McManus shows a quirky originality in these nine stories as he focuses on the outré and bizarre doings of his off-center characters.
Along with creating a compelling cast, McManus shows himself a master of openings. “Elephant Sanctuary” begins with the following outlandish and compelling sentence: “The story of the creation of my elephant vampire songs begins on the December morning when I killed Aisling, heroine of our last album and my fiancée, in one Jaguar and fled Texas in another.” This sentence anticipates in miniature the unfolding of the rest of the tale as we learn that the con-man father of the songwriter narrator claims to have won an elephant sanctuary with a Dolly Parton (a nine-five combo) in Texas Hold 'em and the narrator has in fact murdered his fiancee. And these are not by any means the most oddball characters we meet in McManus’ stories. Another is Victor, in “Gainliness,” whose eccentricities include using needle-nosed pliers to pick his nose, swallowing toothpaste, and starting major journeys on his left foot. “The Ninety-Fifth Percentile” introduces a number of spoiled and privileged students at a Texas high school, all of whom have IQ scores in the 95th percentile. The story explores not only their sense of entitlement, but also their attitudes toward immigrants moving in on their territory (both geographical and intellectual), their commitment to fast cars and drugs du jour, and their explorations of both hetero- and homosexuality.
With his strange cast of drunks, murderers, and the drug-addled, McManus fits comfortably into a tradition of Gothic writing, adding his own—dare one say peculiar?—twists.