Neighbors, by Michael H. Payne – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

5132WJOdC0L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Neighbors, by Michael H. Payne
Balboa, CA, “Hey, Your Nose is on Fire” Industries, October 2014, trade paperback $10.00 (212 pages), Kindle $3.00.

August Lancer, the narrator, is a young resident of Haven Space, a sanatorium and rehabilitation clinic in Southern California. Dumped there by his father (who sends expense money but never visits), Gus is a loner in a wheelchair, afflicted by a degenerative condition that has paralyzed him from the waist down and made it almost impossible to talk. His only pleasure is watching a TV cartoon series about ponies.

This all changes when Gus is adopted by a hospital therapy black cat named Spooky, who tells him that her name is really El Brujo.

“‘El Brujo?’ I heard myself ask with words that weren’t words. ‘But … you’re female. Aren’t you?’

Another little smile. ‘I’m a bit of a trendsetter.’” (p. 19)

Gus finds himself able since her appearance to talk with the other animals and birds around him. Serena the squirrel. Jefe the crow and his flock. The sparrows who nest just outside the window. Nobody else notices anything unusual, even when El Brujo and Jefe dance together, so Gus worries about it.

“Another thought hit me hard, then, one that I’d tried my absolute damnedest over and over the last bunch of months to stop myself from thinking: what if El Brujo and Serena and the sparrows and crows this morning and the weird little voices I heard in the trees and bushes out in the neighborhood –

What if it was all in my head? What if the shredded chunks of my nervous system weren’t making me understand the animals but were instead making me imagine I could understand them? Was it just a matter of time before rows of dancing chipmunks were telling me to set things on fire and kill people?” (p. 31)

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