Buy the Book: Amazon, Apple Books, Audible, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, IndieBound
Published by: William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date: May 18, 2010
Pages: 432
ISBN13: 978-0061689345


Dismantlement = Freedom

Henry, Tess, Winnie and Suz banded together in college to form the Compassionate Dismantlers. Following the first rule of their manifesto – “To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart” – these daring misfits spend the summer after graduation in a remote cabin in the Vermont woods committing acts of meaningful vandalism, and plotting elaborate, sometimes dangerous, pranks. But everything changes when one particularly twisted experiment ends in Suz’s death and the others decide to cover it up.

Nearly a decade later, Henry and Tess are living just an hour’s drive from the old cabin. Each are desperate to move on from the summer of the Dismantlers, but the past isn’t ready to let them go. When a victim of their past pranks commits suicide – apparently triggered by a mysterious Dismantler-style postcard – it sets off a chain of eerie events that threatens to engulf Henry, Tess, and their precocious nine-year-old daughter Emma. Is there someone who wants to reveal their secrets? Is it possible that Suz did not really die – or has she somehow found a way back?

View the reading guide


“A failed marriage. A long-buried secret. A lonely child’s imaginary friend. From these simple ingredients, Jennifer McMahon has constructed a fun, twisty thriller. Expect Dismantled to earn comparisons to The Secret History.”
Stewart O’Nan, author of Songs For the Missing

“A prank gone wrong drives this outstanding novel…. By alternating the present-day lives of Henry, Tess and Emma with the origins of the Dismantlers, McMahon allows the inexorable sense of dread to build incrementally. Perhaps most memorable are not the young artists but Emma, a child whose intense imagination only adds fuel to the slow-burning fire.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The collective sins of four college friends come home to roost more than a decade after a bizarre tragedy scattered them in this disturbing, darkly hypnotic novel… McMahon’s deftly creepy prose creates a world of chaos and abuse; the book brims with unexpected and often startling plot twists, taking the reader on a strange journey that never disappoints… beautifully written and extraordinarily imaginative.”

“In her third, elegantly spooky mystery revolving around the vulnerability of a young girl and a haunting past, McMahon fashions a fresh and entrancing ghost-in-the-woods tale replete with startling psychoses, delectable Hitchcockian motifs, and dangerous attractions”


Dismantled was inspired by one of those epic dreams that seem to go on forever. It centered around an old college friend. In the dream, we were in the rustic cabin I had been living in when I wrote my first novel – deep in the woods, cut off from the world. She confided in me that she was an outlaw now, deeply involved in an underground art collective who believed true art was about taking things apart, undoing objects and institutions, breaking reality down to its component parts. They called themselves the Compassionate Dismantlers.

I woke up knowing that the Dismantlers belonged in a book. The obvious backdrop was a fictionalized version of the college that my dream-friend and I had attended. It was a small, funky, alternative school in rural Vermont. Earnest poets in black had passionate discussions about global monkey-wrenching, paganism, and the meaning of art with hippies covered in body paint. The only taboo was conformity. It was a tight community of some the most intensely creative (and okay, maybe slightly nutty) people I’ve ever known.

I started wondering what had become of all those free spirits who were going to change the world. What were their lives like, ten, fifteen years later, with kids to feed, a mortgage, umpteen thousand dollars worth of student loans? What happens to all the creative writers, artists, actors, dancers who aren’t able to translate their talent into a living, who have to choose between following their passion and having a job with health insurance? It struck me that perhaps the biggest ghosts we have to face are those of our old selves, tormenting, reminding us of what we might have been.

This is how the book that came to be Dismantled was born. Henry, Tess, Suz, and Winnie became my young idealists, and they have a manifesto that declares: Dismantlement = Freedom; To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart. And so I took my poor characters apart, page by page, chapter by chapter. Henry and Tess must face the ghosts of what might-have-been, which are almost more terrifying than the real ghost they come to believe is haunting them. As the lives of the Dismantlers unravel, as secrets are unearthed, and the careful little worlds they’ve built comes crashing down — only then do they, and we as readers, begin to understand what makes them whole.



“Dismantlement equals freedom.”

Suz is there, whispering the words in his ear, each syllable hot and twisted. She’s glowing, radiant, still twenty-one and burning with the fierce need to fuck up the world.

The dead don’t age.

He finishes the knot, his hands steady, without the slightest tremble, then climbs onto the chair and throws the rope up over one of the beams in the kitchen. Old, hand-hewn beams his builder rescued from a salvage yard. They’d reminded him of Vermont. Of the cabin near the lake.

In his mind, he goes back ten years, sees Suz coming up the path, stepping into the clearing, pole in one hand, string of fish in the other: bass, sunfish, trout. They glisten like jewels, strung on the braided nylon rope she’s carefully looped through their mouths and gills.

Suz’s walk is a dance, her movements fluid, the silk tunic she wears flutters around her, making it seem as if the wind itself is carrying her, buoying her along like a kite.

She winks at him.

He loves her.

He hates her.

He doesn’t want to be here, but there’s no way he could ever leave. Once you’re in her orbit, it’s impossible to pull yourself away.

The others gather around as she lays the fish out on the table to clean them. She pulls the trout off the braided rope, lays it flat on newspaper, and slides the knife in, slitting it open along its belly from gills to vent. The fish opens its mouth, sucking at air. Suz smiles, showing crooked teeth, pushes her fingers gently inside the fish, widening the opening with her hand. The skin stretches; the movement of her fingers produces a wet, tearing sound.

“To understand the nature of a thing, it must be taken apart,” Suz says, tugging out a string of entrails, sticky and shimmering with rainbows, like oil on a puddle.


“You never really got it, did you, babycakes?” he hears her whisper in his ear.
“No,” he tells her, slipping the rope around his neck, pulling the postcard from his pocket to look at one last time. “But I do now.”

He steps off the chair.

The postcard falls from his hand, drifts to the floor in slow motion, turning: moose, words, moose, words –until it lands, the carefully printed words facing up, the last thing he sees before losing consciousness: