(I got a copy courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
This was an intriguing and gripping novella, tackling a question that is probably seldom asked: what of the somewhat normal people in paranormal/supernatural stories, the ones who aren’t the powerful mage detective or powerful vampire or whatever, yet have also dealt with their share of anything-but-normal situations? What of those people’s psyche, can they ever go back to a semblance of normalcy, and how? In an attempt to reclaim their selves, five people gather around Dr. Jan Sayer to talk through their problems, some more reluctantly than others, gradually revealing what exactly happened to them, and how it left them scarred. Because no matter what befell them, whether true monsters or human cannibals or other deranged kinds of minds, it was just the right amount of too bizarre for them to find solace in traditional therapy, which basically ended up in a bunch of souls suffering without ever being able to truly express how… until the group started meeting, that is.
The world building rests on a lot of common themes, some well-known (Lovecraftian mythos—the town of Dunnmouth being obviously reminiscent of Innsmouth), some vague enough that they could be placed basically in any series, and all morbidly fascinating in their own ways. The family of human cannibals that fed off Stan’s and his friends’ bodies, for instance, is pretty close to typical stories of that kind (like the Sawney Bean clan). The Scrimshander could be a regular psychopath touched with a bit of sight… or something else altogether. Greta’s fiery little problem could be interpreted as a variety of spirits. As a result, I felt it allowed the story to fit a lot of potential settings, and gain a kind of legitimacy.
Though overall, I liked it a lot, I remain slightly frustrated. I wanted this book to be longer. I loved its premise, but I felt that it sometimes came short, and wasn’t exploited enough (especially when the doctor was concerned). The ending, too, left me somewhat dissatisfied, in that it seemed to leave the characters too close to where they started. In part, its outcome fits the bleak theme of the book as a whole, yet I couldn’t help but wonder if it went “far enough”.
A not about the style, quite atypical: a blend of first person plural (highlighting the sense of a collective, of a group) and third person. I thought it worked, but it could just as well detract from one’s enjoyment of the story. Be warned.
Nevertheless, I’d still recommend this novel no matter what.