Review: Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

cover of Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham JonesNight of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones
Tor (September 1, 2020)
136 pages; $11.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

So Shanna got a new job at the movie theater, we thought we’d play a fun prank on her, and now most of us are dead, and I’m really starting to kind of feel guilty about it all.

Stephen Graham Jones packs a lot of information about his new book Night of the Mannequins into that opening sentence. You get a hint of events to come, a clear idea of the tone, and an important clue about the attitude of the narrator, all in less than 40 words. That, my friends, is talent.

This assessment holds true throughout the rest of the book, which starts out as a surreal coming-of-age story straight from The Twilight Zone and morphs into something even darker and more sinister. The “prank” in question involves a mannequin, found one summer by a tight-knit group of friends that includes the aforementioned Shanna and Sawyer, our narrator. Sawyer tells stories of dressing the mannequin up and posing him in various places around town. It’s a fun diversion for a while but, like most diversions, “Manny” the mannequin is soon tossed aside and mostly forgotten.

When a freak accident takes out one of the friends soon after their final prank is pulled, Sawyer begins to wonder if some kind of supernatural event is underway, some terrible retribution for a sin he believes he and his group share. Seeing these early events unfold in his eyes, it seems plausible enough; this is, after all, a horror story. For a while, things progress as one might expect…but Stephen Graham Jones has more cards to lay on the table.

Night of the Mannequins has a lot of strengths, but head and shoulders above them all is the work the author does with Sawyer. Graham brilliantly inhabits the voice of a teenager convinced all his bad ideas are, really, the only possible way to go. The way he is able to justify his own actions and reactions throughout the story are not enough to convince you that what he does is right, but you certainly can see how sure he is that they’re right…and why he continues down his chosen path even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

One bit of warning: I don’t know what the back copy of the finished version of this book will include, but the synopsis on the back of my advance copy contains some massive spoilers that, had I read them beforehand, would have made this a much different reading experience. Still a good one, but one with less tension, and one that ultimately would have been less rewarding. So, just in case, maybe don’t read the back? I mean, it’s got Stephen Graham Jones’s name on the cover, and it’s getting a stellar review right here at Cemetery Dance, so what more do you need to know?

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