Lights Out in the Reptile House: A Novel

Open Road Media
Free sample

A shy and apolitical herpetologist-in-training finds the weight of history bearing down on him as the effects of repression ramp up in his country

In an unspecified country that combines elements of Chile under its military regime, South Africa under apartheid, and Italy under fascism, fifteen-year-old Karel Roeder asks only to be left alone to learn from Albert, his mentor at the zoo’s reptile house, and to devote himself to his girlfriend, Leda. But both Leda and Albert lead him into increasingly proscribed areas of thought and speech, and thus into conflict with a newly ascendant party that intends to prosecute a border war against an officially despised ethnic group and criminalize dissent. Citizens have been disappearing and surveillance in the name of safety has become all-pervasive. When Kehr, a special assistant of the civil guard, billets himself at Karel’s house for unknown reasons, Karel finds his already tenuous hold on his own innocence crushed as Kehr—tribune, inquisitor, and metaphysician of terror—instructs his unwilling protégé in those moments when history is let off the leash.
 
Lights Out in the Reptile House is at once a dystopian political parable, a meditation on totalitarianism, and a moving coming-of-age story, as its protagonist struggles to understand his own values and meaning even in the most extreme of crucibles.
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About the author

Jim Shepard (b. 1956) is the author of four short story collections and seven novels, most recently The Book of Aron, which has been shortlisted for both the Kirkus Prize and the American Library Association Andrew Carnegie Medal. Originally from Connecticut, Shepard now lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He is the J. Leland Miller Professor of English at Williams College, where he teaches creative writing and film. He won the Story Prize for his collection Like You’d Understand, Anyway, which was also a finalist for the National Book Award. Shepard’s stories have appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine, and McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, among other publications; five have been selected for the Best American Short Stories, two for the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, and one for a Pushcart Prize.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Open Road Media
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Published on
Dec 22, 2015
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Pages
285
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ISBN
9781504026697
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Language
English
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Genres
Fiction / Coming of Age
Fiction / Dystopian
Fiction / Political
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The third book in New York Times-bestselling Seanan McGuire's witty urban fantasy InCryptid series about a family of cryptozoologists who act as a buffer between humans and the magical creatures living in secret around us.

"The only thing more fun than an October Daye book is an InCryptid book." —Charlaine Harris, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of Sookie Stackhouse series

Cryptid, noun: Any creature whose existence has not yet been proven by science. See also "monster."

Cryptozoologist, noun: Any person who thinks hunting for cryptids is a good idea. See also "idiot."

What do gorgons, basilisks, and frogs with feathers all have in common? They're all considered mythological by modern science, and some people are working very hard to keep them that way.

Alexander Price is a member of a cryptozoological lineage that spans generations, and it's his job to act as a buffer between the human and cryptid worlds—not an easy task when you're dealing with women who has snakes in place of hair, little girls who may actually be cobras, and brilliant, beautiful Australian zookeepers. And then there's the matter of the murders...

Alex thought he was choosing the easier career when he decided to specialize in non-urban cryptids, leaving the cities to his little sister, Verity. He had no idea what he was letting himself in for. It's a family affair, and everyone—from his reanimated grandfather to his slightly broken telepathic cousin—is going to find themselves drawn in before things get any better.


In Daniel Curley's stories, passionate rage and cool, clear hatred alter the terms of even the most basic human relationships, etching odd patterns on the surface of the natural world—a man applies the methods of Mata-Hari to the task of keeping track of his ex-wife; the victim of a pickpocket plots psychological revenge on the criminal population of a Mexico City bus line; a spurned lover summons all his strength and courage to liberate a roomful of snakes held captive by his rival.

For the most part, the figures in the landscape of these stories are men and women performing the rituals that lead to and away from marriage. In "The First Baseman," a man in the process of getting a divorce falls in love with a player on a woman's softball team, but their conversation never goes far beyond the subject of her batting average. In "Trinity," an estranged couple brought together again by the death of their daughter finds that they cannot recreate either their love or their child. And in "Wild Geese," a man's dream about his childhood, when flocks of geese patterned the sky, is interrupted and finally shot-through by fevered images of a tedious dinner party.

Nature exists as a refuge in these stories, but it is a refuge mostly to be found in the shadow of the fear of death; in the recesses of memory; beyond the bars that isolate zoo animals from an unruly world. Demonically honest and sometimes violently funny, Living with Snakes tells of a world where love is at best a touch-and-go sort of thing, where sometimes men and women are bound together not so much by affection as by mutual loss, mutual pain.
I’ve been a problem baby, a lousy son, a distant brother, an off-putting neighbor, a piss-poor student, a worrisome seatmate, an unreliable employee, a bewildering lover, a frustrating confidante and a crappy husband. Among the things I do pretty well at this point I’d have to list darts, re-closing Stay-Fresh boxes, and staying out of the way.

This is the self-eulogy offered early on by the unwilling hero of the opening story in this collection, a dazzling array of work in short fiction from a master of the form. The stories in Love and Hydrogen—familiar to readers from publications ranging from McSweeney’s to The New Yorker to Harper’s to Tin House—encompass in theme and compassion what an ordinary writer would seem to need several lifetimes to imagine.

A frustrated wife makes use of an enterprising illegal-gun salesman to hold her husband hostage; two hapless adult-education students botch their attempts at rudimentary piano but succeed in a halting, awkward romance; a fascinated and murderous Creature welcomes the first human visitors to his Black Lagoon; and in the title story, the stupefyingly huge airship Hindenburg flies to its doom, representing in 1937 mankind's greatest yearning as well as its titanic failure.

Generous in scope and astonishing in ambition, Shepard’s voice never falters; the virtuosity of Love and Hydrogen cements his reputation as, in the words of Rick Bass, “a passionate writer with a razor-sharp wit and an elephantine heart”—in short, one of the most powerful talents at work today.
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