"Night of the Mannequins" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Tor | Forge
Written by Stephen Graham Jones
2020, 138 pages, Fiction
Released on September 1st, 2020
Auteur is a term commonly used for filmmakers who have a distinct flavor and style to their work, no matter what the genre. For example, you always know you’re watching a Stephen Spielberg movie be it drama (Saving Private Ryan), sci/fi (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), or horror (Poltergeist; fight me). I don’t know if there’s a similar term for authors, but if there is, it would describe Stephen Graham Jones.
His latest novel, Night of the Mannequins, is a surreal romp through the life of Sawyer Grimes and his journey to do whatever it takes to stop a giant mannequin, named…wait for it…Manny, from terrorizing the city and killing innocent people. See, Sawyer and his group of pals found Manny in a creek and used him for all sorts of pranks. Then one day, a prank went horribly wrong and Manny came alive and went on a killing spree. According to Sawyer, anyway.
Unreliable narrator is an understatement here.
I’m not going to get into the details of what exactly is happening because that would ruin it somewhat for you. This is something you need to discover organically.
Before I get to anything else, I have to address the voice of Sawyer. He’s obviously a teenager, and, man, Jones nails it. Sawyer’s lack of life experience is so heavy, you are almost crushed by its weight. I can’t even say he’s a typical dumb teen because I’m pretty confident some of his thoughts were my own at that age. Plus, the dialogue of the teens is so natural and so…youth-like without feeling forced, adding to the believability of both the character and the story.
It takes a special kind of skill to make a likable antagonist, and Jones has it. The things Sawyer does in an effort to keep people safe from Manny are absolutely despicable. But, oddly, you don’t hate him for what he’s doing because it’s obvious his heart is in the right place. He genuinely believes the things he’s doing in attempt to save people will really work. It’s a surreal feeling to feel empathy for someone doing such vile things.
Like in his last release, The Only Good Indians, Jones creates a world where there are really no unlikable characters, even though there are characters with questionable motives (except for Sawyer’s friend’s dad; he’s a bit of a prick). And, like The Only Good Indians, Night of the Mannequins is thought-provoking, intense, at times creepy, and damning. Jones really does a phenomenal job here getting into the mind of someone who clearly has mental issues without portraying them negatively. Sure, the actions of Sawyer are unforgivable, but I don’t’ think you can blame him. I kind of hate Jones for being so good at this sort of thing. I like hating a character. I like seeing someone who does bad stuff get their comeuppance. But damn if Jones doesn’t make that possible. Instead, he forces me to empathize.
Night of the Mannequins is yet another great book in Stephen Graham Jones’ fantastic catalog, and an easy recommendation.
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