, Bennett’s epic narrative unveils a chronicle of dysfunction masked by Wink’s mechanical obsession with normalcy. The quibbling, displaced characters are vile and sympathetic by turns, and always startlingly American. Through sharp empathetic detail, the horrific becomes both achingly poignant and comic; a wholesome diner where no one can ever order just one piece of pie shares space with a harsh alien landscape where a quivering blue imp cowers in terror while pleading for his life. Readers will be captivated from start to finish. (Feb.)
Bennett (Mr. Shivers; The Company Man; The Troupe), winner of the Shirley Jackson Award and the Edgar Award, takes us on a creepy, thrilling journey into a small town under a pink moon, where reality is relative and whose residents are very, very different. You’ll want to linger over this riveting and scary novel that straddles sf and suspense to startling effect. This wonderful offering is perfect for fans of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.
“American Elsewhere” conjures up echoes of the best works of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. Among its many virtues, Bennett’s convincing portrayal of Mona may be his greatest accomplishment. This strong yet flawed woman drives the novel’s success. When she pistol-whips a very large man, we feel both her competence and the weight of the act. During a tension-filled exploration of the eerie abandoned laboratory and observatory, we fully experience her fear and her levelheaded determination under duress.
Mad and humorous, gory and poignant, “American Elsewhere” is a sort of mid-20th-century retelling of the embodiment of Lovecraftian Elder Gods by way of Alamogordo’s legendary atomic tests. It’s not to be missed.
Robert Jackson Bennett is masterful when creating the strange atmosphere of Wink. This section of the novel is simply eerie, in much the same way Twin Peaks was eerie. It offers a recognizable slice of American small-town life, but it’s abundantly clear that there’s something really odd going on underneath the surface. Exactly what it is doesn’t become clear for a good long time, but until then you can simply enjoy the way Bennett slowly unveils hints and occasionally drops a bombshell of pure, unmitigated weirdness into the flow.
The book is science fiction, but has at least a splash of horror, unsurprising for a novel by a Shirley Jackson Award winner. Horror is a deeply subjective genre – second only to erotica – and I’m not particularly put out by tentacular grotesques or things that go chitter in the night. Or rabbits. Those who find their nightmares haunted by the chitinous or oozing, may find the horror more pronounced. But in any case, these things are pressed up against more suburban horrors: the desperate need to keep up appearances, a stifling marriage, parents who sacrifice their children for the protection of a powerful patron. It’s the combination of the two, the mundane and the Lovecraftian that give the book an unease that seems to radiate from the pages.
Along with the characters, Bennett builds a great sense of place – the locations his characters inhabit become characters in and of themselves. Wink is a powerfully, magnetic place that is greater than the sum of its parts. Bennett’s powerful sense of place could also be considered world-building to throw a phrase more readily associated with Epic Fantasy. Lastly, Bennett’s seamless melding of genre flavors into a unique stew of its own is as much on display here as it was in The Troupe – American Elsewhere is part anti-bildungsroman, part horror, with elements of science fiction tossed in for good measure.
American Elsewhere is a big, bold novel, by turns gorgeous and grotesque, terrifying and tender, and it’s also a razor sharp sci-fi suspense story with literary sensibility and a healthy helping of horror. Settle in, fellow readers, ‘cause you’re in for a helluva ride.
Bennett nicely mixes classical mythology, Lovecraftian gothic, quantum science and what’s-in-the-woods horror. There are flashes of weird humor, like in the set of flash cards (flash cards??) Mr. Parson gives Mona. He has a knack for making the simplest objects frightening, like a fax machine, an old telephone, or a rabbit skull. Those rabbit skulls are terrifying.
You may want to arrange an entire day to read the second half of this book. Really. Be prepared to have American Elsewhere spoil you rotten. Nearly everything Robert Jackson Bennett has published has won awards. I’ve read two other novels by him, and they were both amazing, and they both pale in comparison to American Elsewhere.
Bennett’s novel may remind readers of the early works of Stephen King, presenting a small town where nothing is what it seems. There are a plethora of intriguing characters, each of whom has specific goals — goals that are often in direct opposition to those around them. Bennett’s work also evokes a mood similar to that of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, where every darkness may swallow a person only to spit them out into a place akin to Wonderland.
American Elsewhere is Bennett’s longest book, but it never loses its focus. Bennett really shows off his flare for balance, development and pacing. The plot, while interesting, is definitely unique. The horror aspects will please fans of that genre, but readers shouldn’t miss out on the subtle undertones, the things that are classic Bennett: a layered book that slowly unfolds, intriguing (and unexpected) character development, and something a bit deeper that Bennett hints at rather than hits readers over the head with. Perhaps the most incredible aspect of this work is how well Bennett manages to string readers along, which allows them to feel all the twists and turns as acutely as if they were living through it. American Elsewhere is as much of a mental exercise as an exciting horror read, and truly shows his unique flair and incredible (and obviously growing) talent.
Mr. Bennett author I admire very, very much and American Elsewhere is his best book yet. Probably by a country mile. That’s not to knock the others, but I think American Elsewhere is Mr. Bennett’s most complete work to date – combining the tension of Mr. Shivers and the grandeur of The Troupe. To quote my grandma, “this book is a corker”.
Bennett evokes notes of H.P. Lovecraft, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King, but does so in a voice and style that I’ve come to recognize as distinctly his. I believe Robert Jackson Bennett is one of the best living writers of speculative horror, and I wouldn’t argue dropping the last three words. Consider me his biggest fan.
Robert Jackson Bennett isn’t the sort of writer to sit on his laurels, and churn out books that resemble their predecessors simply because they’ve struck a chord with readers. From the period piece of The Troupe he’s moved forward to contemporary times to give an enthralling homage to B-movies that draws you in with various mysteries, and proceeds to present answers that make perfect sense within the world that he has set up. As with all his books, you need to concentrate when you’re reading it: clues to what is happening are seeded throughout, and you want to go back once you’ve finished to pick up on the elements that weren’t as obvious at first glance.
Bennett slyly grafts elements from David Lynch and Neil Gaiman, Shirley Jackson and H.P. Lovecraft, and nearly half of this brick of a novel carefully parcels out disruptions like the nightmare in Elm house. He is a master of the slow reveal, and scene after scene knocks the reader back on her heels, slips away from what we expect. There’s a real delight in how dark it gets behind the front doors in Bennett’s small town of Wink…
American Elsewhere is a book that will draw you in with its writing and its unique take on the supernatural trope of perfect-town-that-isn’t-so-perfect. At times, it’s very witty and somewhat silly. At other times, it’s downright touching. It has mystery and science and mysticism and just plain weirdness. It has characters you know you should be wary of, but you like them anyway. There are others you are drawn to but you just can’t bring yourself to trust them.