The tagline of Gregory Miller’s “The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town” is simple and succinct: “Thirty-three tales. Thirty-three tellers. One lost town.”
While the book is fiction, it opens with a prologue that describes the seemingly realistic premise of the book. An imagined Central Pennsylvania NPR affiliate (not unlike WPSU) is holding a contest for residents to describe their towns. The station receives an overwhelming 12,000 submissions. But 33 of those submissions stand out amongst the predictable holiday and festival stories. That’s because they’re written by residents of a small town in western Pennsylvania called “Uncanny Valley.” But “Uncanny Valley” doesn’t exist.
Each vignette – ranging from a few paragraphs to a few pages – is credited to a different townsperson. Some of them are “written” by school-aged children, and others by middle-aged professionals or parents. Miller does a good job of subtly changing his prose to match the author’s persona. Several stories even contain spelling and grammatical errors. But what’s striking about the submissions is that most seem quite out of the ordinary for a sleepy little town.
Uncanny Valley seems comfortable and small. Some stories simply recount tales of peculiar residents or strange anecdotes. But as you continue through the book, you delve into many stories with ghastly happenstances. Most end up involving ghost sightings or paranormal whisperings. My favorite is the tale of the “ghost dog” that protects a family.
The story is called My Flower and is credited to 14-year-old girl Rachel Gregor. It starts out simply enough, with Rachel describing her dog named Flower. But as the story continues, you find out he’s invisible and only Rachel can see him. Imaginary friend, right? That’s what I thought.
But as the story continues, you find out the dog is actually a supernatural creature that exists to protect the Gregor family from generation to generation. Unfortunately for a bully named Jason at Rachel’s school, Flower takes that job very seriously.
The story ends with Rachel saying, “Some people think I’m crazy for talking to an imaginary dog, so I’ve learned not to speak to Flower when others are around. But I know he’s not imaginary. So do my parents. And from the look on Jason’s face right before he died, he knew it, too. Sure, Flower may be a curse. But not to me.”
When I was finished with the book, Uncanny Valley seemed to me like the town of Sunnydale from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Lots of strange and sinister events, but the townspeople never make the sweeping realization that their beloved town is plagued.
Some of the tales overlap in slight ways but never directly intersect. The stories begin to build upon each other as you near the end. If you are like me, you’ll find yourself wondering what exactly is going to happen to this strange town.
This would be an excellent book for an elementary or middle school student – short, easy to read stories, with a lot of quirky twists lurking near the end. But I think anyone would enjoy visiting Uncanny Valley in these stories.
"Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town" is written by Gregory Miller. The book is published by West Arcadia Press. Miller was born in State College, Pennsylvania.
Reviewer Erin Cassidy Hendrick is an associate producer at WPSU. Have you read a good book lately? Submit your book proposal here.