Horror has a lot of subgenres, especially for a genre that could be considered a subgenre itself of speculative fiction, but Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters presents itself at the vanguard of the relatively nascent “fan horror genre.” Not only does the story itself expect readers to know a thing or two about horror, but the main characters run a horror comic book/memorabilia shop and also a haunted house, so this novel’s absolutely splattered in references. Despite their impeccably awesome taste, the Turner family at the center of this story – Harry, Margaret, and their kids, Sydney, Eunice, and Noah – display a chain of selfish behavior and poor choices that create monsters of them all even as they face down a cult of mysterious lycanthropes.
The Turner family tale absolutely sticks its landing. Good horror doesn’t always present a triumphant hero, but it does reveal a dark side of human nature. The narration comes from youngest son Noah, who befriends and embraces a shapeshifting werewolf that has been following his family around for generations. Noah gives a rather condescending and self-righteous account of his family’s struggles, which always contains excuses for their troubles. For example, Noah uses the term “too many children” as an excuse for the Turners’ poverty in Texas in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s on an engineer’s salary. (I call shenanigans because my parents did the same thing with four kids in Kansas, and we had plenty.) Really, Harry and Margaret spend their money poorly. Harry contracts brain cancer, which causes fits where he abuses his family, but really the cancer only made already existing emotional abuse worse. Sisters Sydney and Eunice each pursue unstable relationships, but Noah doesn’t judge them half as harshly as he does Hubert, Eunice’s loving husband, whom he treats with contempt. Despite his lack of manners or real decency, people seem to flock to Noah and push him through the plot from the women who just seem to throw themselves at him to the werewolf who just decides to be his friend. Fortunately, the end of the story reveals that no one should take Noah for a role model – and that he’s yet another monster in a long line.
However, the right kind of readers can easily find themselves charmed by Noah and his family’s commitment to horror. Descriptions of long lines in crisp autumn to get into warehouses full of jump-scares certainly took me back to some of the best dates my wife and I ever went on in high school. Also, do you like Lovecraft? Stephen King? Anne Rice? So does Noah, and the rest of his family, who are always carrying around a paperback copy of one of these or a pantheon of other horror giants. The suspenseful narrative, too, calls to mind classic horror plots that rely on the terrors an imagination conjures by itself rather than excessive gore, but after awhile the name-dropping and the references feel tired and the action just needs a werewolf to do something, well, horrific. When the werewolves do show up, it’s not always in a scary fashion either. In addition to relying a little too much psychological horror, Noah’s story goes over the edge of enjoyable reading sometimes. For example, the scene where a werewolf masturbates a teenage boy is not helped when that werewolf turns into a beautiful, ageless woman, who later has intercourse with him. That’s creepy, and not at all the kind I want at Halloween. Actually, this book has a lot of sex scenes and while I’m not usually prudish, it feels mismatched against the themes celebrating cheesy genre tropes.
But, trope-lovers will find plenty of distraction within the covers of A Cosmology of Monsters, which affirms its love of horror time and time again. Unreliable narrator Noah’s tale of a family story filled with the ripple effects of poor choices will leave readers pausing to consider whether monsters come evil out of the box or whether something creates them. A Cosmology of Monsters and the “horror fan” genre represent the newest grim chapter in a long and dreadful history of the genre.
Two of five stars
Page count: 320
Favorite quote: “The City slithered, adjacent streets grinding against one another in opposite directions, a serpent’s head of pavement rising from the ground and rushing at me so fast I didn’t have time to panic or think.”