Book Review: A Cosmology of Monsters

Shaun Hamill pens an achingly aware homage to horrors past

Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters explores the medicinal effects the macabre has on a Texas family with deep inclinations towards schizophrenia.

Aside from the familial history of madness, the Turners are plagued by an interdimensional misfortune that permeates their middle class lives as they are haunted by a wolf-like creature with orange glowing eyes and access to magical black flowers that grow in some tangential realm which will remind some readers of a bent version of the Territories from that King/Straub classic The Talisman.

As Cosmology commences, horror fans are treated to a kind of Amityville-era Americana, a time when Rosemary’s Baby was a date movie and dinner theatre actors could ape the antics of the Addams Family for funhouse laughs.

Noah Turner, the youngest of the cursed clan, details the ruinous resentment that possesses his mother Margaret, who threw away a promising future while attending a conservative college by falling for the charms of poor towny named Harry, a kid with a schizophrenic mother and a taste for paperbacks with split skulls on their covers. As the years go on, Harry shows increasing signs of madness that precipitate his plans for building an immersive haunted house.

When Harry’s erratic behavior is revealed to be the hallmarks of a terminal disease, Margaret elects to earn a living by committing to her husband’s vision of a haunted house, dubbed The Wandering Dark, and parlays a storage unit of his monster memorabilia into a comic book shop.

As the widow raises her three children in a town where children start to go missing, things go from unfortunate to unreal. Big sister Sydney, an aspiring actress who engages in an inappropriate sexual affair with her drama teacher, becomes one of the missing, while Eunice, the middle-child who used to read The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath to her baby brother at bedtime now leaves suicide notes for him to find. As all this occurs, Noah loses his innocence to a furry creature that does him favors and leaves chalk scribbles that say: FRIEND HELP.

Atmospherically employing elements that evoke the soporific delights of catching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on the late show with reading Thomas Ligotti by flashlight, Cosmology is an achingly aware homage to its eerie antecedents.

A Cosmology of Monsters

by Shaun Hamill
Pantheon, 336 pp., $26.95

Shaun Hamill will appear with Kristen Roupenian (You Know You Want This) in the Texas Book Festival session “Shock Value: The Art and Agency of Literary Horror” Sat., 12:15pm, in Capitol Ext. Rm. E2.014.

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