Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones

by Micah Dean Hicks


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“[T]his novel is extraordinary . . . It is Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, mixed with H. G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, set in the creepiest screwed-up town since ’Salem’s Lot . . . [A] major achievement.” — Adam-Troy Castro, Sci Fi magazine
Swine Hill was full of the dead. Their ghosts were thickest near the abandoned downtown, where so many of the town’s hopes had died generation by generation. They lingered in the places that mattered to them, and people avoided those streets, locked those doors, stopped going into those rooms . . . They could hurt you. Worse, they could change you.
Jane is haunted. Since she was a child, she has carried a ghost girl that feeds on the secrets and fears of everyone around her, whispering to Jane what they are thinking and feeling, even when she doesn’t want to know. Henry, Jane’s brother, is ridden by a genius ghost that forces him to build strange and dangerous machines. Their mother is possessed by a lonely spirit that burns anyone she touches. In Swine Hill, a place of defeat and depletion, there are more dead than living.
When new arrivals begin scoring precious jobs at the last factory in town, both the living and the dead are furious. This insult on the end of a long economic decline sparks a conflagration. Buffeted by rage on all sides, Jane must find a way to save her haunted family and escape the town before it kills them.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

I can’t stop thinking about this book. It’s a haunting story that burrows under your skin like an insect laying eggs that hatch within you in the middle of the night. Hicks’s mesmerizing imagery kept me turning the pages and asking myself ‘How is this book happening? What sort of literary witchcraft am I witnessing?’ ”—Maurice Broaddus, author of Buffalo Soldier and The Usual Suspects

“A tour de force of the imagination. Hicks has created a world that is beautifully and brutally surreal and yet, at the same time, Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones stands as a hyper-realistic psychological portrait of the death of the American factory town. My own identity as an American was disturbed and changed by this novel; some dormant understanding was shaken awake. This is a stunning and profound debut.” —Julianna Baggott, best-selling author of New York Times Notable Book Pure

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones is a breathless wonder of a debut novel. Amid robots and a city of pigs and residents haunted by their own personal ghosts, Micah Dean Hicks explores economic uncertainty, the violence of bigotry and hate, and the tremendous weight of the past. In Swine Hill, no one escapes the horrors of grief. And yet this is a novel infused with hope, and with the most gorgeous sentences evoking the sublime wonder of this world. Hicks is a magician with words and has written a spellbinding, haunting, and necessary book.” —Anne Valente, author of Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down

“Hicks’s debut novel is a thoughtful tour of the rotted and haunted heart of America. Highly recommended.” —Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author Jeremiah Tolbert

“In Break the Bodies Haunt the Bones, Micah Dean Hicks has crafted a haunting story with multi-generational appeal, where the very real horror of poverty meets supernatural horror, and social issues like xenophobia, racism, and economic anxiety are addressed organically through allegory and gripping storytelling. I finished this book three nights ago and still feel the chill of Swine Hill in my bones.” —Chris L. Terry, author of Black Card and Zero Fade

Publishers Weekly


Hicks’s wildly atmospheric and unsettling debut is a heady fusion of horror, Southern gothic, and timely social commentary. The Pig City pork processing plant and a legion of restless ghosts are the only things holding the decaying town of Swine Hill together. Jane, possessed by a ghost girl that can read minds, stays to look after her wayward father and her idealistic brother, Henry, who invents things—with his ghost’s help. His latest invention is pig people such as kindly new plant manager Walter Hogboss and his sweet-natured son, Dennis. They’re designed to self-slaughter, rendering human labor obsolete. Fearing the loss of their livelihoods, panicked citizens and their ghosts violently turn against Jane, Henry, and his creations. Jane must save her family and escape Swine Hill, no matter how high the cost. Hicks, a gifted storyteller, explores the crushing loss of hope and the dark heart of fear. Corporate greed is highlighted, and Henry’s hardworking creations are obvious stand-ins for immigrants. Alongside the metaphor is real racial tension: Jane and her family are African-American and are targets of prejudice. Hicks’s surreal, often grim vision is not without hope, even if it must come in the bloody wake of tragedy. Fans of the macabre will be enthralled. Agent: Kerry D’Agostino, Curtis Brown. (Feb.)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780358133636
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 02/11/2020
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 627,978
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Swine Hill was full of the dead. Their ghosts were thickest near the abandoned downtown, where so many of the town’s hopes had died generation by generation. They lingered in the places that mattered to them, and people avoided those streets, locked those doors, stopped going in those rooms. But you might encounter a ghost unexpectedly​—​in the high school where Jane had graduated two years ago, curled into the hollow of a tree, hands out and pleading on the side of the road. They could hurt you. Worse, they could change you.
The haunted downtown of Swine Hill had been slowly expanding for years, stretching its long fingers into empty neighborhoods where grass fissured the roads and roofs collapsed into rooms of broken furniture and shattered glass. For the people who’d lived and died on those streets, it was anguish to see the vine-choked houses, to know their descendants had run away from all they’d worked for. Their spirits, most present in the stillness of night, raged in the empty places. Even if she was late for work, Jane knew to drive around those neighborhoods.

It was easy to feel alone. There were more dead than living in Swine Hill. Jane’s aunts and uncles had gone out of state after the collapse of the tire factory and the lumber mill. The town jealously cleaved to the pork-processing plant that had chewed up its sons for generations, hoping that in the end, it would be enough. Most people Jane’s age had already gone, scraping up enough money to start over somewhere else. The only ones left were those so poor that they couldn’t make it out, or so haunted they couldn’t see a world outside their ghosts, or just clinging to a past they couldn’t bear to leave behind. But Jane wasn’t alone. Her ghost flashed bright and quick through her mind.

Her car’s engine coughed as she turned the key, something sputtering under the hood like a laugh, and finally groaned to life. It accelerated slowly, heavy with the weight of spirits. The speedometer and gas gauge waved their orange arms erratically. Her windshield wipers often turned on without warning, and sometimes her horn would scream out of nowhere. She was happy the CD player still worked at all, though sometimes a ghost would settle into the discs, craving the bright sound of music, and then the stereo would play only noise.

Jane flipped open a case of burned CDs and put in one after another until she found one that played, throwing the dead ones onto a pile in her back seat. Music crashed out of the tinny speakers: sticky electronic pop, the lyrics full of secrets, gossip, and drama. The cold weight of her ghost swelled inside her, thrilling in the sound.
Though Jane didn’t know the ghost girl’s name, it had been a part of her ever since she was a child. It was nosy, listening in on other people’s thoughts and telling Jane what they were thinking and feeling. If the ghost didn’t have anyone else to listen to, it would burrow deep into Jane’s mind, unearthing her regrets and fears and making her fixate on them for hours. If it felt unappreciated, it might lie to her, withhold what it knew, or tell her the most vicious things people thought about her. But Jane had learned to manage it over the years, using music to placate it. The ghost had been her first friend, and now that she was still in Swine Hill after her classmates and family had gone away, Jane wondered if the ghost would be her last friend, too.

Something like fog rose as the sun slipped behind the trees. A chain of spirits so wispy and immaterial as to be little more than air, a mass of faces and trudging feet bleeding in and out of one another, drifted up the road to the Pig City meatpacking plant. These ghosts weren’t dangerous. They had somewhere to go, a purpose still. The plant that had employed them all their lives was older than the town, the only reason that Swine Hill hadn’t crumbled back into the earth. The ghosts were the unofficial night shift, still swirling through its rusted doors, crowding its blood-splattered hallways to do their phantom work.

Jane plowed through them like snow, their distorted faces stretching over the windshield. She turned in to the grocery store’s cratered parking lot, the sodium lights casting deep shadows at the building’s edges, the storefront murky yellow and cluttered with signs.

Near the front of the store, the specter of a man slowly spun up from the asphalt and took on substance. He lay on the ground, holding his stomach and bleeding, a phantom box of strawberries broken open on the ground beside him.

Customer Reviews