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Sarah Bruni

Sarah Bruni is a graduate of the MFA program in Fiction Writing at Washington University in St. Louis and holds a degree in English Literature from the Univeristity of Iowa. Since growing up in and around Chicago, she has taught creative writing in St. Louis, volunteered as a writing and English tutor with youth in San Francisco and Montevideo, Uruguay, and currently lives in Brooklyn. The Night Gwen Stacy Died is her first novel.


"A dreamy world where comic book characters and psychic visions are as real as teenage boredom and young love, Bruni's debut is a magical story, a white-knuckle thrill ride."

– Diana Spechler, author of Who by Fire

"A brave and bold new voice, 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."

– Alison Espach, author of The Adults

"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. A genuine page-turner."

– Kathryn Davis, author of The Thin Place

"The perspective shifts, slippery identities, and lurking weirdness in this book recall the peak moments of Kurosawa, Hitchcock, and Lynch. But to describe it in cinematic terms would risk slighting that bighearted, sneakily exhilarating voice that can finally be only the work of a masterful writer."

– Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

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The Night Gwen Stacy Died

Funny and Heart-wrenching All At Once


There is so much material to be plumbed from the Spider-Man canon, so much mythologizing and fantasizing and romanticizing to be had, and it’s not so much that Sarah Bruni wields an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Spider-Man in her debut novel, The Night Gwen Stacy Died, but she is skilled in exploiting this material, understanding the weight it carries in the minds of both her readers and characters. Wrapped in a sleek, hardboiled-ish sheen, the narrative skulks behind high schooler Sheila Gower, gas station attendant in insipid Iowa with dreams of the bright lights of Paris. When in walks Peter Parker—or a boy calling himself Peter Parker—brandishing a gun he’s never used and a backstory he doesn’t understand. Sheila is swept away in a stolen cab, the willing victim of a staged abduction, and the pair sets its sights on Chicago—it’s not Paris, but it’s not Iowa. Sheila buys into Peter’s story, adopting the name of the tragic Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s first love (well “first” for all intents and purposes, although that’s up for debate within the Marvel Universe), allowing the Spider-Man myth to assume its role in her life:

“There are moments when such slippage occurs, between the regular, everyday world and the interior worlds created, and these are the moments that fortify and support the worst delusions.”

Much to her credit, Bruni uses the Spider-Man lore not to ignite her story, but to fuel it: these are real issues for her runaway characters, speaking to larger themes of first love, of responsibility, of identity. Sound familiar? At no point does the conceit feel authorial; Bruni’s prose is the webbing to support this. With literary agility that is playful in its storytelling and plot-handling, Bruni weaves in and out of the heads of her characters, the sorcerer of a teenaged world that is as authentic as any in literary fiction. In this respect, Bruni's treatment is reminiscent of the work of Brian Michael Bendis, longtime Marvel Comics writer and pioneer in the new age of Spider-Man storytelling, expert at rendering the complicated lives of teenagers, super-powered or not. Bruni, like Bendis, is funny and heart-wrenching all at once.

But The Night Gwen Stacy Died is not lacking in its superpowers either, or at least the supernatural. The Chicago of the novel is mysteriously overrun by a Greek chorus of displaced coyotes. Peter Parker is a boy overwhelmed by prophesizing dreams that can only be described as Spider-Sensical. Bruni litters the narrative with ghastly images both real and imagined. Hitchcock's Vertigo readily comes to mind, and to a lesser extent the detective novels of the 1920s and '30s, as Bruni employs a narrative pacing that makes for a genuine page-turner. Bruni’s world is dark in the ways the world can be for a seventeen-year-old and her ennui-addled heart, a world so close to our own and yet so distant. To great effect does Bruni invoke the Spider-Man lore for her reinvented Gwen and Peter and with a deft hand infuses her runaway tale with the weight of fifty years of comic book storytelling. Not as a crutch, but as a complement not often seen in literary fiction. This is what separates Bruni’s debut novel from mere fan boy fantasy. It’s a fine line Bruni walks, and she walks it well, as she knows she must. After all, with great power there must also come . . . well, you know.

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