Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Mar. 2023. 318p. ISBN 9781662506239. pap. $16.99. HORROR
Stage’s claustrophobic novel contemplates what turns a person into a monster. When the COVID pandemic begins, hairdresser Grace is laid off, and her widowed mother, Jackie, moves in to help pay the bills. Their relationship is strained, dating back to Grace’s childhood. Told from Grace’s clearly flawed but sympathetic perspective and fueled by the disorientation of COVID isolation and frequent flashback dream sequences, readers watch helplessly as Grace’s mind completely unravels, leading to shocking violence. Opening the novel with an ominous prologue, where a criminal psychologist is about to meet his newest patient, and closing with an epilogue in which the same doctor’s observations terrifyingly hammer home the supernatural aspects of the story, Stage thrusts dread upon readers from her book’s first sentences and continues to escalate the tension with every page.
VERDICT Stage’s latest (after The Girl Who Outgrew the World) feels like a nice bookend to her Bram Stoker Award–nominated debut novel, Baby Teeth, an LJ Best Book of 2018. A great choice for fans of intense psychological horror where nothing can be trusted and no one can look away from the emerging nightmare, such as in Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami or The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig.
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