Review: Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

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Why isn’t this ever the setting for a happy story?                 Science History Institute, CC BY-SA 3.0

Mapping the Interior is a horror novel in the vein of Stephen King. In other words, it’s disturbing, fantastical, psychological and compelling. Set somewhere in the American midwest, the story is told by Junior, a young, Native American boy who is trying to make sense of his dead father’s nightly visits.

Given that Junior is twelve-years old, the novel is also, in part, a coming-of-age story and the supernatural horrors of the novel are almost secondary to the all too real difficulties of growing up in poverty and a single-parent household. In fact, the echoes that bounce between the fantastic and mundane are what really make this story work. Jones handles difficult, conflicting emotions with a deft hand and his understated, almost matter-of-fact, description of both “real-life” crises and ghostly visitations makes them seem equally plausible, equally true. And while we always have hope that Junior will find a way to save his mom and brother from paranormal dangers, the grinding truths of poverty, vulnerability and isolation hang over the story with an inevitability that makes them far more frightening than any ghost.

There are awkward turns of phrase and sentence fragments throughout the book but most of these arise from Jones’ attempt to write dialogue identical to how people speak. While some readers might find this off-putting, I was engrossed enough by the story that I was willing forgive a few grammatical oddities.

So, in short, if you like Stephen King, you’ll almost certainly love Mapping the Interior. Stephen Graham Jones knows how to tell a great story, populate it with characters you’ll care about, fill it with unexpected twists and turns and smother the whole thing with a sickly-sweet coating of despair.

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