Book Review : Andrew James Stone - The Mortuary Monster (2016)
Tim Burton is one of the most influential contemporary film directors. The way he reappropriated classic Gothic tropes to create a bizarre, whimsical universe where the dead are basically just dead and rotting version of childhood fairy tales characters more or less created the Hot Topic generation. Andrew James Stone's novel The Mortuary Monster isn't exactly pandering to that kind of crowd, but it certainly wouldn't have existed without the vision of Tim Burton. It's far more disturbing to be qualified of pop goth, but I don't know if it was the intent.
I'll tell you what I got from the book and let you be the judge of that.
The Mortuary Monster is the story of Gonzalo, a troubled young man who grew up in a cemetery, surrounded by walking, talking corpses. He feels unhappy and alienated by his abusive parents and his marginal lifestyle, yet grows up to become the caretaker of the cemetery. When the impossible happens and he impregnates a corpse (yes, you've read that well), Gonzalo becomes obsessed with the idea of crafting a normal existence for his upcoming child. So, he undertakes the ambitious project of putting the corpses back into their coffins and closing the lids, so that the cemetery becomes like... you know, just like all the other cemeteries. Both quiet and disturbing.
Is it me, or the idea of putting walking, talking corpses back inside their coffins is creepy as hell? I mean, the influence of Tim Burton is all over this novel, but I think it would terrify the iconic director. If death is not the end, if the happily ever after is to keep being yourself while rotting into nonexistence, wouldn't the worst nightmare being locked in a box, alone and without any light until the worms are done with you? It's a fate worse than death, because you're actually conscious in the nothingness. The worse part is that Gonzalo does this for his child, which makes it a borderline allegory for ethnic cleansing. Replace corpses with any ethnicity and you got a whole different book.
Now, it's very possible The Mortuary Monster was meant to be an allegory for intolerance and it it is, it's a solid one that highlights the merciless and systematic nature of ethnic cleansing. But, I'm just not 100% sure it was meant to be taken that way. Gonzalo is driven by the idea of "normalcy", which means to him that the dead belong in a coffin, away from the living. The non-linear narrative also shows that Gonzalo's idea of normal was created from really abnormal circumstances involving abusive parenting, so he's semi-excused for what he does. So, The Mortuary Monster was somewhat of a mindfuck for me. It was clear to me what it was, but I didn't know if it was meant to be that way.
"Thought-provoking" would be a good way to describe Andrew James Stone's The Mortuary Monster, I suppose. It lures readers in with the talking, jiggling corpses of Tim Burton movies in order to expose a real and terrifying problem. At least, I'm pretty sure it does that. So yeah, that book might look cute as a button, but it's a strategy to get deep under your skin and freak you the hell out. So, I kind of liked The Mortuary Monster, but I'm not sure I liked it for the right reasons. Anyway, this one's going to be a potent conversation starter at your next book club meeting, so either way I'd suggest reading it. It's the kind of book you're bound to get in an argument over.