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Published by Tor.com on September 1, 2020
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Stephen Graham Jones returns with Night of the Mannequins, a contemporary horror story where a teen prank goes very wrong and all hell breaks loose: is there a supernatural cause, a psychopath on the loose, or both?
Praise for Night of the Mannequins
“Reading Stephen Graham Jones is like sitting in the corner of a bar with an old friend, and everyone quiets down the moment they start telling a story. Night of the Mannequins is dark and twisted, funny, a little crazy, and unsettling as hell. The opening setup gets way under your skin, and then Jones takes the story somewhere much darker than you imagined. If there’s an heir apparent to the kind of no-rules, wild imagination, down home storytelling perfected by Joe R. Lansdale, it’s this guy right here. Read him.”—Christopher Golden
"Sly, surprising psychic sleight-of-hand, in a tale of teenage madness where the next plastic face might be your own."—John Skipp
"Wicked and wry, this is a terrific story by one of my favorite writers, Stephen Graham Jones. Tip-top with a twist of dead. The narrator's first person delivery is the most notable aspect of this surprising and creepy tale that nods to popular stalker-killer films of the past, but is so much better than the bulk of those films, and what an ending. You definitely need this."—Joe R. Lansdale
"Stephen Graham Jones' has one of the most gripping, stream-of-consciousness voices in horror fiction. Night of the Mannequins is propulsive and poignant, capturing the mundane terror of adolescence, and adding that ever-so-essential dab of killer mannequin. You won't put it down." —Sarah Langan
I’m here for the Autons. No, seriously, I picked this one up because the “monsters” sounded a lot like the Autons, the monsters in the first episode of the new Doctor Who in 2005. The store mannequins all came to life and the Ninth Doctor uttered a line to Rose Tyler that was emblematic of the entire series – “Run!.” She did, and the rest is history.
Actually, the advice to “Run” works pretty well for this story, too. (Hey, I got to Tomb of Gods, which I LOVED, by way of Pyramids of Mars, so this is not as big a reach – at least for me – as it seems.)
It starts with plastic people. Really, just one plastic person. And a whole lot of imagination.
At first, it’s the imagination of a circle of friends. When they were kids they found a mannequin in a swamp, named him Manny and used him to play all sorts of just-slightly-mean-spirited but mostly funny pranks around their neighborhood.
For one halcyon summer, Manny was their best friend. Then school started in the fall, and they all kind of forgot about him, sitting in Sawyer Grimes garage on the back of his dad’s slightly wrecked motorcycle – that neither Sawyer nor his dad are allowed to ride.
When this story begins, that same circle of friends is closing in on high school graduation. The college questions are coming thick and fast from the parents, the grandparents, the extended family and pretty much every other adult who comes anywhere near them – and maybe they just aren’t ready for that, at least not yet.
They’re growing up, whether they want to or not, and they all know, in that way of knowing what you don’t really want to know, that the last vestiges of their childhoods are coming to an end and that they are doomed or destined to leave their tight friendship behind as they move into adulthood.
So they decide to pull one last prank. With Manny along for the ride. They think they’re taking him to the movies for one, last fling at irresponsible not-quite-adulthood.
As much as they think they’re taking Manny, Sawyer Grimes believes that Manny is taking them. All of them. On one last prank-to-end-all-pranks.
Or is he?
Escape Rating B: That question, “Or is he?” can be read two different ways, depending on whether you put the emphasis on the second or the third word in the question. Which means that there’s also more than one answer.
I came to Night of the Mannequins expecting plastic people. Actually, I kind of got that, but more in the sense that people are still plastic, still able to make a whole lot of changes almost without meaning to, at the age of the protagonists of the story.
But instead of the science fictional version of plastic people – which I admit was more what I was hoping for – I got the plasticity of people in their late teens, as a prank that goes mildly wrong turns into more of a take-off of teenage slasher movies.
The situation they’re in is also plastic in an entirely different way, as events reshape themselves – or reshape the people in them – from something simple and slightly stupid to something complex and extremely deadly, just by passing through the mind of one teenager who has seen way too many movies and leaps to way too many coincidences.
This story kind of begins with a plastic body in a swamp, and it kind of ends with a plastic body in a swamp. But they’re not the same body, they’re not the same kind of plastic, and the second body had real agency in a way that only imagination can give the first. Even if he thinks he didn’t have any at all.
It’s creepy, bloody, scary and riveting every step of the way – and not to be read in the dark.