If you have to stand against the great lurking darkness that’s encroaching upon you from the edge of universe, I recommend cranking up The Best of Erich Zann’s Violin Classics, inviting over Chuthulu’s rebellious teenage children to stand by your side, and having Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere in hand to keep said Darkness at bay.
I’ve been looking forward to this book pretty much since I’d heard about it – especially after listening to Bennett’s “The Troupe,” which was my favorite audiobook last year. It’s also safe to say, I had some apprehension. Something about the book seemed to invoke Gaiman’s American Gods, which is one of my favorite books of all time. That said, Bennett’s become an author I can trust to spin a wickedly dependable yarn. I’m happy to say, American Elsewhere didn’t disappoint.
Mona Bright is a damaged ex-cop who, upon her estranged father’s death finds out that she’s inherited a house in a town she’s never heard of from her late mom. The house, and the town it is in, has all kinds of strange shit happening around it. It seems way too perfect. Weird things happen at night. And also, there’s an abandoned science research facility on the mountain. To give away too much more of the plot would be spoiling too much of the fun, so I’ll stop there.
Bennett’s mentioned before that he drew inspiration for this novel from David Lynch, H.P. Lovecraft, and Ray Bradbury. I don’t know whether or not he would cop to LOST being an inspiration as well, and I realize bringing it up is a double-edged sword, but most weeks, it left me with a big grin on my face saying WTF as the word LOST pounded on the screen. Now, imagine if LOST had ended the way you hoped it would – giving you just enough answers, not to mention good ones, leaving you completely satisfied when it ended. That’s essentially what American Elsewhere did for me. It is, as Bob Reiss called it earlier this year, a glorious “Kaleidoscope of What the Fuckery.”
(It also made me think a lot of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, and maybe someday I’ll write an essay about that.)
This is my first experience with reader Graham Winton, and really my only criticism regarding the narration cannot be blamed on him. In short, this book was about a woman, and it’s kind of a shame we have a male reader for it. It’s really too bad that a female reader couldn’t be brought in, someone like Kate Mulgrew, or M.K. Hobson (if she did feature-length novels) who could nail Mona’s attitude. With that in mind, Winton’s reading is pretty excellent. He was able to nail Bennett’s sick sense of humor, and got me to laugh out loud several times on my commute. I’d be happy to hear him narrate more stories, and particularly more of Bennett’s stories.
In the end, when the darkness is just barely at bay, this book is evidence why Robert Jackson Bennett continues to be an author I’ll continue to trust.
Special thanks to Recorded Books for providing me with a review copy of this audiobook.