"They Don't Come Home Anymore" Book Review
Written by Matt E. Lewis
Published by This Is Horror
Written by T.E. Grau
2016, 104 pages, Fiction
Released on November 28th, 2016
Hettie is not a very popular girl at school. She’s awkward, both physically and socially, and struggles to balance her life between her weird parents and lack of peers. One day, completely by accident, Hettie runs into Avery, the most popular girl in school, doing something she shouldn’t. They share a moment and a secret. But what Avery doesn’t realize is that those two things meant much more to Hettie than she thought. So when Avery is hospitalized with a terminal disease, Hettie is forced to overcome self-conscious nature to find help and keep Avery alive…no matter what it takes.
So begins the novella They Don’t Come Home Anymore from T.E. Grau and This is Horror. It packs quite a bit into a small package – at times Hettie resembles the rabid Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery, as she slowly becomes obsessed with Avery, painting her as an ideal in her mind, imagining friendly exchanges that never happened. Grasping at straws, Hettie embarks on a journey that takes her from popular vampire novelists to meth-fueled basement preachers, until she finally meets someone – or something- that can give her what she’s looking for, eternal life for both her and Avery. To call them “vampires” is a bit of a stretch, but they are creatures that mostly resemble the kind of traits attached to them through myths and legends. What Grau does well here is demonstrate the true kind of horror of eternal life, the rotting torture of immortality, of a mind trapped inside a melting shell of flesh.
This novella touches on quite a few subjects, not just vampire mythos but also the cruelty of high schoolers, the big business of phony authors, and the underhanded tactics of born-again cults. But most importantly, it paints Hettie as a kind of anti-hero, trying to accomplish something that is obviously wrong, but you can’t help root for her. She is complex and layered, at times lucid and relatable, but quickly switches to choosing fantasy over reality. This makes the story all the more scary and sad, as readers are forced to confront their own hypocrisies and wonder if they too are just as functionally insane as she is. The twist ending also plays on these kinds of questions – it evokes the pathos and catharsis you might find in a classical tale of warning. Though short, They Don’t Come Home Anymore doesn’t pigeon-hole itself, which makes it both refreshing and original, and well-worth the read.