Monday, April 1, 2013
American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett
Review based on ARC.
Where to begin...
This is a cross between sci-fi, fantasy, and "lite" horror, with some conspiracy, mystery, and supernatural thriller thrown in. It was a fun book, a quick read, and satisfying in the end. Mona Bright's father dies at the beginning of the book and, as a consequence, Mona discover that she has inherited a house she never knew existed, in a town she has never heard of, from a mother she never really knew and who died when Mona was about five. Mona is unable to find Wink, NM on any maps and, only as she actually draws close to where Wink appears to be located, based on its proximity to a mesa, has anyone even heard of the town.
Mona finally finds idyllic Wink, with its perfect lawns and perfect small-town folk, and begins the process of discovering who she is and, much more importantly to Mona, who her mother is. The existence of Mona's mother appears to be wrapped in secrecy and top-governmental confidentiality. No one remembers her mother, even those who have lived in Wink their whole lives. But the longer Mona hangs around and the deeper she digs, the more she uncovers about not only her mother, but about the town and all of its inhabitants.
Bennett explores science-fiction and dips into fantasy in the discussions about pan-dimensional reality, the ability of dimensions to "bruise" each other and permit cross-over, and even touches on theories of alternate realities. There is also "lite-Horror" and supernatural thriller in the inhabitants of Wink, their "monsters" who rule the nights, and the monsters who plague the monsters. The story progresses not only through the single narrative of Mona attempting to discern the mystery of Wink and her own past, but also incorporates the perspectives of other more peripheral characters, those who do not even live in Wink, those who are merely doing as they're told, and those who suffer at the hands of the "monsters" and the monsters' monsters.
The story is ultimately about discovery of self and the exploration of familial relations, and Bennett does a nice job of weaving something of a moral into the backdrop of a small town mystery-horror. ... This review may seem a little dry, and that's because (1) trying to summarize a 600-page novel must omit all of the interesting little details, and (2) more importantly, none of this novel should be ruined ahead of time. Each discovery is worth the discovery.
The book didn't blow my mind. It didn't make me think that maybe, just maybe.... maybe this could happen. It didn't floor me with a baffling skill of writing or cause me to completely surrender all notions of reality. But I really enjoyed American Elsewhere and highly recommend. Although it was a longer novel, and my life is incredibly busy these days, I stayed up long past bedtime and ignored other necessary tasks in order to read just a little bit more, just a little bit more.... just a little bit more of this novel.
I easily red a couple hundred pages in one sitting, and that, if nothing else makes it a worth-reading book. Fortunately, there is more to this book than its simply being a quick read. Bennett's interesting theories on dimension-bruising and his willingness to explore some of the more extreme science-fiction and supernatural areas are impressive amidst a story that takes place in the present world "as we know it," managing to present a sort of magical realism that pushes the boundaries of "reality."
Overall, I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys sci-fi, fantasy, lite-horror, supernatural thrillers, and the like.
FOUR of five stars.