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Another fine mess

Reader fan critic teacher reader fan.

Currently reading

Ottessa Moshfegh
Knife Fight and Other Struggles
David Nickle
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity
Andrew Solomon
The Good Lord Bird
James McBride
Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie
Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (New Edition)
Derek Bok
Dissident Gardens
Jonathan Lethem
Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s
Kim Newman
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
James Gleick
Complete Novels
Dashiell Hammett, Steven Marcus
The Devil's Alphabet - Daryl Gregory Gregory's stuff can be boiled down to some high concepts (an alternate history of an America plagued by constant demon possession; a town struck by sudden transformations of its population into three new species), 'though they're never reduced to simple narrative beats or big-Plotted thumping. They're almost deceptively calm, measured, and contemplative once you get past the simple, utterly strange narrative hook that centers each novel.

And they're damn good. (In retrospect, Gregory's first novel was way better than my old rating suggests.)

This one follows the return of prodigal son Pax, who left small-town Switchcreek some years back, after the catastrophic mutations which killed off 30% of the population and transformed most of the rest into three distinct clades, each with their own new physical and metaphysical traits. I wasn't sure what to expect going in--I'd heard it called sci-fi, then horror--but I don't think I was prepared for the commitment to character. Here's this cool idea, ripe for all kinds of hyperbolic plucking--government conspiracy, apocalyptofantasy, horrific King-esque town-torn-apart shenanigans... but instead we get a gorgeous study of a number of characters and a community, the "human" dynamics transformed but the novel focused intently on how people live (even when they become other kinds of people). There are meditations on family and power and the mandate of biology (butting heads with the desire for individual agency); there are studies in grief and addiction and self-righteousness. But that might make it sound all preachy, the speculative just a neat bit of flummery meant to get you to read past the fable to see the world. Well.... it ain't. Or it ain't just: Gregory is committed to this strangeness, to see and think about and untangle the rich strange emotions such a profound alteration might have. So the novel resists reading its alienness as merely trick-suited humanity; these aren't metaphors, they're characters. And yet--the rich possibility is there. How do we deal with difference, others' and our own?

I was reminded of Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury. A really lovely, engrossing book. (And apparently just popped up on the Publishers Weekly best of the year list, one of only a few sci-fi/horror works to get a nod.)