Mapping the Interior Book Review
Written by Matt E. Lewis
Published by Tor Books
Written by Stephen Graham Jones
2017, 112 pages, Fiction
Released on June 20th, 2017
As if Stephen Graham Jones hasn’t given enough in recent times with his 2014 collection After the People Lights Have Gone Off or the 2016 novel Mongrels, the horror world is lucky to be graced with another excellent example of his work in Mapping the Interior. Don’t let the slim appearance of this novella fool you into thinking this is light reading – Mapping is brimming with all the quality of his previous work condensed into a small package, like a dark matter sphere folded in on itself. The story has all the grit and poetry you would expect from his (quite lengthy) catalogue, tinged with stoic honesty and humor so dry your skin will bleed. The messiness of reality is on full display here – but against this backdrop is a creepy, original story, comparable in its conte cruel to any of the legendary gothic tales.
Junior’s story is an all-too-common one. Growing up on a reservation, he lost his father to a drunken car crash. His mother packed him and his special needs brother up and took them westward, away from that life, with the hope of embracing a new one. But he doesn’t feel like they’re alone in their rickety ranch house in the Pacific Northwest – something else is there, something familiar. One night, he wakes to noises in the darkened house and glimpses something bizarre and alien, but inherently knows it could only be one thing: his father. “There were spikes coming out of his lower back, and the tops of his calves bulged out in an unnatural way, and his head was top-heavy and kind of undulating, so he was going to have to duck to make it into the utility room.” There is a fascinating kind of perception at work here, because the boy is not afraid of this thing he has found – he regards it as quite expected, because it is the form of his father at his best, resplendent in the feathers and mask of a pow-wow dancer, the version of his father that existed in that perfect moment of celebration and connection. It makes sense to him, as the pow-wow regalia gave his father and other Native Americans a kind of power beyond the society that had stripped them of their humanity, something the boy can identify with. “With your face black and white like that, you automatically slit your eyes like a gunfighter, like you're staring America down across the centuries”. Before the story is over, the boy will be gripped with the full force of what is needed to carry yourself in this world – and the lengths to which family chains our souls together, beyond even forces of nature.
Mapping the Interior is possibly one of the best horror books of the year so far, and that’s saying something in a year of noteworthy releases. This novella is the concentrated genius usually spread out in a longer narrative – taking place ostensibly in the eighties/early nineties, it captures the feel of that era without any of the sappy nostalgia usually forced on the audience (I’m looking at you, Stranger Things). A good comparison would be the bleeding laminate horror of Twin Peaks, but honestly, Graham’s style is very much his own: beautiful but stark, like a deer skull bleached by the sun. Passages are imbued with a detail that could be called poetical, but even that falls short of it: “It's a different kind of waking up when there's still the ghost of a sound in the small bones of your ear”. Whatever you need to do – visit your local bookstore, download it to your e-reader, just do it so you can experience one of the most unique and creepy books of the year.