A Paris Review Best Book of 2015Winner of the BOA Short Fiction Prize
Like [Flannery] O'Connor's work, Reptile House
is rife with moral ambiguity and extreme violence–elegantly written, abruptly erupting, and starkly moving–as well as other forms of human and inhuman darkness. . . . But there is unadulterated joy in Reptile House
, and it lies in the inventiveness of McLean's language. Her prose is energetic and lyrical without excising ugliness . . . This skill with language makes possible the stories' portraits of human beings, so revealing in their unsentimental bleakness, and it is in this unique style that the worldhood of Reptile House
emerges. . . . To read Reptile House
is to dwell in a broken, funny, frightening, possibly doomed world–a world that may help us to read and live in our own.
Characters struggle to control slivers of their fates in the nine stories of McLean's debut. . . . McLean has a knack for stunning sentences that resonate with her characters' circumstances. . . . [She] stages yearning and stasis with poignancy and wit. –Kirkus Reviews
McLean's debut collection of short stories moves seamlessly from adultery to kidnapping, from assassination plots to extreme geothermal events, all in a voice that is spare and darkly poetic. . . . McLean's characters are lonely in their marriages, isolated from the world around them, and not generally given happy endings. What this book does offer, however, is strangely realistic glimpses into conflicts that are equal parts surreal and hyper-realistic, rendered by a voice that gracefully juxtaposes terse reportage and lyrical insight. The result is a taut volume that explores the fate of the dashed dreamer, offering charming insights into the untidy worlds of people who are not where they thought they'd be.
I am still thinking about these stories, still turning those objects over in my head like the strange but stunning artifacts of someone else's life. And that, I suppose, is Reptile House's most impressive accomplishment: for better or worse, it is the kind of book that stays with you long after you've finished it, begging to be revisited over and over again.
Upset runs rampant throughout McLean's debut work. McLean's surreal tales about ordinary characters deliver emotional truth in poetic language. Concrete and surreal, they spill beyond the conventional short story forms.
"Robin McLean writes in wonderful cascades of language. Her characters are carried along by those cascades, often unwittingly. Sometimes, as with the two young men in 'No Name Creek, ' they are carried to a happy end. More often, they seem to be, like Lilibeth in 'Cold Snap, ' overtaken by events beyond their control. Characters' own words, often inept or pathetic in light of their situations, offer ironic counterpoint. Much is laughable in these stories. Don't be deceived. Through her sly wit and humor, Robin McLean is luring readers into deeper questions." –Frank Soos
"Tonally and structurally, these marvelous stories have no discernable influences. In her debut collection, Robin McLean emerges as a writer with a singular voice and vision. I admire this book immoderately, and I hope that readers will find it." –Chris Bachelder
"Robin McLean's fiction is harrowing and wry and compassionate, and always both fiercely rooted in the world and fearlessly willing to take chances. I love her keen sense of our inherent strangeness, and her heartening sense of just how important it is that we never stop trying to close the gap between who are and who we aspire to be. –Jim Shepard
Once you've read these nine stories, forgetting them is as unlikely as discovering the end-point of pi. Kissing cousins to George Saunders, Donald Barthelme, and perhaps even Don DeLillo, they are nonetheless powered by a distinctive new voice. McLean dives fearlessly through the Looking Glass; she scrubs the psyche raw, perhaps in an effort to get even closer to what constitutes 'reality'. –Jim Story
Robin McLean's debut collection is electric. I recommend that you get a copy and put it at the top of your stack. –Jodi Angel Reptile House
is so wonderful. It's full of (almost) unbearable tension and what a wild ride through so many worlds. I enjoyed reading it hugely and am recommending it to all my reading/writing friends. –Kathy Anderson
When you read Robin McLean's stories, she's gonna get you. She will take you out into deep, and then deeper, water. –Noy Holland
I haven't read a book this dark and frank and sublimely written in a while. Maybe since Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men
. –Alden Jones