Here you are in New Jersey, but not Soprano-land New Jersey, this is central Jersey, the edge of the Pine Barrens, where the everydayness of life is interrupted by devils and angels, murderers and saviors, cheaters and music fans.
Bobby Kovacki adores his married girlfriend but is compelled to search for Janine, his hard-partying former classmate who has gone missing. Metalhead Marty, odd-looking and shy, has the chance of a lifetime when he joins the band Dark Beast. Tyrell Colton uses a two-foot-long pipe to avenge himself from a bully. Eleanor Webb, eighty-four, deals with her low blood pressure and a violent neighbor. In the title story, scrappy soccer player, Jade, veers down a path in the woods and stumbles upon a trio of terrifying drifters. And in several different tales, police officer Andrea Vogel, widowed and quietly brokenhearted, attempts to rescue the elderly, help an old boyfriend out, and connect with a young rape victim.
Brutal and fierce, the characters in these linked stories search for meaning in their lives but more importantly, they search for the humanity in themselves.
Praise for CANNIBALS …
“Jen Conley has the rare ability to imbue her stories with an emotional heft that is both subtle and powerful within the darkness. Amongst the other writers with that similar (and extremely rare) skill set, none do it as well as she does.” — Todd Robinson, author of The Hard Bounce.
“Far from the concrete wasteland of the Turnpike lies the dark heart of the Garden State, and Cannibals carves it out still beating. Jen Conley writes with the soul and poetry of Springsteen, pure blue collar Jersey Gothic. These stories take a big bite out of you.” — Thomas Pluck, author of Blade of Dishonor.
“Like Russell Banks’ Trailerpark or Donald Ray Pollack’s Knockemstiff, some stories are so intimately linked to their region, you can’t imagine them taking place anywhere else. Such is Jen Conley’s Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of Pine Barrens, a collection stamped in the hollowed points and haunted woods of New Jersey. Anyone who’s grown up in on the East Coast knows the loneliness there is particular, vicious in its precision — the way the entire world cloisters in its peaks, trees, mountains, battered old homes; even the oceans there manage to feel claustrophobic — and Conley, like one of her characters says, has ‘got an eye for loneliness.’ But where Conley truly excels is in capturing the singular moments that define us, sometimes grand, sometimes mundane, but always deeply etched. These are the stories that will shape not only character but life path. Few writers capture the meaning of what it means to be imprisoned better than Jen Conley.” — Joe Clifford, author Lamentation and December Boys.
“Jen Conley builds her stories from both the minutiae and the grandeur of everyday life. The world in Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of Pine Barrens is mostly a hardscrabble one, and it is the lucidity of her prose and the specificity of her settings and characters that make her one of the finest practitioners of the short story in crime fiction. This is an exciting, scary, compelling collection.” — Patricia Abbott, author Concrete Angel and Shot in Detroit.
“Conley is a wonderful, gutsy writer and her characters ring true, though that won’t help them. They keep getting tripped up by life or by their own poor decisions. And then, every so often, life takes a dip in hope. And when that happens nothing else matters.” — Karen Heuler, author The Inner City.
“Every time I start a new short by Jen Conley, I know I’m in for a treat. Her stories are so good that, even after they hit you in the gut and leave a bruise, you’re thankful for it — so an entire collection is a real gift.” — Rob Hart, author of New Yorked and City of Rose.
Jen Conley’s fiction is quite simply put: masterful. Dark, smart, and deeply emotional; I defy any reader to walk away from her stories unshaken. — Angel Luis Colón, author of The Fury of Blacky Jaguar.
“It’s impossible not to be impressed with Jen Conley’s fiction. You’re destined to have something in her work stay with you, like a scar you lovingly touch over the years. The stories in Cannibals are proof that Conley’s not just one of the best crime fiction writers around, but one of the best writers around, period.” — E.A. Aymar, author of The Dead trilogy, Managing Editor, The Thrill Begins.