Megan Giddings is the features editor of The Rumpus and author of some amazing short stories at places like The Iowa Review and Gulf Coast. After reading some of her shorter work, I was thrilled to receive and advanced copy of her debut novel.
Lena Johnson, fresh from her grandmother’s funeral, comes face to face with the realities of overdue bills and the full weight of care-taking for her mother. Instead of being able to return to college, Lena opts to join a medical study in order to get full health insurance and earn money for her family.
What follows is a mix of literary fiction and horror inspired by real-life medical experimentation on communities of color. Lena’s journey and time at Lakewood is part absurd and part too real. She signs an NDA, agrees to all protocols, and is forced to go to a “cover job” that seems like a normal office environment every day. Meanwhile, the town around the facility is complicit and very white– and both of those realities chill and force the narrative forward. The side effects, the experiments, and the lies start to add up as the plot progresses. The reader is exposed to Lena’s dreams and hallucinations, wants and fears, and I found that I could not put this novel down.
One of the most amazing things about Giddings’ work here is the expert sprinkling of humor that makes the horrific all the more surreal. The nicknames for the “observers” in the lab and the almost The Office-like nature of the cover job only make the dark moments darker. Giddings is an expert craftswoman and an exacting critic here.
Do not sleep on this book– or rather, don’t try to sleep after reading it. Make sure to add it to your reading list for the year if you liked the movie GET OUT or are a fan of twisty lit-fic.
Lakewood by Megan Giddings, Amistad/Harper Collins (March 24, 2020)
Thank you to NetGalley for the free advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.