Nat Cassidy’s Mary is basically the story of Carrie suffering through a very bloody version of menopause – among so many other things.
In the beginning, Mary herself looks like a singularly uninteresting woman: quiet, middle-aged unassuming, working in the basement of a bookstore and trying not to be noticed by anyone, ever, until she is called back, very unwillingly, to care for an ailing relative in the small high-desert town where she grew up. The relative is awful, the town is oppressive and spooky, and the more we learn about Mary, the stranger she becomes… and the more we begin to understand, or think we understand her own strange and violent history. And then … the killing begins.
Look: sometimes I like to throw open the spoiler door and talk about the whole book or movie I’m reviewing because it’s important to what I want to say. But this time, I’m going to stick with the teaser. I would hate to deprive you of the revelation on revelation that Cassidy serves up in Mary. It’s like a dark flower, that just keeps opening… and opening .. and opening, encompassing everything from mass murder to madness to cults and reincarnation and ghosts that are dying to tear you limb from limb. And trust me, that barely scratches the surface.
And here’s an even better part: the audiobook of Mary is performed absolutely flawlessly by Susan Bennett, without a doubt one of the best audiobook performers working today. She’s an amazing woman herself. She was the voice of Siri up until ios7; she’s produced almost 200 – two hundred – audiobooks in the last decade, and she can do multiple voices, accents, ages – all of it. And she does it all in Mary, so completely convincingly you forget it’s only one woman, one voice, doing all these characters in every state of being, from hysteria and high dudgeon to dying in a box in the desert. Seriously. Even if you don’t know Nat Cassidy’s work, experiencing Bennett’s performance is worth every minute.
What’s more, Cassidy is a fascinating guy all by himself. He is a playwright and a performer – hey, he’s even been on Law and Order: SVU, like every other actor in New York! — and he’s good. I first heard his work in a science fiction podcast series called Steal the Stars that he wrote with Mac Rogers way back in 2017. Incredibly well-written and performed; I just went back and re-listened to a chunk of it while cleaning up after the holiday bacchanalia, and god damn it, this is terrific even on a third listen. You can still find it, free of charge, on iTunes and elsewhere. And Cassidy published a novelization of this story about a secret government base built around a crashed alien ship – or something like it – and the alien inside it – and the havoc it eventually delivers. That’s still available, too, from Tor Books. It was a small bunch of years – five, to be exact – before his next novel, Mary, showed up in the middle of 2022. It was well worth the wait.
As of January 2024, Cassidy has a new book out – Nestlings, apparently about … vampires? In a version of the Dakota Hotel in New York? We’ll review that at some point in the near future. But meanwhile, you could do way worse than starting off your new year with Mary.