"Like Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, Alyssa Cole’s When No One Is Watching or Zakiya Dalila Harris’ The Other Black Girl, Reprieve straddles genres in the best possible way. . . . Sure to spark conversation and debate at book clubs across the land." –LOS ANGELES TIMES
“An eventual American classic that is unrelenting in its beauty and incisive cultural critique.” – KIESE LAYMON
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A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room—a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession with fear as entertainment.
On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, “reprieve,” they’ll win a substantial cash prize—a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house’s long history. But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants.
Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who’s been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character’s journey unfurls and overlaps, deceit and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed, forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe.
An astonishingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism to present an unsettling portrait of this tangled American life.
Mattson (The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves) returns with the smart and harrowing story of a killing at a haunted house. In 1997, Victor Dunlap, a bank manager who used to teach English in Thailand, agrees to participate in a full-contact escape room style challenge at Quigley House in Lincoln, Nebr. His four-person team includes his fianc e, Jane Roth, who is obsessed with Halloween but finds being handcuffed, shocked, and muzzled with electrical tape by the haunted house's staff to be a bit too much; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a university student whom Victor had taught in Kanchanaburi, and who sought Victor out in the U.S. because he had a crush on him. The house supplies a fourth teammate, Bryan Douglas, a Black university student whose throat is slit in the house by Leonard Grandton in front of the others, who initially think it's part of the act. Leonard had developed a friendship with the man who owns Quigley, before becoming needy and erratic. The tense, well-paced story meted out in snippets of courtroom transcriptions during Leonard's trial and chapters from various characters' points of view, including Bryan's cousin Kendra, who recently moved to Lincoln from Washington, D.C., and whose friend back east was concerned about her "managing all that white" gradually reveals thematic connections as everyone grapples with understanding why Bryan was killed. It adds up to a canny use of horror as metaphor for themes of guilt, race, and sexuality. Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated that one of the characters works in Lincoln, Nebr., and misattributed a line of dialogue. This review has also been updated for clarity.
Thoroughly enjoyed this book, but the ending was unsatisfying. Not sure how the writer got from A to B regarding Jaidee’s choice.