NR: Night of the Mannequins

I’ve got a couple of titles by Stephen Graham Jones stacked up on my kindle, but until now apart from the odd short story in an anthology the only thing I’d read by him was chapbook The Elvis Room.

A group of teenagers use a mannequin as a prop in their various escapades during summer holidays. They decide to prank their friend Shanna by dressing Manny up and smuggling him into the movie theatre where she works as an usherette. Only things go slightly wrong and nobody is quite sure what happened, whether Manny was found or not. In fact Sawyer, the narrator of the story, is convinced he saw Manny get up and walk out of the theatre under his own steam. And then Shanna and her family are killed when a truck ploughs into their house, but Sawyer becomes convinced that Manny, now grown to giant size, was responsible and intends to kill the rest of them. Horrified by the thought of collateral damage, Sawyer comes up with a damage limitation plan.

This was a crazy ride, totally gripping even though at times it might feel as if the whole thing is so over the top it’s floating in the stratosphere. In a way allowing for the fact that the kids are slightly older, it could be a dark side version of The Goonies with Sawyer’s madness driving the plot, or perhaps a more knowing version of Bradbury’s Green Town summers. There is here the same feel of kids having fun, enjoying the very best times of their lives, with friendship at the heart. It contains within itself the seeds of all the monster and horror movies that these kids have seen, but there is a fly in the ointment, in that one of them has lost touch with reality. Sawyer, as he comes to realise, has become the monster that he is trying to thwart – he has looked too long into the abyss. The reader is bemused by the rationality and backwards logic that he uses to justify his actions, to the point that we wonder if he is simply a monster finding a rationale for acting as he does. Of course the whole thing is slightly silly, as you’d perhaps expect given the title Night of the Mannequins, but we make allowances and accept it for the romp that it is, and on that level it is wholly enjoyable. There’s humour here and horror, all wrapped up in a slightly askew picture of small town America and a narrative that is never afraid to take risks with credibility. I loved every minute of this rollercoaster ride.

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