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Sweatpants & Books | Shelf Care: But I Wouldn’t Want to Live There

by Alex Doyle

Welcome to Shelf Care where I review three books related by a theme.  These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.

This column’s theme: …But I Wouldn’t Want to Live There

This time around, it’s all about those towns in the middle of nowhere that are way more interesting than they should be, but if you stick around too long, you’ll probably be there for the rest of your life…however long that is.

So if you like

  • The TV show Lost
  • Stephen King
  • Weird Science
  • Norman Rockwell
  • H.R. Giger

You might like

American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Overview

A woman inherits a house in an off the map town where the government did some very Weird Science in the 70’s. She finds the residents a bit unusual, to say the least.

Sample passage

If Mr. First had eyes to widen, they would be quite wide right now.

He thinks about what he has just seen, and two thoughts enter his mind:

One is that someone has been murdered. This is unprecedented, and rightly so: such a thing should be impossible here. Yet merely by glancing at the next few hours, he can see it is true.

The second is far more confusing, far more ominous, and totally perplexing to Mr. First. Yet he knows what he saw, and though it was as vague and shadowed as all glimpses of things yet to come, it is clear as day to him:

She is coming.

Takeaway

American Elsewhere is one of my all time favorite books, and was also nearly in two of my previous columns. Bennett is really good at pacing his books by setting things up and paying them off. Each answer leads to more questions, and the cycle repeats until the end of the book, making them real page-turners.  It’s a testament to his ability to tell a story where the finale I’d expected happens in the first third of the book. This left me wondering where things could possibly go from there, now that, metaphorically speaking, the monster was out of the closet, until I discovered that there was so much more in that closet.

Or if you like

  • Blake Crouch’s novel Dark Matter
  • Twin Peaks, for weird towns in the middle of nowhere
  • Lost, for being stuck somewhere with a mystery to unravel
  • The Prisoner, for paranoid thrillers where the protagonist is stuck in the middle of nowhere with a mystery to unravel

You might like:

Pines, by Blake Crouch (Book One of the Wayward Pines series)

Overview

A Secret Service agent heads to Wayward Pines to investigate the disappearance of his partner, when he’s hit by a truck and wakes up in the woods.  His stay only gets stranger from there, as he discovers everything in town is just a little too perfect.

Sample passage

“So now I hear you telling me about this electrified fence, and I’m wondering, why is it there? Is it to keep us in? Or to keep something out?”

Takeaway

Any time I see a title that declares “Book one of …whatever series” my first thought is to chuck the thing, as odds are the author is unnecessarily dragging out the narrative. However, Crouch excels at creating page-turning novels where the protagonist is never safe and has to think their way out of one jam after another. He avoids the tropes of having his characters do something stupid to advance the plot, but rather has them think through the consequences of their actions, and bide their time. Pines ties up the loose ends, explains all the weird occurrences, and reaches a satisfying conclusion. The other two books in the series, Wayward, and The Last Town are more stories unto themselves, and are also worth checking out.

Or if you like:

  • Monty Python
  • Dark, surrealist, comedy
  • Characters that react realistically during encounters with the super weird.

You might like:

Anomaly Flats, by Clayton Smith

Overview

Skipping town with some money that isn’t hers, Mallory’s car breaks down in Anomaly Flats, where she takes a tour of the town’s bizarre phenomena with a scientist who has been studying the town for years, but he still doesn’t want to tell her what’s up with aisle eight of the local Wal-Mart.

Sample passage

The old woman shrugged. “There used to be a restaurant called the Blue Bottle, a few years back. It imploded.”

“It imploded?”

“Yes…sucked itself into a tight little ball of drywall and metal.”

Mallory squinted. “An entire building did that?”

“The town council warned them not to build a restaurant on a gravitational deviation. Too bad, too…the Blue Bottle served eggs—proper eggs, mind you, not the abominations that we do not speak of.”

Takeaway

Anomaly Flats is a light, fast read where the comedy comes out of the protagonist’s reactions, and the flat out weirdness of the situations she finds herself in. Think: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy on acid. While the gags do sometimes get in the way of the narrative, and the ending wasn’t all I’d hoped for, it was still pretty entertaining and worth the read.

So, what else should have been on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for my next column, where the theme will be: 80’s Mix Tape.

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About Alex Doyle (9 Articles)

Alex Doyle is a father, programmer, smartass and a fan of anything that wastes no time to getting to the point. When he’s not trying to be clever on the Internet, or irritating his kids with dad jokes, he can be found looking for the next great story that everyone has to read.

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