the Little Red Reviewer

American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Posted on: February 12, 2013

Bennet_AmericanElsewhere_TPAmerican Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published Feburary 2013

where I got it: received review copy from Orbit Books

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In the early days, I was a huge fan of M. Night Shyamalan.  The Sixth Sense was groundbreaking, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Signs, and even The Village has redeeming qualities. (and because I greatly enjoy those films, we’re not even going to talk about Shyamalan’s flops, of which there are many) What do those films have in common? A style that immediately pulls you in, perfectly timed and suspenseful disconnects between what people say and what’s really going on, compelling characters, isolated environs that feel timeless, cliffhanger scenes, and a climax that (although sometimes very silly) that reminds you he’s been giving you hints all this time, you just weren’t looking for them.  I do have a soft spot for misdirection.

Now imagine if the endings of Signs and The Village weren’t completely silly. Imagine if those endings were sublimely perfect, if they were everything you wanted the end of a thriller to be. You’re starting to get close to the feeling of American Elsewhere.

You know those books that completely bowl you over? The ones where you know you’ll be buying every book the author ever writes?  The ones where every time you finish a chapter you slowly whisper holy shit to yourself? The ones that make you ask “Hey author! Where have you been my whole life??”  American Elsewhere is that book.

American Elsewhere is so many flavors of phenomenal that I don’t even know where to start. Compelling characters that I cared about immediately? check.  A multi-faceted mystery that kept me guessing until the final reveal? check check.  A story structured and paced in such a way to give intimate scenes and action sequences equal billing for importance? that too.  Even if you’re not into thrillers or supernatural mysteries,  you will still love this book. (One caveat: if you’re offended by strong language this may  not be the book for you. Mona uses the f-bomb even more than I do.)

Ex-cop Mona Bright has just inherited a house in a small New Mexico town. The sleepy town of Wink isn’t on any map, and no one at any truckstops or hotels on the way can seem to tell her anything about the town or how to get there.  She does eventually find the town, and her mother’s old house.  The residents of Wink aren’t rude to her, but they aren’t exactly helpful either.

There’s something so very odd about Wink.  It’s a perfect, timeless village, where the lawns are always manicured, the rose bushes are always blossoming, and everyone always gets along with everyone else. Wouldn’t you want to live here forever? Like something out of Leave it to Beaver, or the Stepford Wives, or even the opening scenes of Edward Scissorhands, wives always have a cool pitcher of lemonade handy and husbands all leave for work at the same time in the morning.

Even with the old fashioned-ness, everyone who lives in Wink is exceedingly happy, and why shouldn’t they be? Everyone in Wink has everything they want – stability, employment, a beautiful home and safe and healthy children. No one ever leaves Wink because why would anyone want to? The leaders of Wink make sure all the residents have everything they could ever want.

<an aside, because you should think about this>  Have you ever wished you were someone else? Tried a personality on like a warm winter jacket and hoped it would protect you from the cold winds of insecurity?  Looking at it from a different angle, ever felt overwhelmed by a job? Not quite sure how to “be a manager”, so you just sit at your desk doing things you think a manager should be doing, even though you don’t exactly know how to do those things? Fake it till you make it, right? </aside over>

As Mona digs through her mother’s old photos and film reels, she starts to learn the right questions to ask and the answers she should be listening for. The pieces just don’t add up. Someone is lying.

And then the twist hits, and it’s a beauty in every possible way.  You know how a lot of thrillers give you the twist right at the end, maybe even in the last chapter?  Robert Jackson Bennett is generous in his timing, he starts the reveal at about the halfway point. Even at the start of the reveal, he’s only giving us a taste, just the glittery tip of the iceberg.  Mona investigates until she doesn’t want to learn anymore, but of course, she can’t stop there. And then suddenly and unmercifully, everything flips itself completely inside out.

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.

American Elsewhere hits bookstore shelves this week, you can read an except here.  Stay tuned for a giveaway, since thanks to the wonderful folks at Orbit Books, I have an extra copy.

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8 Responses to "American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett"

*Does happy dance* I’m so happy you loved it!!

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it was insane amounts of awesome. how is it possible to cram this much incredible into one book? it’s a fat book, but still!!

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I am just pea green with envy! *sigh* Oh well, lots to keep me going and only another couple of weeks to wait. I knew this was going to be excellent – I just had a good feeling. Robert Bennet is a writing maniac/ genius!
Lynn :D

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[...] American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett [...]

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I love reading fiction set in New Mexico and seeing that the author got right and what they left out.

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I can’t wait to read this one. I have The Troupe and Mr Shivers on my TBR list for the next R.I.P.

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You got me with the first paragraph, even though I am not a big big M. Night Shyamalan fan… Crap, got to buy it right now!

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This finally came out on audio on Tuesday, and I consumed it as rapidly as I could (23 hours in three days). So full of awesome. Just finished writing my review, but I remembered you loved this one so I finally got to stop by and read yours.

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