Audiobook Review: Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tantor Audio (February 23, 2021)
Length: 2 hrs and 58 mins
Narrator: Gary Tiedemann
Night of the Mannequins was my second book by Stephen Graham Jones, and compared to The Only Good Indians, I would say it was most definitely more my cup of tea! Or at least it was, until the ending. But I’ll get into that later.
It all started with a prank. Our protagonist Sawyer, a teenage boy with too much time on his hands, is part of a group of friends who decided to have a little fun with one of their own. Some years before, the gang had been playing in the woods when they happened to come across a discarded plastic mannequin, the kind you typically find in any department store. Nicknamed Manny, the mannequin had been an endless source of amusement, but then the kids grew up. Manny has since been stowed in Sawyer’s garage, almost forgotten, but now the friends are in their last year of high school, and they’ve decided to bring their plastic pal out for one final stunt.
The plan was simple—or should have been, anyway. Recent shenanigans by the group had resulted in one of them, Shanna, working at the local cinema as punishment, inspiring the rest of them—Sawyer, Tim, JR, and Danielle—to play a trick on her, with Manny as the star of the show. Step one: smuggle the mannequin into the theater in pieces. Step two: reassemble him and dress him up in some old clothes. Step 3: place Manny into a center seat up in front, so that when Shanna comes by later to check ticket stubs, she would get the shock of her life.
However, much to Sawyer’s consternation and horror, that moment never arrives. Instead, the would-be pranksters all sit stunned at the back of the theater watching as, at the end of the show, Manny stiffly gets up and walks away. Not long after that, a semi-truck swerves off the highway and smashes into Shanna’s house, killing everyone inside. Everyone is calling it a random freak accident, just a sad case of wrong place, wrong time. Still, while it should have been impossible, Sawyer can’t help but feel with a sick certainty in his gut that Manny is somehow responsible.
In my very limited experience with the author, I can already tell he loves his ambiguous stories, blurring the lines between reality and the supernatural. Throughout this entire tale, you can never really trust what you’re seeing or hearing through Sawyer’s eyes because as you’ve probably guessed, he’s as unreliable as they come. The writing also reflects his frame of mind, presented in an almost stream of consciousness flood of memories, thoughts and observations. It likely would have been a struggle reading this book in print, but fortunately the style wasn’t as much of an obstacle with the audio format.
Due to the vagueness of the plot, it’s also very difficult to talk about it without giving too much away. There’s a dreamlike quality to it, which might be more accurately described as a nightmare as the story becomes stranger, losing much of its coherence the more it progressed. There’s really no better way to put it: it’s like a descent into madness.
In the end, that was what prevented me from embracing this book fully. The first half was nothing short of brilliant; I loved the chilling atmosphere and the horrific moment as you realized the prank involving Manny was not going at all as planned, and that there was definitely something freaky afoot. The final section of the book though, was very different. As you know, I’m not one to enjoy “weird” books. I just don’t do too well with “weird.” And well, that ending was WEIRD. Plus, the final revelations just weren’t that great. I had wanted more, especially since we were teased so hard with all the preceding twists and turns. The tensions by then were practically through the roof, but ultimately, the ending that we got wasn’t even a fizzle but more of a “huh?”
That said, this being such a short read/listen, I don’t know if the negatives were significant enough to really make a blip in my enjoyment. On the whole, I really liked the book’s concept and execution, creepy vibes and all. Since novellas aren’t typically something I prefer, I was also impressed how well this one worked for me, and I’ll be looking out for even more of Stephen Graham Jones’ work in the future.