cover image A Sick Gray Laugh

A Sick Gray Laugh

Nicole Cushing. Word Horde, $16.99 trade paper (298p) ISBN 978-1-939905-52-9

A wholly erratic and unstable narrator drives this kooky, outlandish tale. Noelle Cashman—whose name’s similarity to Cushing’s is not coincidental—is a prolific, award-winning author known for her sadistic fiction. With her mental illness recently regulated by medication, she’s forced to find inspiration outside her own head. She decides to write about “an overwhelming Grayness” she perceives around the community of Naumpton, Ind. Both Cushing’s novel and Noelle’s work in-progress explore the fictional town’s history, introducing religious fanatics shrouded in black veils and a matriarchal order with doctrines rooted in rejecting submission to men. Noelle asserts the Grayness took hold because of these groups’ assimilation into right-wing, patriarchal Midwestern culture, and gradually succumbs to the notion that constructing her own cult is the only possible relief from the mundane. Cushing constructs a convincing portrayal of someone rationalizing away their lunacy, but it can be laborious to read. Likewise, the Naumpton history lesson is lengthy enough to be dry, but Cushing (The Sadist’s Bible) keeps it lively with clever parody, including a charity event in which participants donate guns so homeless people can exercise their Second Amendment rights. Noelle’s story will suit readers who want to experience true disconnection from reality. (Sept.)