Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones

by Micah Dean Hicks


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328566454
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 02/05/2019
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 416,147
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

MICAH DEAN HICKS is the author of the story collection Electricity and Other Dreams—a book of dark fairy tales and bizarre fables that won the 2012 New American Fiction Prize. He is also the winner of the 2014 Calvino Prize judged by Robert Coover, the 2016 Arts and Letters Prize judged by Kate Christensen, and the 2015 Wabash Prize judged by Kelly Link. His stories and essays have appeared in dozens of magazines ranging from the New York Times to Lightspeed to the Kenyon Review. Hicks teaches creative writing at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

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.

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Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous 19 days ago
I read this book in two days if that says anything. Need I say more? Read the book. It's got beautiful prose and characters and the setting and atmosphere itself lives and breathes in its ever terrifying beauty. This story has a lot to say and you won't regret reading it.
Laura Smith 4 months ago
I couldn't put this book down. The characters in this intricate, impressive story are propelled by their deepest wants as the factory town that ensnares them lets out its death rattle. These haunted characters show readers how families champion and hurt each other with equal force, and the larger backdrop charts the greed that exploits workers as the world around them shifts irrevocably. The book rotates narrators with great depth and nuance, and I felt invested in each of their individual arcs. I was stunned by the ending. Hicks creates a haunted world that shimmers with love, loss, and the forces that devastate the town of Swine Hill.
SchizanthusNerd 4 months ago
‘He was different, so people thought anything they did to him was okay.’ This was one of the strangest books I’ve ever loved. Swine Hill is a haunted town, where the dead outnumber the living. Downtown is overrun by ghosts and the main employer is the Pig City meat packing plant. Most of the people Jane went to school with escaped as soon as they could to start over, but she’s stuck in a dead end job in this dying town. She can’t imagine leaving her parents, younger brother or the ghost girl who’s been attached to her since she was a child. Nothing will ever be the same for the living or the dead of Swine Hill when newcomers start working at Pig City. This was a dark book, with so much loss, grief and violence experienced by the living and the dead, yet there’s also a thread of light that runs through it (quite literally at times), of hope and love. The best and worst of what it means to be human are represented here. The person I really connected with was a pig boy called Dennis, who was more human than most of the characters who were born that way. His innocence, enthusiasm and ability to see beauty wherever he looked made me adore him. The world would be a much better place if we could all see it through Dennis’ eyes. Besides the awesomeness that is Dennis, there’s also a girl who cannot lose, a mad scientist who makes the impossible out of junk, a woman who burns and a boy who freezes, a robot in love, an alien, alternate realities, and let’s not forget the rest of the pig people. There’s so much going on in this layered story that it shouldn’t work but somehow it did. I thought about what it means to be human and how you don’t need to have a ghost to be haunted. I considered the impacts unfulfilled dreams have, not only on our own lives but also on our relationships with others and the wider community who are missing out on what we could be bringing into the world. I was frustrated by my inability to come up with a genius plan to eradicate the fear of the other. I thought about how ghosts linger in our present and wondered whether it’s possible to ever truly escape the past. I reevaluated my ideas of responsibility and how it intersects with blame. I thought about love, forgiveness and what I have to be thankful for. I wanted to dance. I wondered if I’ll ever be able to look at bacon the same way again. Thank you so much to NetGalley and John Joseph Adams Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for the opportunity to read this book. Content warnings are included in my review on Goodreads.
CaptainsQuarters 5 months ago
Ahoy there me mateys!  I received this sci-fi eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Here be me honest musings. . . The totally awesome cover is what led me to find out more about this book and the weird premise is what drew me in.  This book takes place in a dying American town called Swine Hill.  The only thing stopping the town from total annihilation is a pork processing plant whose workers have little hope and no resources to start anew.  Economic troubles would be bad enough but then there be the ghosts.  Generations of angry and depressed dead are tied to the town and its residents.  If ye aren't careful yer body can become a host for one or more restless spirits. This book centers around one such haunted family.  Jane has carried her ghost since she was a young girl.  Her ghost reads other people's thoughts and also likes to offer commentary on Jane's own inner desires and feelings.  Jane considers her a friend but it's a double-edged relationship.  Her brother, Henry, harbors the ghost of a tinker and scientist.  The two minds together can come up with marvels.  However, this ghost sometimes subsumes the boy when a particular problem catches his fancy.  The problem gets solved but Henry is completely blank of all memories of the solution and the missing time.  Their mother has been consumed by a ghost with an overwhelming need to be loved.  This love is so selfish and strong that it literally burns the flesh of her lovers.  Her children cannot touch her for fear of being scalded.  Their father is a human automaton who left the family, became homeless, and roams the streets.  He shuns all company and the ghosts shun him.  Neither Jane nor her brother know why.  Talk about family dysfunction. The highlight of this book for me was the complexities of the world building around Swine Hill.  Its depressive nature is pervasive and yet it be rich with unusual  ideas and imagery.  The ghost elements were absolutely fascinating and I loved the diverse effects of spirit inhabitation.  There was also an odd but sad robot and animal hybrids.  This book led to excellent questions about humanity, economics, brutality, fear, greed, loss, and tenacity.  The world felt real and gritty and very unpleasant.  And yet the residents continued to hang onto survival even if the war has been lost.  Though hope is missing, there is still the desire for comfort at any cost.  I honestly wanted better for Jane and Henry.  The story couldn't end well given the rules of the world but I had to know the resolution.  And I truly liked what I was given. I don't know if I could legitimately recommend this to anyone because it is so unique and weird and gritty.  But I admit that I am so very glad that I read this book and I look forward to seeing what else this author has in store.  For a debut, it is wonderful.  Arrrr! So lastly . . . Thank you John Joseph Adams / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt!
gctogs 6 months ago
It’s refreshing to run into a genre novel that carves its own path, and that’s what you get with Micah Dean Hicks’ debut Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones. The novel's setting is Swine Hill, a town so saturated with ghosts that literally everyone has at least one haunting them. Jane has a good relationship with her ghost, who feeds her the secrets others hide from the world. Her boyfriend Trigger is haunted by the ghost of his own brother, whom he accidently killed. And her brother Henry’s mad scientist of a ghost helps him create, Doctor Moreau-style, a pig person called Walter Hogboss, who ends up running the local slaughterhouse. When the company that owns the slaughterhouse creates more pig people to staff the place, the townspeople turn on their monstrous new residents, leading Jane to believe they must flee before the town overflows with violence. Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones is a surreal horror story about “economic anxiety”, which has been a buzzy media term the last few years. It doesn't work as a political allegory but as an exercise in sustained dread, I found much to admire. the story unfolds with a captivating spontaneity, and while it sometimes felt unfocused this mostly works in the novel’s favor. Those looking for an offbeat read may find this rewarding.
JBronder 7 months ago
In this world ghosts can haunt the living but living within them. Jane, Henry and their mother are haunted. Jane’s ghost tells her the thoughts and plans of everyone around them. Henry has a mad scientist that is forcing him to create horrific creatures and machine. Their mother has a ghost that so desires attention that she can burn people that she touches. In Swine Hill is a slaughterhouse where we find Henry creating human like pig creatures that are phasing out human workers. But this is just the beginning. As the people get upset at the loss of jobs, the pigmen, and more the little town gets closer and closer to the breaking point. This book was not what I was thinking it was going to be. It’s a great, creepy story that drew me in from the first line and left me off balance. I was not expecting and just when I was kind of getting my mind wrapped around the idea it was off again. But this book is not just a horror story. There is so much more in regards to character development and attitudes towards the immigrants and creatures working the only place with limited jobs. This was a great story although some may not like it. I would say if you liked horror you will enjoy this book. This was the first book I have read from Micah Hicks but it won’t be the last one. I received a complimentary copy of this book. I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.