Monday, April 1, 2013

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

This is definitely the strangest book I've had the pleasure of reading in quite some time. It's nearly impossible to define its genre, with elements of fantasy, science fiction and horror weaving throughout the story. It's part Stepford wives, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Chthulhu, and for some odd reason, I couldn't quite put it down for long.

Mona Bright is a woman from a very dysfunctional family who resigned her position as a policewoman a few years before the story begins, and has been drifting; from job to job, man to man, bottle to bottle, ever since. When her father dies, she shows up for his funeral, and to dispose of his property, and learns that she has inherited a house that used to belong to her mother, who committed suicide long ago, in a place called Wink, New Mexico.

Wink is a place that seems frozen in time, when Mona arrives there in the red muscle car she found in her father's garage. The town was founded to support a government lab atop a nearby mesa, which was closed down a long time ago, after a disaster destroyed many of the facilities and changed the town forever. Mona claims her mother's house, then begins to try to find out what caused her mother to leave her happy and fulfilling life as a scientist in Wink and end up sucking a shotgun when Mona was a little girl.

Of course, she can't discover her mother's story without uncovering the secrets that the town has been hiding for decades, and she soon begins to catch glimpses of another world hidden beneath (or perhaps above, around, inside) our own, and its very odd and frightening denizens.

The other major point of view from which we see this story is that of Bolan, an amoral man who runs the Roadhouse just outside of Wink. The place is a bordello and a front for a major drug-running operation, but Bolan and the thugs and whores who work for him seem curiously quirky and likable underneath their slimy exteriors, perhaps in contrast to the candy coating surrounding many of Wink's residents' alien ichorous nougat. He receives instructions from his hidden "boss" over an old stock ticker machine, and has generated millions in revenue for the otherworldly invaders' unknown purposes.

Many thanks to my friend, Red, at Little Red Reviewer, for turning me on to this one!

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