American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
First of all, I did enjoy this book... in general. There's a lot to love and I've always been a fan of any book that can cross genres, mixing SF/Fantasy/Horror into a wonderful smoothie. This is my third Bennett book, so I knew what I was getting into.
Unfortunately, I liked this less than the other two: City of Stairs and City of Blades.
It's kinda surprising, actually. I grew up in New Mexico, so getting the flavors and the horrors of the location should have been so nice, and I did enjoy the nostalgia, as far as that went. I knew to expect an epic blowout, too, so that was something I really wanted to see. Fortunately, I'm given that treat as well.
The small-town oddities devolved into a small-town family fight, in essence, but because this is Bennett, just expect the consequences to get way out of hand. As in universe-shaping uglies duking it out in all the old grand traditions of the genres, but localized in a sleepy New Mexican town. It's nice. Very nice. Full props for ideas and exploration and twists within the characters we get to know.
But here's where it's not so great: The pacing has a lot to be desired. It suffers from that old horror-cliche where a lot of digressions fill up most of the book. Sometimes it is in the service of the greater story, and sometimes it isn't.
I could easily overlook all of that if it wasn't for just one little thing: we probably didn't need the long and painful explanations. I think the novel would have been stronger if it rested on the hints and profound eerie-ness and suppositions. It just wasn't set up right for an epic denouement of gods releasing all their secrets, IMHO. It took away from the horror and the tension, big-time, even if it satisfied some of my SF roots.
So, in effect, I'd have preferred a fully "Show, don't Tell" resolution. It might have been just fine to omit the offending passages, after all, the action was there and it was quite enjoyable.
If I were in a more forgiving mood, I probably would have just given this a full five stars and be done with it, but I've read those other works of his and they didn't suffer from this complaint, or at least not nearly as badly as here.
Putting this in context with other Horrors and SF, there's still a lot to love and I don't want to steer anyone away from this novel. If you forgive a bit of meandering and exposition (common traits in Horror and SF, respectively,) then I'm certain you'll be all over this like flies on a cowpie. :)
Always expect big things under the surface with Bennett. :) I have yet to be dissatisfied with his idea-wrangling.
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