American Elsewhere by R J Bennett

Just finished reading American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett.  I’ve been longing, nay gagging, to read this book for quite some time, partly because I’ve really enjoyed all this author’s other books and also I read a stellar review over at Little Red Reviewer.  What can I say – other than it doesn’t disappoint.

In usual Bennett fashion the book seems to defy any particular genre.  Is it sci-fi?  Yes, in some respects.  Is it horror? Definitely in certain places.  Is it spooky and paranormal? The first half of the book definitely fits into that, well, actually, so does the second half!.  Is it quirky and are there tentacles aplenty…I couldn’t possibly say, or at least if I told you I’d have to kill you – so think on!

Where to begin with this review!   The book opens with a funeral and a will reading.  Mona’s father having passed away has bequeathed upon her his worldly goods.  No real sorrow here as there seems to have been little love lost between the two.  Mona seems to be there for one purpose only – to get her hands upon her late father’s red sports car – that is until she discovers that there’s a house also involved in the will.  A house that appears to have belonged to her mother and is situated in a place called Wink!  An opportunity to maybe finally discover more about the mother she lost at such an early age and in such strange circumstances that the details have been indelibly imprinted upon her mind.

And so Mona sets off to lay claim to her property.  Of course this isn’t as easy as it at first appears.  The town of Wink seems to be unheard of.  It doesn’t show on any maps, nobody can give you meaningful directions, you basically have more chance of happening upon Brigadoon.  Remember that horror movie, I think it was called Children of the Corn (but I could be making that up) where once you’ve driven into the village, no matter which road you take to exit it leads you straight back?  Well, this is the exact opposite.  Wink seems to exist in a bubble. That being said Mona somehow manages to find a way in – making a rather dramatic entrance in her flashy red car as she interrupts a rather sombre funeral that practically all the town seems to be attending.

Wink is a strange place.  Picture postcard perfect and yet goose bump forming with its quiet streets and creepy inhabitants.  You could be forgiven for thinking Mona has entered the land of Stepford and yet this isn’t all about perfect partners in flowery pinafores making preserves.  Things in Wink are not quite as they seem.  The facades are perfect but inside the walls a different story unfolds.  And, people don’t go out at night. There seems to be an unspoken agreement that its best to stay indoors!  In trying to uncover more background about her mother Mona begins to reveal the weirdness that is Wink.  Sometimes out of the corner of her eye things look different than they first seemed and after forming a tentative friendship with a couple of the more eccentric locals cracks begin to appear in the outer veneer.  Is it wise to dig too deeply and has Mona’s arrival in the small town of Wink become the catalyst for a string of events that everyone will come to regret.  Like I’m going to answer that!

The problem with reviewing this book is that it would be so easy to spoil the reveal and I really don’t want to do that so I’m basically not going to elaborate on the plot at all.  On to other points

This is a big book with plenty of detail and information and yet it doesn’t feel slow.  There’s this delicious creepiness that draws you in until you realise that you’ve read what effectively is the first half of the novel and what then turns into the fundamental turning point for the whole story.

In terms of characters.  Lets just say they’re an eclectic bunch – not only the inhabitants of the town (and the outer boundaries of the town) but the owner and employees of a rather sleazy bar called the Roadhouse (situated just out of the town boundaries) – rather a den of iniquity with drugs, fighting, prostitution and a sinister and bizarre partnership between the owner and an unknown man who supplies the drugs that make the place a magnet for certain types.  Of course he doesn’t supply these drugs out of the goodness of his little old heart and the services he requires in exchange are odd at best and nightmare inducing at worst (plus – there’s a particular scene which leads to the discovery of where these drugs actually originate and it’s pretty revolting to say the least – I think it would be enough to make anybody think twice!)

Plus, there are even odder characters that live in the forests on the outskirt of Wink – giant characters that seem to inhabit strange places and one particular character that dwells in a cave filled with tiny rabbit skulls – be very afraid of this particular person!

Then we have Mona – she’s really quite cool.  Got a whole bunch of attitude and I confess a bit of a potty mouth but it fits in with her persona and doesn’t feel gratuitous.  Mona never really settled down and a series of sad events in her past seem to have turned her into a bit of a hard case loner.  She certainly isn’t a shrinking violet and doesn’t need rescuing – she can damn well look after herself thank you very much.  I wouldn’t say I love Mona but she is a good character to read and the whole turning into a ‘green beret’ type kick ass in the forest was great readingl.

In terms of criticism I think the only point I would make is that I didn’t feel any particular attachment for any of the characters.  I didn’t dislike them and I was crazy intrigued to know what was going on but I didn’t have that strange reader/character bond that you sometimes seem to feel for these imaginary people.  That confessed it certainly didn’t stop me from feeling gripped and I wonder if it’s the author’s intention that you feel this way towards the characters – they’re all a little odd after all.

The setting is really very well portrayed and the town easy to envisage.  Shrouded in mystery – why is this town here, how come nobody ever leaves.  What strangeness exists in the woods and who is the guy with the long rabbit like ears (or could they be horns)!

On top of this – there’s this whole scene where one of the more unusual characters uses a scene from a Gene Kelly film – I loved that scene.  Sorry, I know it’s a bit of a teaser to write this in this way but there’s nothing else for it!

Plus – who’d have thought sibling rivalry could be so drastic.

Anyway, that’s all I’m going to not say about it!  Consider yourself teased and go check it out for yourselves.  If you want to read about a mysteriously creepy little town and the whys and wherefores of the strange inhabitants who live there then pick up American Elsewhere.

Other novels by RJ Bennett – all really good: The Troupe/Mr Shivers/The Company Man.

4 Responses to “American Elsewhere by R J Bennett”

  1. Keri B.

    Oooh, this sounds intriguing. I always love your book selections.

    • lynnsbooks

      Thanks Keri. This is an intriguing bookk for certain!
      Lynn 😀

  2. My best reads for 2013 | Lynn's Book Blog

    […] American Elsewhere by Robert Bennett – I worry about this author!  Very twisted.  Seriously though, his books are amazing! […]

  3. ‘Do you copy? Shut down all the garbage smashers on the detention level!’ |

    […] American Elsewhere by Robert J Bennett – here be tentacles.  In the quiet town of Wink time almost seems to stand still.  The residents seem to live an idyllic life with perfectly manicured lawns and lifestyles – it’s so perfect it’s positively Stepford(ish).  Except maybe everything isn’t as rosy as it seems.  You’ll never find this place on a map. On top of that it seems that strange creatures have come to stay in wink.  How did they get here.  What exactly are they.  They take strange shapes – there will be horror – and tentacles! […]

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