Shaun Hamill’s novel A Cosmology of Monsters is a study in human folly and the secrets we keep from each other. A family that seems normal may hide dark secrets they dare not share even with each other. Threaded together with H.P. Lovecraft and the cosmic horror of weird fiction, Hamill builds a body of solid characters and motivations while simultaneously taking a sledgehammer to their very fabric of reality. It’s riveting. Rarely have I read a novel that so deftly combined family drama with existential dread and cosmic horror.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
I started collecting my older sister Eunice’s suicide notes when I was seven years old. I still keep them all in my bottom desk drawer, held together with a black binder clip. They were among the only things I was allowed to bring with me, and I’ve read through them often the last few months, searching for comfort, wisdom, or even just a hint that I’ve made the right choice for all of us.A cosmology of Monsters, page 1
Eunice eventually discovered that I was saving her missives and began addressing them to me. In one of my favorites, she writes, “Noah, there is no such thing as a happy ending. There are only good stopping places.”
The book employs some clever use of time and point of view shifts to carry readers through the family’s struggles. Their inability to speak to each other openly, and inevitably to turn that sadness and frustration inward, is the family’s curse. The family’s homegrown haunted house attraction The Wandering Dark (itself a Lovecraft reference) is a constant shadow, representing the family’s inability to escape isolation and loneliness. As the family unit fractures, the attraction becomes increasingly popular. It remains a primary source of income, a full-time family business, and a formative part of the characters’ lives. In it, each character dons a false identity based on their strengths and presents that identity to the world. For young Noah, this means donning a monster costume. For Eunice, it means crafting the central story. Inevitably, each of their roles reflects their inner pain and fears.
The novel is essentially a collection of love stories as much as it is a horror novel, but it uses plenty of Lovecraftian hints to show you were some of that love story is going. The love between dad Harry and mom Margaret blossoms sweetly, dwindling and souring as Harry’s brain tumor alters his personality and undermines his relationships with his wife and children. Eunice, the writer in the family, his closeted and suffering. Her depression could in fact be triggering for some readers, especially LGBT persons who have attempted suicide. Eunice struggles with existential dread and does in fact attempt, so be aware of that going in.
The most upsetting love story though is the one foreshadowed by the referenced to Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth and also the most divisive part of the story (and the one most people have already heard of or guessed from that cover art). If you don’t know Lovecraft, don’t worry. It doesn’t hamper the book in any way, but the Easter eggs offer greater depth for enthusiasts.
A Cosmology of Monsters has already divided the writing community because of all the dark elements it tackles — I strongly suggest anyone who may need a trigger warning look up some online before reading to make sure this is the book for you. It’s also not a fast read — it’s as much a family drama as a horror novel, and the horror is sometimes on the edges, just out of sight, creeping in on the characters. But I enjoy that sort of thing.
Add it to your Goodreads here.
Find it on Amazon here.