Review: Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Short Fiction

Publisher: Tor.com on June 20, 2017

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Walking through his own house at night, a fifteen-year-old thinks he sees another person stepping through a doorway.

 

Stephen Graham Jones’ novella MAPPING THE INTERIOR is an extremely unsettling story about a young boy haunted by the ghosts of his family, both literally and figuratively. Compelling, searing, and very well written, this is work of short fiction will be on my mind for quite some time; however, I can’t entirely say that I enjoyed the experience of reading it.

After his father’s death, Junior’s mom moves him and his little brother Dino off the reservation for a new start. Years later, the family lives in a similarly impoverished community, but it’s home to far fewer Native people and slightly more high school graduates. Three guesses which one really impacts Junior and Dino’s lives more. The two brothers are almost completely socially isolated; Dino has an unnamed developmental disorder and doesn’t function at the same cognitive level as his peers, and Junior spends most of his time trying to protect him from bullies. By all appearances, neither one has any friends aside from each other. Things aren’t great at home but they’re not terrible either. At least, they’re not until Junior’s sleepwalking takes a disturbing turn when he sees his father slinking about their trailer in the dead of night. Why has he come back, and how? Has Junior seen a ghost…or is something more sinister afoot?

Stephen Graham Jones is an incredible writer, and his talent is showcased to the fullest in MAPPING THE INTERIOR. The style won’t be for everyone – choppy, non-linear sentences with a borderline stream of consciousness feel to them – but I thought it worked perfectly for this story. Junior has no clue what’s going on with his father’s reappearance in his life, and his simultaneous excitement and apprehension are conveyed perfectly through the writing. This is also an incredibly quotable novella, with a number of absolutely gut-wrenching observations on what it’s like to be a Native American kid, what it’s like to be an outsider, and what it’s like to grieve a parent. As creepy as the traditional horror elements like ghosts are, I actually found the psychological and emotional turmoil that Junior experiences to be the most disturbing part of this story. Love it or hate it, you’d have to be made of stone to be emotionally unaffected by Junior’s voice.

 A real sense of imminent danger lingers throughout the entirety of MAPPING THE INTERIOR, particularly as Junior starts to sleepwalk more and Dino begins to deteriorate. There’s clearly a connection between these two things and the fact that Junior’s dad has reappeared, growing stronger with each passing day. Scientifically minded Junior decides to approach the mystery in a logical fashion, mapping the interior of their home to trace his father’s footsteps in hopes of finding the source of his power. What’s allowing him to interact with the human world after his passing? Is it because Junior so desperately longs for him to be alive again? I won’t spoil anything, but let’s just say that I wasn’t surprised by the big reveal…but I was horrified by it.

The only thing stopping me from really loving this novella was how completely and utterly bleak it was. I can deal with dark stories – in fact, I usually love them –  but I need at least a glimmer of hope. The level of horror and sadness in this one was honestly just too much for me. Your mileage may vary though, and if you’re a horror fan I think you’ll be quite impressed. MAPPING THE INTERIOR is a masterfully executed story about a young boy grappling with grief, what it means to be an outsider, and the sins of the past. Ultimately it was just a little too depressing for me, but I’m glad I read it because Stephen Graham Jones is now firmly on my radar.

Do you like horror stories? How do you feel about short fiction? Let me know in the comments!

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  • I can read short fic, and horror, well once in a while 🙂

    • Me too! Any more than “once in a while” and I start to get too creeped out.

  • This sounds amazing! I’ve read some of his novels, a long time ago! But it’s been a while and I’m very curious about this. I do have trouble with completely bleak stories, though, so I’m not sure…

    • It was so good! I’m definitely interested in reading more of Stephen Graham Jones’ work now, even though this wasn’t a complete win for me. I’m curious to hear what you think of it if you do pick it up!

  • Karen

    Wow, that sounds pretty intense. I do like horror stories although I haven’t read many.

    For What It’s Worth

    • It was so intense! Too intense for this ‘fraidy cat, haha. If you like horror, I recommend this one!

  • Greg Hill

    Ooh I like the idea of having to map out a house that is more than it appears. Kinda like in Dr. Strange where the house is bigger on the inside, with shifting rooms and whatnot. This one sounds like it might be a little too unremittingly dark for me too, but I am intrigued, especially by the insights into the Native American experience.

    Great review Danya!

    • Oh yeah, the mapping aspect of the story is definitely similar to Dr. Strange! Even though this was a little much for me, I was definitely impressed by it – and I really liked the fact that Junior and his family are Native American, too. Stephen Graham Jones did a great job with establishing what their lives were like on and off the reservation, and I liked how he used legends in the world building too.

      Thanks, Greg! 🙂

  • Whew, this sounds intense! I’ve read some classic, really weird Japanese (translated-to-English) horror stories, and I’ve usually been a fan. But maybe this one will mess me up too much if I read it?

    • It was a bit too intense for me honestly, but I’m sure that many others would love it. You might enjoy it, actually! I’ve heard great things about Japanese horror – I’ll have to try some of it sometime.

  • I have seen this cover about and loved the look of it, but not one thing about it made me realise how dark and unsettling it is. There’s much goodness here, that’s clear, but I hear you in need some glimmer of hope — something so relentlessly dark is hard to engage with for me.

    • If there’s one thing you can say about Tor.com publications, it’s that their cover art is always gorgeous! Personally, I recommend Stephen Graham Jones but not necessarily this novella…especially to those who, like me, need their dark stories to have some hope in them.

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    The juxtaposition between a ghost story and a young person’s emotional journey sounds quite intriguing, but what makes me think twice before heading straight into this kind of story are your words about the lack of hope: even in the bleakest of circumstances there MUST be at least a glimmer of hope…
    Thanks for sharing!

    • I know, I loved that aspect too. Particularly since the whole “family ghosts” aspect of the story played into the horror elements *and* Junior’s concept of who he wants to be as an adult. Lots of other people seem to love this one, but even though I was impressed by the writing it’s just too dark for me!

  • Lynn Williams

    In some respects I really like the sound of this – but maybe not in others, particularly the lack of hope.
    Lynn 😀

    • If you’re so-so on reading this, I say go for it! Tons of other people have been loving it, so it’s possible I’m just overly-sensitive to horror stories. I stand by my statement that this is an extremely bleak read, though!

  • What an amazing cover and it definitely sounded like it had a lot great moments. But I can totally understand when things are too bleak. I need some happy/hope! Glad it was still enjoyable! Awesome review, Danya!

    • Isn’t it gorgeous? It does a great job reflecting the story too, if I do say so myself. Even though it was too dark for me, I’m eager to read more by Stephen Graham Jones because he’s such a talented writer. Thanks, Cyn! 🙂

  • Oooh, yes! Psychological and emotional turmoil is as scary or more than just slash horror, the kind that leaves you pondering. Too bad there wasn’t break from the bleakness though. I need that as well in my reads. The cover is so captivating though. Happy Friday, Danya. (:

    • YES, thank you! I get so freaked out by psychological horror, but standard slash horror doesn’t affect me in nearly the same way. The cover is striking, that’s for sure. Thanks Kim, I hope you have a great week! 🙂

  • This book sounds good and terrible, does that make sense? I totally get what you’re saying about liking dark stories as long as there is a glimmer of hope on there so the bleakness of the story would probably get me down but the story itself and the writing sounds brilliant and that definitely redeems it in my eyes. Glad to hear you have the author on your radar. If you read another book by Jones I definitely want to hear about it.

    • It makes complete sense Becky, and it’s the perfect way to sum up how I felt about it. If the story hadn’t been so well-written and compelling, I wouldn’t have been nearly as upset by its bleakness. Hopefully Stephen Graham Jones’ other stuff works better for me, because I think he’s a totally underrated talent and I want to read more from him!

  • I don’t really read short fiction, but this does sound creepy! and you have me very curious about the writing style And what the big reveal is that horrified you so much.

    • I used to be really into it, but it’s been ages since I’ve read and reviewed short fiction myself. I’ve gotta get back into the swing of it. UGH the reveal! Thinking about it makes my heart ache and my skin crawl.

  • I’ve really been wanting to read something by Stephen Graham Jones as well but I think I will pass on this one though it does sound like a fantastic concept. I’m with you on needing the glimmer of something bright amidst the gloom. I have his full length novel Mongrels marked to read and think I will probably stick with my plan to start with that one and eventually get to this one if I find him irresistible.

    • I think that’s probably a good choice, honestly. This story has been on my mind a lot lately, and not necessarily in a good way; it’s skillful and haunting, but I’d really rather not dwell on it since the story’s so upsetting, you know? I’m dying to read something else by him though, so I’m very eager to hear your thoughts on Mongrels when you get around to reading it!

  • I personally find it very hard to review novella thoroughly without giving any major plot points away, so kudos to you for doing that here, please teach me your ways!
    I’ve been curious about this novella since the cover is so beautiful, and I am glad to hear it is so well-written and also explores the perspective of a Native American along with its examination of the horror elements. I think I’ll save this one for Halloween.

    • Hahaha, hooray! I’m glad it worked here – I would teach you my ways but they’re woefully inconsistent, I’m afraid. LOL.

      This would be such a perfect Halloween read, Aentee! Especially if you’re doing a feature on ghost stories, or if you’re looking to showcase diverse writers. This has a Native American Gothic feel to it, so I think Halloween is the perfect time of year to read it.

  • I don’t usually review short stories either. I find that when drafting my post, in describing the characters I ultimately let something slip such as a major twist in the story… and I’m usually unsure of this until I have someone else proof-read it!

    • I’m the same way, actually! Before posting this, I re-read it a couple of times just to assure myself that there weren’t any spoilers here. Thankfully, this is the kind of novella that’s fairly easy to discuss without giving anything away!