Thanks to the newly revived Powell’s Daily Dose, a huge grower of my “to-read” list, this novel came to my attention and I’m glad I took the time to “Interlibrary Loan” it (since I couldn’t find it at either of my local libraries). Don’t let its 662 pages intimidate you. American Elsewhere is a fun combination of noir, horror, and science fiction with a bit of the Truman Show thrown in for good measure (only there are no TV cameras). Robert Jackson Bennett not only introduces you to the term, pan-dimensional, but also slowly helps you conceptualize what that might mean in a perfect time-capsule town under a pink moon.
That said, what drew me to the story was the main character, Mona Bright, an ex-cop, who upon her father’s death, learns that she has inherited her mother’s house in the town of Wink, New Mexico. Mona never knew her mother had a house or even another life because she killed herself when Mona was seven years old. However, time is running out because Mona’s claim to the house expires 30 years after her mom’s death and that anniversary is approaching in eleven days. She heads from Texas to New Mexico, riding in a bright red Dodge Charger, which she unearthed from her father’s rented storage locker, and clutching a photo of her mother with three other women—proof that Laura Gutierrez Alvarez was once a very different person than the sad and cowed woman that Mona remembers from her childhood.
Yet, that is not the biggest mystery that Mona confronts when she finally arrives in Wink, a seemingly picture-perfect town in the middle of nowhere. By day, Wink seems to be a Southwestern version of Pleasantville—picket fences, dads going off to work, moms staying home and having book clubs, and children playing in the street. However, at night, everyone stays indoors and there are certain places at the edge of town that no one goes. Also, everyone is very surprised, almost too surprised, when Mona rolls into town and interrupts a funeral of one of the town elders.
Robert Jackson Bennett has a lot of fun with slowly revealing bit by bit the strangeness of the town as well as Mona’s growing awareness that something is not quite right and that it may have everything to do with the abandoned laboratory a few miles outside of town and her mother’s work there. Though this wasn’t a fast read, I was totally immersed in this alternative world and fascinated to see where Bennett was going to take all this. If you don’t mind slow builds, this novel is a great way to think about all the universes that might lie underneath our own.