Starred review from Kirkus Reviews
Percy’s (The Dark Net, 2017, etc.) story collection explores a natural world, tired of being misunderstood and threatened by humans, that is finally threatening back.
The humans in these tales are beaten down by the financial collapse, the threat of disease, the mind-numbing routines of their lives; and the wilderness, kept at bay for so long by our construction and our expansion and our money, has begun to creep in at the edges, swallowing those who are lost and stretching, hungry, toward the center of our world. In “Heart of a Bear,” a bear begins to assimilate to human life only to face tragedy and loss that drive him back to the wild. In “Writs of Possession,” an unfinished luxury subdivision becomes the playground for wild animals as the human inhabitants are evicted one by one. There are small offerings of hope: the suggestion that a pair of trespassing children would have been welcomed, fed, and adopted by a homeowner in “Writs of Possession,” for instance, or the ending of “The Balloon,” where, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, two misfits may find solace in each other. For the most part, though, these stories echo with paranoia and loss; there is, Percy suggests, a hollow, empty core beneath the trappings of our modern lives. As he describes a main character in “The Uncharted”: “His friends call him a warrior poet. They have misinterpreted his emptiness for depth.” Despite the loneliness and violence of these tales, however, there is icy beauty in Percy’s language, even as he describes depression: “We take Xanax. We take Lorazapam. We take Prozac and Paxil and Zoloft. Dozens of little moons dissolve inside us and make our brains deaden and our hearts fizz. Sometimes we are so sad we do not move.” This beauty redeems the vision of darkness that he offers—held out before us, these words suggest that there is still something worth saving in our broken human existence.
Like modern Grimm fairy tales, the stories in this volume are cautionary and haunting.
Percy’s haunting, well-crafted prose frequently elevates the mundanity and isolation of being human into something otherworldly in his genre-bending collection (after The Dark Net). The brisk, cleverly written puzzler “Suspect Zero” begins with a body found in a train car and invites readers to follow the clues to the killer’s identity. In the chilling “The Cold Boy,” a man finds his young nephew trapped beneath the ice of a frigid lake and fears the worst, but the boy survives, and his relief soon gives way to terror. In the visceral, but strangely affecting “Heart of a Bear,” an injured bear covets a family’s humanity, leading to tragic results. In the title story, a man employs a disturbing experiment meant to induce a fear of death in a group of suicidal people, and an ember of hope burns at the heart of “The Balloon,” which follows two lonely survivors during the dark days of a pandemic. In the exceedingly creepy novella “The Uncharted,” a risk-averse employee of a virtual map making company joins a dangerous rescue mission to retrieve a team that went missing in a part of Alaska dubbed the Bermuda Triangle of the North. This gripping, often unnerving collection showcases Percy’s talent as a skilled, versatile storyteller.