Stephen Graham Jones’ 2017 Mapping the Interior is a stand-alone horror novel.
Twelve-year-old Junior lives with his widowed mother and troubled younger brother Dino in a modular house. His hardworking mother’s income is marginal, her boyfriend is abusive, Junior sleepwalks, and Dino is a popular target for vicious bullying. It’s hard to see how life could get worse for the Indigenous family.
Of course it does.
Junior sees a mysterious figure in his home. A reasonable hypothesis would be “burglar.” The family would be better off if the intruder simply wanted to nick some of the family’s few possessions. Junior realizes that the entity must be a ghost.
The revenant is none other than Junior and Dino’s long-dead father, who through mysterious means has returned to his family. Although quite immaterial, the ghost becomes more solid day by day. As it is, it is more than capable of interacting with the physical world, as local dogs discover when they attack Junior.
The shade is particularly interested in Dino. Dino could use a protector. Every day his health declines, his cognitive issues become a little worse. Too bad for Dino that his father isn’t there to helpDino. The ghost is there to do whatever it takes to claw its way back to the material world and if the cost is a son he never really knew, so be it.
Junior is determined to save Dino but what can one adolescent do against a predatory ghost?
This is the very first Jones novel I encountered and I’ve been dithering about reviewing it since 2017. Which is not even close to a record for procrastination1. Go me. At least now I can stop feeling vaguely guilty every time I notice that book, sitting there in the tsundoku stack, accusing me.
It may well be that there is a Jones novel that ends happily. The books of his that I have read do not support this hypothesis. Mapping the Interior definitely does not.
Mapping the Interior could be read as refutation of Nietzsche’s “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” That which does not kill someone can leave them badly traumatized. It may leave them permanently disabled. Sometimes, the best one can strive for is to remove the source of trauma to prevent things from getting even more dire. Recovery, never mind reaching new heights, may not be on the menu.
Mapping the Interior may sound a bit bleak. Not really. It is extremely bleak. Fortunately Jones is a skilled writer, about whose characters you will care. Mapping the Interior is grim novel but not one readers will want to put down.
1: I think my procrastination record is forty years. So far.