Gabino Iglesias Reviews Anybody Home? by Michael J. Seidlinger

Anybody Home?, Michael J. Seidlinger (CLASH Books 978-1-95590-409-4, $18.95, 234pp, tp) August 2022.

Writing a novel using second person is tricky. Writing a creepy, bizarre novel in which the use of second person pulls the reader into a dark, violent world where laws are broken and people die is much harder. Michal J. Seidlinger pulls off the latter brilliantly in Any­body Home?, and readers actually end up enjoy­ing the ride, as long as they have the stomach for it.

There’s a veteran home invader with multiple home invasions under his belt ready to share the tricks of the trade with you. He’ll teach you ev­erything from how to scope a neighborhood and pick a house to observing the routines of those who live in and around that house and eventually breaking in and setting up cameras inside the place to record before and during the home invasion. As you learn, the expert tells you about some of his most memorable break-ins and victims, some of the ugliest, most violent moments he’s witnessed. The suburbs are a dangerous place, and you are the reason why. You want to break into a home and record it, you want to immortalize your perfor­mance so that it might end up on the silver screen and be consumed by those who love fear. You are learning so that you can be the leader of your own performance.

Anybody Home? is an uncomfortable triumph. The novel manages to shatter the fourth wall and drag readers through an education on violence and performance in which the goal is to create something on video that will appeal to the cult, a mysterious group that consumes home invasion ‘‘performances.’’ Seidlinger manages to make the reader part of the story, to the point that sometimes the narrative has spaces during conversations where whatever the reader should be saying on the page is left out, forcing the reader to imagine their answer before they can keep reading the conversation.

While the premise of this novel is relatively simple – an education in home invasions – Seidlinger adds a lot of layers to the narrative that make it much more complex than it might seem. For starters, the core of the story is an exploration of fear – what it is, how it works, why it’s entertain­ing. Also, the concept of performance is present throughout the novel. Everything you will do once you’re inside the home and have a family at your mercy is done for those who will look at it later, for those who will consume the performance. Lastly, there is a mixture of economy of language, pacing, and use of line breaks that forces the reader to get through the book quickly, devouring a short line before jumping to the next one. The result is almost oppressive in its speed and the rhythm it dictates:

What are you afraid of?
I’m asking you.
What are you afraid of?
Is it spiders? Are you afraid of snakes?
How about death? Are you afraid to die?
Afraid of being a failure? Afraid of fucking up your performance?
Are you afraid of being alone with the camera?
Are you afraid of being rejected? Surely the cults can be unkind.

Besides all that, there is also something strange about the way the story works, because while the nameless narrator has a unique voice and a personality, there are no names in the story, so eventually the people who inhabit the homes become not individuals but their roles – the wife, the husband, the daughter. They also become victims, and those doing the performance, includ­ing you, become invaders with a number used to distinguish them.

People spent a lot of time at home during the pandemic, and the concept of someone breaking into their homes is hard to process. This novel lives in that space and takes things further, into a place where every peccadillo, infidelity, and ad­diction is seen, recorded, and exposed as part of the performance. That is also very uncomfortable.

Anybody Home? is a unique, dark, immersive reading experience that juggles the concepts of performance, identity, and fear while destroying the façade of American suburbia. It’s a book that will satisfy fans of Seidlinger’s chameleonic voice, and will make new fans of those who haven’t read his work yet.

Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, professor, and book reviewer living in Austin TX. He is the author of Zero Saints and Coyote Songs and the editor of Both Sides. His work has been nominated to the Bram Stoker and Locus Awards and won the Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel in 2019. His short stories have appeared in a plethora of anthologies and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and CrimeReads. His work has been published in five languages, optioned for film, and praised by authors as diverse as Roxane Gay, David Joy, Jerry Stahl, and Meg Gardiner. His reviews appear regularly in places like NPR, Publishers Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Criminal Element, Mystery Tribune, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other print and online venues. He’s been a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards twice and has judged the PANK Big Book Contest, the Splatterpunk Awards, and the Newfound Prose Prize. He teaches creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University’s online MFA program. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.

This review and more like it in the October 2022 issue of Locus.

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