Reprieve: A Novel (Hardcover)

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"Like Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, Alyssa Cole’s When No One Is Watching or Zakiya Dalila Harris’ The Other Black Girl, Reprieve straddles genres in the best possible way. . . . Sure to spark conversation and debate at book clubs across the land." –LOS ANGELES TIMES

“An eventual American classic that is unrelenting in its beauty and incisive cultural critique.” – KIESE LAYMON

Recommended by New York Times Los Angeles Times • NPR • Today • EsquireO Quarterly Boston GlobeChicago TribuneHarper’s Bazaar • Shondaland • Thrillist • The Millions • Crimereads • XTRA • Tor • Literary Hub • and more!

A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room—a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession with fear as entertainment. 

On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, “reprieve,” they’ll win a substantial cash prize—a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house’s long history. But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants.

Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who’s been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character’s journey unfurls and overlaps, deceit and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed, forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe.

An astonishingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism to present an unsettling portrait of this tangled American life.

About the Author

James Han Mattson is the acclaimed author of The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is the recipient of awards from the Copernicus Society of America and Human-ities North Dakota. He was a featured storyteller on The Moth and has taught writing at the University of Iowa, the University of Cape Town, the George Washington University, the University of Maryland, Murray State University, and the University of California–Berkeley. He is currently the fiction editor of Hyphen magazine. He was born in Seoul, Korea, and raised in North Dakota.

Praise For…

“Insightful and gripping . . . On the surface, Reprieve is a story about an attack at a haunted house, but Mattson is also investigating questions of identity and power, namely who in this story controls fears and who is subject to them . . . The haunted house at the center of the narrative is an excellent touch because the ideas of danger and harm become material, frightening and imminent. At times, the reader is trapped in Quigley House with the contestants, in scenes that are genuinely unnerving . . . In his sly way, Mattson turns his novel into a portrait of current events. And they have, indeed, been terrifying.”
Victor LaValle, New York Times Book Review

"Like Whitehead’s The Intuitionist, Alyssa Cole’s When No One Is Watching or Zakiya Dalila Harris’ The Other Black Girl, Reprieve straddles genres in the best possible way. The late 1990s murder of a man in Quigley House, a full-contact haunted house in Lincoln, Neb., during a contest gone awry, and the ensuing trial are just part of the story. It’s the compelling flashbacks from diverse contestants and others that drive Mattson’s deeper examination of America’s addiction to horror, casual racism, deteriorating political climate and a whole lot more. Sure to spark conversation and debate at book clubs across the land."
— Paula L. Woods, Los Angeles Times

"James Han Mattson's Reprieve is a novel about otherness, loneliness, racism, and identity wrapped in a gory tale about a full-contact escape room attraction. Mattson walks the line between pulpy horror and smart literary fiction here, and the result is a multilayered book that has enough going on to please fans of both genres. . . . Everyone in this book is deep, nuanced, and multilayered . . . The experience might be harrowing — but just like Quigley House, the reward at the end is worth it."
— Gabino Iglesias, NPR

"It’s 1990s Nebraska, and a group of four contestants is close to completing an escape room known for its horrors. But when one of them is killed by an intruder, the survivors — including a love-struck international student who came to track down a former teacher and a grieving teenage girl — are left to reckon with a bigger challenge involving guilt, race and power."
New York Times, 20 New Works of Fiction to Read This Season

"It's character driven, creepy, gory and all things scary . . . it will have you turning pages."

“Mattson crafts a nail-biting horror saga while also implicating us in our sick obsession with horror. So too does the novel evoke blistering social horror, forcing us to reckon with how racism, prejudice, and complicity are more horrifying—and more fatal—than anything that goes bump in the night. Unrelenting and unforgettable, Reprieve is an American classic in the making.”
— Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire, The Best Books of Fall 2021

“Sharp as a razor’s edge . . . Mattson’s devious trick is in revealing America itself as a topsy-turvy house of horrors.”

O Quarterly, Fall Reading Spectacular

"Reprieve feels haunted by the promise of a nation unable to see eye to eye. . . . characters in James Han Mattson’s absorbing book, set in the late ‘90s, are so steeped in violent horror movies, they rarely recognize what’s haunting the marginalized characters and people of color in their lives. The plot turns on a murder in an haunted attraction but legacies of hurt weigh heavier."
Chicago Tribune

“An eclectic crew enters a haunted escape room in Nebraska; things go terribly wrong. A fascinating debut thriller with ambitions that go beyond the genre’s conventions.”
— Joshunda Sanders, Boston Globe

"If someone doesn’t make an absolutely awesome movie out of James Han Mattson’s novel Reprieve in the next few years, I will have lost a whole lot of faith in the Hollywood machine. Not only just a straight-up terrifying horror novel, Reprieve is jam-packed with biting social commentary that manages to touch on everything from capitalism to race. It is hold-your-breath tense throughout and will leave your mind feeling like someone’s had their fingers in there, fumbling around just to make you feel something. It is wild and risky and audacious in the very best way possible. Reprieve is the perfect October read and one that might have you thinking about coming up with your own safe word for the journey."
Shondaland, Fall 2021 Reading List

Product Details
ISBN: 9780063079915
ISBN-10: 0063079917
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: October 5th, 2021
Pages: 416
Language: English