Book Review : T.E Grau - They Don't Come Home Anymore (2016)
California-based author T.E Grau is one of the most original and underrated new voices in weird fiction. If this is the first time you're hearing about him now, drop whatever you're doing and pick up his debut collection The Nameless Dark, which made my list of notable reads last year. It's both terrifying and fiercely original. Next Monday, Grau is releasing a brand new novella titled They Don't Come Home Anymore with independent publisher This is Horror Books and it's not going to leave people indifferent. While it's a relatively more accessible book than The Nameless Dark, They Don't Come Home Anymore is a shifty and sophisticated nightmare you're not about to forget. Some of you won't ever forget it. Pre-order your copy now or else.
They Don't Come Home Anymore is the story of Hettie, a lonely but courageous teenage girl who's best friend has been diagnosed with a terminal case of leukemia. Wanting to save the most precious thing she has from the ravages of time, Hettie takes on herself to challenge the boundaries of nature. She wants her friendship with Avery to last forever and the abstract threat of death doesn't frighten her. It's the only perfect thing she had and she's willing to fight for it. But obsessive people like Hettie get tunnel vision when they latch on to a purpose. She will have to sacrifice to bring Avery back from the brink of death. Perhaps more than she imagined.
Coming-of-age stories where the protagonist gets his/her heart broken by a cruel and indifferent world and eventually lose their precious innocence are a dime a dozen out there. It became somewhat of a stereotype, even. What makes They Don't Come Home Anymore different (and more interesting) is that T.E Grau exactly discusses the same kind of heartbreak. His protagonist Hettie is facing her own mortality and therefore the ephemeral nature of everything. She's confronting complex emotions she's not equipped to understands at such a young age and denies them. This is where They Don't Come Home Anymore blurs the lines between a contemporary Gothic coming-of-age and horror. The narrative is fragmented in the first half in order to foreshadow the supernatural aspect of the novel better, a risky decision which pays off big time here.
I've been very vocal in the past on female protagonist written by male authors. They're usually terrible and confusing characters that make half-assed statements about gender politics. This is not the case here. T.E Grau's Hettie is interesting because she's not a pseudo-progressive male fantasy. Her concerns are mostly gender neutral. Her obsessive nature and her infatuation with Avery make her immaturity and her fragile psyche as much of a factor than her courage in the equation. The looming threat of Hettie's inevitable heartbreak keeps the reader attached to her like a concerned sibling. Male authors have a difficult time writing female characters as PEOPLE. They're either intellectually or sexually idealized and/or demonized. Fortunately, T.E Grau laid out an interesting blueprint as to how to gracefully write women. That alone is a reason why you should pick up They Don't Come Home Anymore.
Few authors have an original paradigm to offer their audience. They Don't Come Home Anymore is very much a T.E Grau story where the boundaries between the natural world and the Greater Unknown are permeable and available to those who refuse natural order, yet it is unlike anything he's done before. It's both a fragmented nightmare and a heartbreaking allegory that you won't soon forget. Weird fiction is going to new and interesting places, thanks to original and ambitious voices such as T.E Grau. They Don't Come Home Anymore is his first long-form effort, yet shows both a maturity and a narrative mastery that foreshadows a world of possibilities both for him and for his fortunate readers.