cover image Elk's Run

Elk's Run

Joshua Hale Fialkov, . . Villard, $19.95 (216pp) ISBN 978-0-345-49511-2

Originally serialized as a comic book (until its publisher went under), this coming-of-age thriller appears in its entirety for the first time. The young protagonist, John Kohler, is even more bored and frustrated than most teenagers: he's grown up in the tiny town of Elk's Run, whose fanatical survivalist founders have sealed it off from the rest of the world, turning it into a sort of cross between Mayberry and the Branch Davidian compound. When a fatal accident leads to a revenge lynching and a series of murders, John and his friends try to escape; their parents come after them; and the ensuing cat-and-mouse game involves a mine fire, a stockpile of napalm and a stash of terrorist plans. Tuazon's chunky, scribbly brushwork occasionally seems too crude for a story whose heart is in its gritty precision. Still, his characters' facial and body language is remarkably expressive, and he pulls off some clever visual interpretations of the story—flashbacks to the teenagers' childhoods are drawn in a cartoonier, Archie-inspired style. And although the story is sometimes marred by simplistic characterization (the parents go from cruel disciplinarians to murderous psychotics rather quickly), Fialkov builds the suspense incrementally until the cycle of violence becomes a wave of disasters. (Mar.)