American Elsewhere

By Robert Jackson Bennett

In this genre-jumping novel, Robert Jackson Bennett confronts colonizing aliens from space with contemporary cop Mona Bright on the streets of a small New Mexico town.

Bennett specializes in speculative fiction. Here, he asks the question: what would happen if an infinite number of worlds coexisted independently but sometimes collided or “bruised” each other, allowing beings to flow from an alien world into ours?

When Mona’s alcoholic father, Earl Bright, dies in Texas, she sees to his burial quickly and without ceremony.

After years of moving from one west Texas town to another chasing work in the oil fields, his estate isn’t worth much. It does have two things Mona wants: his pristinely restored 1969 cherry-red Dodge Charger that he would never let her drive and a box of papers and photos of her mother, Laura Alvarez.

She learns that her mother (who had committed suicide when Mona was seven) was a physicist and worked at the Coburn National Laboratory and Observatory (CNLO) in Wink, New Mexico, before she married Mona’s father.

She’d owned a house there that she has bequeathed to Earl, who never claimed it. Mona has 11 days to claim it before her mother’s will expires.

In the box of papers, she finds photos of her mother, a vivacious, attractive Mexican-American woman, sitting on a porch with three other women with mountains in the background. On the back of the photo is written, “The mountains are pink — time to drink.”

It is a completely different image than “the weeping wreck of a human being Mona knew.”

While the opportunity to claim her mother’s house and settle down into a home and a community deeply attracts Mona, “she doesn’t want to think of this as a second chance. Because Mona Bright has never really believed she ever got a first one.”

When she finally finds the town of Wink, the streets are empty. Everyone is at a funeral, which Mona interrupts with her rumbling red car before being directed to the town’s only motel.

Were Rod Serling a character in this book, he would tell you that Mona has just entered the Twilight Zone.

Much of this nearly 700-page book is spent describing the strange world of Wink, a postcard-perfect town that seems straight out of the 1950s. It’s bounded by routines and rules that are never explained, such as the one to never leave your house after dark.

Mona is a strong and compelling character who holds this story together. A former Houston Police detective, she’s strong, brave and experienced at investigation.

Unfortunately, the premise of this story — that an infinite number of universes coexist and sometimes collide — make it sometimes challenging to follow the story. Time is often fractured here; people don’t age; mutually exclusive events can exist like Schrödinger’s cat. The invading aliens can take many forms, including human ones.

This is a suspenseful story that will carry you through to the end of the book. Despite scenes of gruesome violence, this story ends with a hopeful future for Mona and the young girl she rescues, Gracie.

The Author: Robert Jackson Bennett (1984 – )

Specializing in speculative fiction, Robert Jackson Bennett has been an award-winner since his 2010 debut, MR. SHIVERS, which won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel and The Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer British Fantasy Award.

It was followed by THE COMPANY MAN (2011), THE TROUPE (2012) and AMERICAN ELSEWHERE (2013), which won the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel.

In addition, he is the uthor of The Divine Cities Trilogy and the Founders Trilogy. The final installment of the later was issued in June 2022.

His work has won the Edgar Award, the Shirley Jackson Award and the Phillip K. Dick Citation of Excellence. Other of his works have been shortlisted for the World Fantasy, British Fantasy and Locus Awards.

He lives in Austin with his wife and two sons.


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