Friday, June 23, 2017

Mapping the Interior, by Stephen Graham Jones

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(Horror) At 12, Junior thinks his dead father has returned to protect his family. There’s a lot Junior doesn’t know about his father—living or dead. (22,778 words; Time: 1h:15m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Deeply Creepy

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Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The story gradually ratchets the horror level higher and higher. Up until Park’s revenant kills the dogs, it’s still possible to imagine that this is all in Junior’s mind. That’s also the last point where we can imagine that the revenant means to do good, because Junior discovers the “hickey” on Dino’s neck that night. That day is also the apex of Dino’s development, when he counts to 19 at the bus stop and actually dials their mom’s number when he gets home.

The scene where Junior takes the deputy’s gun merits special mention. It’s extremely tense, since we think he means to shoot the deputy. Inside, though, Junior realizes what the revenant is doing to Dino. Thinking he’s killing it, he actually kills the murderous neighbor, although, given what we learn later, the neighbor might well have been possessed by his father at that moment. Instead of killing the monster, Junior has only fed it.

Of course he does kill the monster, but Dino never recovers and ends up in an institution. Junior goes on to live the sort of life his father had dreamed of. When we finally see Junior trying to sacrifice Dino to resurrect his own dead son, Colin, we see that, like his father, Junior has also become a monster.

Beyond the plot, the most remarkable thing about his story is Junior’s voice. The matter-of-fact way the twelve-year-old “explains” the superstitions he firmly believes in—like walking on feet that are asleep taking you into another world—rings true. As does the way the kids on the bus torment Dino, and the way their Mom tries so hard to make their lives better.

Con: The story is extremely bleak, and nothing in the text really prepares us for Junior to become quite so selfish and heartless. What little we learn about Colin doesn't give us reason to believe that Junior would care about him enough to kill for him.

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