As a long time Spider-Man fan, the title of Sarah Bruni’s first novel caught my attention.
And while it would be easy to assume that The Night Gwen Stacy Died is another in the long trend of tie-in novels, retelling a classic comic book story line, that is not the case here.
Seventeen-year-old Sheila Gower doesn’t quite fit into her small town. Taking a job at a local convenience store to save up money to escape town by going to France, she meets a man who refers to himself as Peter Parker. And while Peter does have a secret identity, it’s not necessarily that of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler. Instead, it’s to hide the fact that his life is just as mundane and doesn’t quite fit into the small town life as Sheila does.
The two have a budding flirtation which gets taken up to the next level when Peter and Sheila decide to run off together and hit the road to Chicago with Peter even referring to Sheila by the name of Gwen. To add some zest to the story, Peter pretends to hold up the convenience store and kidnap Sheila (the store’s surveillance system only captures video, not audio).
With a lot of references and examination of classic Spider-Man storylines, The Night Gwen Stacy Died is a fascinating character novel for the first two-thirds of its run. It’s one the novel hits the final third that things begin to derail a bit, keeping what could have been a great book merely a good one. I can see what Bruni is trying to do here, but it feels like the final third of the novel works too hard to drive the point home and it all ends up feeling a bit less than satisfying.