A Cosmology of Monsters: A Novel
Hardcover (also available as an e-book and an audio book), 978-1-5247-4767-1, 336 pgs., $26.95
September 17, 2019
Horror can be both real and imaginary, but where do monsters come from? How do they come into existence and thrive? What makes them seek out humans to scare, befriend, abduct, or even kill?
Shaun Hamill’s first novel, A Cosmology of Monsters, is about a monster stalking a family across three generations. At first, the monster seems to be a fanciful illusion to whomever it appears, effected maybe by an overactive imagination. But as the story progresses, the monster becomes bolder and more tangible, especially for Noah Turner, beginning when he is six years old. Noah is the narrator, but this narration is a bit unbelievable at first, because he is not born until much later in the story. The author makes this work by adding a magical element and offering a terrifying mix of fantastical and real-life nightmares.
Harry Turner and Margaret Byrne meet, marry, and have two daughters, Sydney and Eunice, several years before their son, Noah, is born. Harry becomes obsessed with building a haunted house out of his own house, garage, and yard, and so begins the family’s Halloween journey of pretense, lies, and manufactured horror. When Noah confronts the monster that has been scratching at his window and peering at his family from the outside for years, his life shifts, and his relationship with this monster evolves and becomes beautiful yet terrifying.
Shaun Hamill knows how to build a story that starts off safe and interesting and quickly becomes frightening and captivating, because the characters, at all stages of life, are completely relatable. They have problems and illnesses, experience deception and trickery, and hold secrets. The characters are three dimensional, perfect in their imperfections.
The plot borrows from H.P. Lovecraft’s world-building without becoming bogged down in too much description. Noah’s father, Harry Turner, reads and collects many of Lovecraft’s works, and the City that Shaun Hamill has crafted, in sporadic and almost dream-like sequences, definitely has that Lovecraft vibe. (For readers unfamiliar with Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Call of Cthulhu” are good places to start.)
One unique element the author incorporates toward the end is an abrupt switch to white text on black. This brief interlude answers many questions about the monster, but the inverse construction and fairy-tale narrative are murky and difficult to read. The next part is almost like a burst of dazzling light. This composition is intentional, because the first line after that darkness is “The avalanche of white light subsided.” You feel as if you have traversed a dark tunnel and emerged enlightened yet still in a state of wonder. Not many authors have the skill to pull this off without being gimmicky. This type of storytelling takes timing and talent, and Shaun Hamill has an abundance of both.
A Cosmology of Monsters is a well-orchestrated, fast-paced literary treasure, packing many twists and surprises. Hamill’s pages, which do not rely on shocking readers with too much gore and violence, are an astonishing journey rife with physical and mental illness, betrayal, the struggles of adolescence, and a child’s fearless ability to see and befriend a monster that plagues, visits, or perhaps even watches over his family.
Any book that pays homage to Lovecraft and receives praise from the master horror writer Stephen King is a sure-fire winner, and A Cosmology of Monsters delivers extraordinary horror in exceptional writing.
A native of Arlington, Texas, Shaun Hamill holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He lives in the dark woods of Alabama with his wife, his in-laws, and his dog. A Cosmology of Monsters is his first novel. Visit him on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/shaunhamill.