cover image Small Game

Small Game

John Blades. Henry Holt & Company, $19.95 (239pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-1789-2

This first novel by the former book editor of the Chicago Tribune (and now its critic-at-large) is a surreal black comedy about contemporary life, old houses and the depredations of squirrels. Scott Ryan and his wife Kathy, who seem to be a well-adjusted couple with three kids, venture a bit beyond their usual track when they buy an old mansion in a rather sinister suburban neighborhood. Soon the fixing-up of the house--patching, plastering, sanding, papering, painting--seems to be taking over their existence, and the pushy neighbors, with their aggressive night patrols, escalate the uneasiness. Scott's job seems increasingly threatened as a big conglomerate buys the market research firm where he works and his colleagues begin to vanish. On the commuter train, passengers duck on signal as they pass through Red Zones riddled with sniper fire. And an ever-larger swarm of squirrels is taking over the house's several attics. Moment by disconcerting moment, Blades builds tension and absurdity side by side until Ryan's world passes from the comedy of high irritation into terror. Blades is after familiar effects, but the imaginative details with which he achieves them, and his smoothly realistic narration, make this a highly enjoyable, if disconcerting, parable. Author tour. (Nov.)