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At seventeen, Sheila Gower is more comfortable confiding in a taxidermic coyote at the Museum of Natural History than her one high-school friend. She rifles through French-language flashcards while working the swing shift at an Iowa gas station, vaguely dreaming of escape. When one of her regulars, taxi-driver Peter Parker asks her to run away with him, she jumps at the chance. The two unlikely criminals stage their flight from town as an abduction—gun, robbery, kidnapping—but by the time they get to Chicago their adventure starts to resemble something darker. He begins to call her Gwen Stacy, after Spider-Man’s first love; she takes the name and runs with it. With otherworldly elements and a wry heroine, The Night Gwen Stacy Died is an examination of how the stories we read inform the identities we create for ourselves and one another.
"The voice carrying the novel is witty, observant and hypnotic."
"Spider-Man lore is one layer of this superbly suspenseful first novel about two loners,
improbable lawbreakers, on a mission to Chicago...Bruni does a masterful job evoking their
world, equal parts fantasy and reality and further skewed by a downtown Chicago that’s been
invaded by coyotes...Bruni writes dark passages and playful moments with equal aplomb. The world is her oyster."
"Engaging… The novel’s quirky tone and accessible themes of rescue and recovery make for a likeable read."
"Bruni's appealingly odd book—a mix of coming-of-age novel, fantasy, and thriller—finds the surreal, suspenseful charge in the adolescent search for identity"
"Part tangled love story and part love affair with comics, this debut novel centers on that tenuous bit of time between childhood and adulthood, when anything seems possible and so many decisions seem inevitable. Rough with dark psychology, rich with introspection and emotion, this beautifully written book will appeal to fans of Spider-Man comics as well as coming-of-age fiction."
"It’s touches like this that make Bruni’s novel stand out; this isn’t simply a novel of broken dreams and the lies we tell ourselves. It’s about fiction, and identity, and the way destiny (or what we think of as destiny) affect us."
"After a summer of mediocre movies inspired by comic books, Sarah Bruni offers relief and reassurance with her inventive debut novel."
"The Night Gwen Stacy Died uses Spider-Man lore to tell the tale of two loners and improbable lawbreakers from Iowa, a high-school student and a taxi-driver, who embark on a mission of escape to Chicago. Staged, at first, as an abduction—gun, robbery, kidnapping—their adventure quickly begins to resemble a surreal love story. Bruni's book superbly explores the part fiction plays in our search for identity."
"In this sterling debut, a pseudo Bonnie and Clyde with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy delusions go on the
lam in Iowa and hide out in Chicago, but the pleasures here go far beyond the propulsive narrative.
The prose is blade-sharp, the eerie love story is leavened with moments of unforced wit, and the nuanced
observations are utterly idiosyncratic. It's as if Lorrie Moore wrote a taut thriller—not an updated Western, but a modern Midwestern."
"Sarah Bruni’s fiercely smart and delectably unpredictable first novel delivers again and again that
most sought-after shiver up the spine, the chill that comes when you realize the world you thought you
knew and understood is newer and stranger than you ever dared imagine. The Night Gwen Stacy Died is a genuine page-turner."
"The perspective shifts, slippery identities, and lurking weirdness in this book recall the
peak moments of Kurosawa, Hitchcock, and Lynch; Sarah Bruni even choreographs her production
with the easy verve and keen eye of a great director. But to describe The Night Gwen Stacy Died
in cinematic terms would risk slighting the patience and generosity and grace of Bruni’s language,
and it’s that bighearted, sneakily exhilarating voice that can finally be only the work of a masterful writer."
"Bruni drops us into a dreamy world where comic book characters and psychic visions are as real as
teenage boredom and young love. Strange, funny, sexy, and full of insights you'll want to revisit,
Bruni's debut is a magical story, a white-knuckle thrill ride."
"Mixed into the blustery atmosphere of The Night Gwen Stacy Died are gusts of contemporary
masters, like Joy Williams, Lorrie Moore, Kelly Link, and Michael Chabon. But, like the heroes of
her story, Bruni is too spirited to be confined by the voices and tales of others. The magic in the
air, it turns out, is Bruni's singular voice, a spell that so easily carried me away. Bruni's debut
novel gave me the sort of reading experience I always hope for but almost never find: a world that
somehow both resembles the one in which I live and is also unlike any other I've ever seen or read."
"Sarah Bruni is a brave and bold new voice. This thrilling novel is as wise and intelligent as it is
young at heart. With humor and grace, Bruni takes us on an unexpected adventure of love and loss, of
beginnings and ends, all the while showing us what it really means to be a hero."