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Contemporary Novels

WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK by Julia Heaberlin

Toward the end of WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK, a character muses: “If everybody’s holes were as obvious as a missing body part, what would the word disabled even mean?” Out of context that may sound a bit pat. In context, I found myself in tears.

What an amazing, profound, and captivating novel this is. On the level of plot alone, it piles mystery on mystery–two unsolved murders in the past; a one-eyed girl who appears out of nowhere, refusing to speak; a crazy and possibly homicidal recluse; and what is it with those dandelions? The prose, if a bit hyperbolic here and there, is musical and vivid and precise, with distinct voices for the different narrators. And the characters. Oh, my, the characters. Flawed, broken, tough, vulnerable, and deep. Their pasts are richly detailed, so much so that I felt like I could pick a date at random and Heaberlin could tell me what each of them was doing at any hour of the day.

The opening dozen pages made me worry that this might be a paint-by-the numbers serial killer novel. Heaberlin quickly disabused me of that idea with the first of many plot twists, and the surprises came thick and fast thereafter. If, like me, you love that feeling of weightlessness you get when the rug is pulled out from under you over and over again, you will love this book.

There is so much to admire here. Though there are plenty of secrets to go around, the viewpoint characters play fair–they don’t tease the reader with vital information that they’re withholding for the climax. Heaberlin’s research on prosthetics is completely convincing and full of surprises. That’s true of all her research–the first page of the novel is a disquisition on digging a grave by hand that I wanted to wave in the face of lesser writers who’ve buried corpses in an hour. Anyone who’s planted a tree or put a beloved cat to rest knows better, and that passage forged a confidence in Heaberlin as somebody who cares to get things right.

I used the word “profound” earlier. A common subtext in psychological thrillers (a marketing category that typically means, “It’s a suspense novel, except a woman wrote it”) is the way men use violence to deprive women of their agency. There’s a good deal of that in WE ARE ALL THE SAME, but Heaberlin also shows us damaged men, and lays the blame for both at the boots of their bad and damaged fathers.

Don’t miss this one.

By Lewis Shiner

Lewis Shiner is the author of OUTSIDE THE GATES OF EDEN, the cyberpunk classic FRONTERA, and the award-winning GLIMPSES, among other novels. He's also published short story collections, journalism, and comics. Virtually all of his work is available for free download at fictionliberationfront.net. For more information, browse to lewisshiner.com.

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