Verdict: Little sweetness or southern flavor exists in J.J. Haas' mythical city of Sugarville, a bright-looking place that is actually a dark suburb of the twilight zone. Brief and taut, these tales mostly lead to frightful twists.
WELCOME TO SUGARVILLE – A NOVEL IN STORIES stylistically hails back to television’s Twilight Zone and the pulp fantasy fiction of mid-century America. Brief and taut, these tales mostly lead to frightful twists.
Despite the author’s intent to set the stories in present-and-future suburban Atlanta, the book, overall, lacks a strong sense of place. It opens with a sinister, single-paragraph history of the city, where sugar beets once flourished at the site of an Indian burial ground created following a military massacre. But don’t expect stories rooted in Sugarville’s bloody past or ones with recurring characters as may be implied by the novel’s subtitle. The lack of follow-through on the tantalizing opening may disappoint some readers.
Instead, issues of modern identity–mistaken, uncertain, lost and found–create the book’s dark, yet sometimes humorous story cycle.
- In The Cardboard Cutout, parents fail to notice that their teenage son has replaced himself with a life-sized photo cutout during his birthday dinner.
- After being abandoned by his wife and demoted at work, a software programmer in The Disappearing Man discovers that his body is gradually becoming invisible.
- Growing apart, a married couple renews their attraction but loses themselves by attending a company Halloween party in Masks.
- What is artificial becomes actual in Soulmates, a story about a stay-at-home mom who is a sex-worker using virtual reality tools to service clients online, and
- A penniless, wannabe novelist literally loses his identity by accepting a job cranking out mystery novels under a pseudonym in The Content Provider.
But not all is misery and bad outcomes in Sugarville. Wicked humor flashes at unexpected moments, such as in The Last Known Believer when the angel Gabriel visits a talk show host brushing his teeth. Gabriel announces that God wants the celebrity to rescue the Rapture by publicizing it. “Think of it as public service announcement,” Gabriel says.
Think of WELCOME TO SUGARVILLE as an introduction to a clever and promising author who may someday conquer his mythical setting and take readers to a deeper, darker dimension of southern living.
~Alicia Rudnicki for IndieReader