Orbit, out now
When Mona Bright inherits her mother’s house in the apparently perfect little town of Wink, New Mexico, she thinks it might give her a chance to find out more about her mother – and she learns far more than she could possibly have bargained for…
Robert Jackson Bennett isn’t the sort of writer to sit on his laurels, and churn out books that resemble their predecessors simply because they’ve struck a chord with readers. From the period piece of The Troupe he’s moved forward to contemporary times to give an enthralling homage to B-movies that draws you in with various mysteries, and proceeds to present answers that make perfect sense within the world that he has set up. As with all his books, you need to concentrate when you’re reading it: clues to what is happening are seeded throughout, and you want to go back once you’ve finished to pick up on the elements that weren’t as obvious at first glance.
The Troupe dealt, in part, with fathers and sons; American Elsewhere is the flip side of that, as the role of the mother is central to this story. There are various mothers presented (some not immediately obvious) and all the different ways in which maternal love can be demonstrated drive a lot of the characters (including knowing when to let go in the child’s best interests).
Bennett recently joked online that he wished at some point a reviewer would say “His prose is highly disciplined, like an ape dressed like a cowboy, riding a bike”. While this isn’t necessarily the first analogy that would spring to mind, it does highlight one of the strengths of this book: Bennett’s use of language. His choices may not be the most obvious but they provide an immediacy that helps to sell the otherworldly elements of the story, assisted by his use of the present tense.
Verdict: Combining elements of The Stepford Wives, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, H.P. Lovecraft and many other classics, Bennett has created a world in which the most unlikely things not only can happen – but feel right when they do. 9/10