cover image Lights Out in the Reptile House

Lights Out in the Reptile House

Jim Shepard. W. W. Norton & Company, $18.95 (285pp) ISBN 978-0-393-02784-6

By the author of Flights and Paper Doll , this is a grim, frightening coming-of-age novel set in a contemporary police state reminiscent of both South Africa and Nazi Germany. Amateur herpetologist Karel Roeder divides his time between working at the zoo, housekeeping for his melancholic unemployed father, and dreaming of Leda, the beautiful and strong-willed girl next door. Against a backdrop of steadily increasing propaganda and violence, Karel works hard to remain unnoticed. But his father disappears, the zoo is taken over by government forces, and Leda grows increasingly intolerant of the murderously repressive regime. When Kehr, a seductively capable and strong-willed Civil Guardsman, is billeted in Karel's house and tries to induct him into service, Karel must decide between personal safety and political ideals, between filial loyalty and erotic love. Gruesome scenes of physical torture add credibility to this nightmarish, politically charged novel in the tradition of George Orwell's 1984. (Feb.)