Paula Guran Reviews Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

Night of the Mannequins, Stephen Graham Jones ( Publishing 978-1-250-75207-9, $11.99, 138pp, tp) July 2020.

Stephen Graham Jones often takes readers into the minds of children and teens. Their fictional brains respond to consensus reality in ways that reflect convincing realities others can’t see. The results of these quirky points of view fuel plots that prove unsettling. His latest novella, Night of the Mannequins, is deeply disturbing. Sawyer, the story’s narrator, states at the beginning: ‘‘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 feel kind of guilty about it all.’’ Sawyer is one of those kids who is brighter and more imaginative than his sophomore pals, but with no more direction or occupation. Their small Texas town and their parents offer them a lot of freedom, and their pastimes are harmless – if, yes, sophomoric – diversions. Their final prank of the summer involves sneaking a full-size, dressed mannequin into a movie theater. Things don’t go as expected, but the weirdness begins when the mannequin rises from his seat at the end of the movie and walks out. After Shanna dies, Sawyer starts putting it all together and knows he has to act. Some people are going to die, but it is all for the greater good. The author’s touch is both deftly credible and amusing. Sawyer is a convincing and endearing protagonist. This serves to make the novella all the more disquieting. By the time the story crashes to its end, you may well have an empty feeling about inadvertent evil in your stomach and a hole in your heart as well.

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron, Ohio, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the June 2020 issue of Locus.

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