Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Look Out for Other Mommy in Josh Malerman’s Incidents Around the House

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Josh Malerman does it again. I say that as if I have read his work before. I actually haven’t, but this is the man who wrote Bird Box, so his reputation preceded him. This isn’t all that important. What is important is that his next novel, Incidents Around the House, releases on June 25th through Del Ray. This book actually scared me, so buckle up.

Incidents Around the House is, surprise, a haunted house novel. But it’s not like one I’ve ever read before. Malerman chose to tell this tale from the point of view of a young girl: Bela. The writing is so simplistic due to this narrative choice that there are not even quotation marks used. Combined with often short chapters, this makes the book a breeze to read. I read it in just over 24 hours, and that was with quite a few extended, breaks. I’ll touch back on this in a moment.

Bela, like many young children, believes there is something living in her closet. A friend, a monster, she’s not too sure right now. She calls this entity Other Mommy. Other Mommy has been around for a while, but the book begins when she starts getting “closer”. She can leave the closet. She can leave Bela’s room. She can leave the house. Just typing these escalating incidents is making my heart start to race again. 

Mommy and Daddo, Bela’s parents, are split on how to handle Other Mommy. Mommy is a little more unnerved, particularly by the name her daughter uses for this imaginary friend. Daddo, though, takes it a little more seriously. In his way, anyway, Daddo is pretty cool. He thinks Bela may be sensitive, that she’s seeing a ghost, and makes sure she can meet with one of his friends to test that theory. Unsurprisingly, Mommy is not too happy about that.

Incidents Around The House Cover
Incidents Around The House Cover

That’s all I want to tell you about the plot, though. It’s time to go back to discussing the narrative choices Malerman made here. They are effective. I have mentioned reading this book quickly, and my heart racing while recounting events. That’s because this book was stressful. Have you ever experienced a jump scare while reading? I have, now, multiple times. The way the prose is structured, the way Bela sees things, made for an incredibly unique reading experience.

Oftentimes, it didn’t seem like the actual tone was scary. The opposite, in fact. The tone was observational. This is what Bela is doing, what Bela is seeing. And due to her age, she doesn’t often understand what is going on. Not to the level the reader does. There were so many times where Bela would almost casually say something spine-chillingly terrifying. There was no build-up, there was no wind-down. Because to Bela this was normal. To me? Not so much. I jumped, okay? Like in a horror movie. It was awesome.

More to that point, Other Mommy wasn’t always scary to Bela. She was her friend. She could still be her friend. That is what Bela is grappling with. What can she, as a child, do? The adults around her are all terrified. Anyone who sees Other Mommy is terrified. But Other Mommy was there for her when she was lonely. Where should her loyalty be? Does she have a responsibility to help? And if so–-which side? These are the questions of an innocent child. One who rarely worries for her own safety. Which means the reader has to.

This book blew me away. I had heard rave reviews going in–in fact a few of my friends even said they had to read with the lights on. And I’ll admit, even knowing what they read, I was skeptical. I’m always skeptical when people say a book genuinely scared them. I’m not sure why, I’m just not frightened like that easily. But this one? This proves it can happen.

I’ll be haunted by this one for a while I’m sure. If that excites you, join me this summer. 

Images courtesy of publisher.

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