Meet Me in the Strange, Leander Watts (Meerkat 978-1-946154-15-6, $16.95, 234pp, hc) March 2018.
This is one unique book.
I was chapters into Meet Me in the Strange before I fully realized that the reviewer part of my brain needed to be turned off (stop noting names and locations, stop paying attention to setting descriptions and plot development) and I just needed to take the ride this book was offering. It doesn’t matter so much who does what at a certain place; it doesn’t matter exactly when characters meet or fall out. Author Leander Watts is writing about two teenagers, and the power of music, and the hope for something wild and strange that persists in this unknown city in some unknown future. Stop trying to analyze it, the author insists, just enjoy the ride.
That’s easier said than done when the reader is supposed to be reading a book for review because, on some level, I have to take notes. But the most important aspect of Meet Me in the Strange is most definitely not the who, what, where, when, or why. It’s the wildness of story and how very much the two main characters need their hero to be more than he appears, which, in all honesty, he probably is.
I believe in Django Conn and if you read Meet Me in the Strange, you will become a believer too.
So, onto the conventional review notes: Davi is a huge fan of rock star Django Conn (who bears a striking resemblance to David Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust days). At a local Django concert, Davi notices a girl in the crowd, and can’t forget about her. Anna Z. later shows up at the Angelus, the spectacular old world hotel where Davi’s family lives (Dad is the manager) and the two of them meet and bond over their mutual fan appreciation. And then Anna Z. shares what she really thinks makes Django Conn special – she is certain he’s the ‘‘next step in human evolution.’’
Here’s the way I see it. Music makes the mutation. Songs and riffs and Django’s voice – all together, they’re the mutagen. You know what that word means? You understand? The mutagen is the thing that makes a creature start changing into something new, like a weird science chemical or cosmic x-rays or the full moon that turns the werewolf into his true self. Or the radioactive spider-bite. Or the mummy’s curse when the tomb is opened up after four thousand years. It’s anything that makes the body mutate. Cells start changing and making new ones like crazy. And soon enough you’ve got a real mutant on your hands. Like Django, and me. And you.
Is Django really something else, something more? Is Anna Z. on her way to becoming whatever that is, and is Davi on the same potential shift? Meet Me in the Strange doesn’t make any of the answers obvious, but that’s okay. The secondary characters (especially Davi’s sister and her boyfriend), weigh in on the side that these are two music-obsessed teenagers who are being silly, but Django himself eventually has some thoughts on the subject, and those are a bit more difficult to dismiss. More importantly, Anna Z. believes and Davi needs to believe, and the point is that sometimes believing is enough; it’s everything. (And yes, it might even be true.)
Meet Me in the Strange is a beautifully written coming-of-age story about all the ways in which you feel most at home when you find the people who are looking for the same home you are. Davi (whose gender is never specified) is a glorious combination of curiosity, self-doubt, and determination, while Anna Z. is delightfully too weird and too certain for manic pixie dream girl status. (She is actually the long awaited evolution of the manic pixie dream girl.) The worldbuilding is subtle, the setting a mix of big city, old world, and some Carnival of Venice flash and style. And Django Conn is enough like Bowie to make a fan weep. Altogether, Meet Me in the Strange is most wholly a book like no other and, for plenty of questing readers, that will be more than enough.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the June 2018 issue of Locus.
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