Gonzalo is the caretaker of a cemetery where the corpses wander.
He hates his job and wishes nothing more that he could escape the cemetery and become part of regular society. When he impregnates one of the corpses in a drunken fling, he’s horrified that he’s bringing a child into the world who’s doomed to the same fate as him. Despite this, he does his best to raise his son alone as the pregnancy destroys Fiona, the corpse he impregnated.
“Gonzalo looks into the mirror and unknowingly sees the monster he vowed he would never become. He fails to see the hatred and greed and malevolence in his eyes. Past failures and present misfortune blinds him. He has pretended so long to be what he is not that he has forgotten who he is. Instead he sees a helpless broken man through blurred vision.”
Given the title and the premise, one would think this would be a horror novel. It wouldn’t really be accurate to call The Mortuary Monster that though. The best comparison I can think of is to Tim Burton films like Edward Scissorhands which have the appearance and trappings of a horror film, but in terms of plot and tone are more of a drama about outsiders.
The book that came most to mind when reading this was Bradley Sands’ Liquid Status. Both are Bizarro family dramas, but whereas Liquid Status is more absurdist, The Mortuary Monster is more plot driven.
At first, Gonzalo is angry that he impregnated the corpse Fiona, but soon decides that he needs to take responsibility. He begins to plot to lock all of the corpses in their coffins and seal up the cemetery. He hopes that by keeping the corpses in their graves, he can raise his son to be normal. He wants nothing more than his son to be able to leave the cemetery to join the society, like he wanted but was unable to.
The story moves between Gonzalo as an adult and as a child. As an adult, he tends to the cemetery and tries to raise his son, Frank. During the flashbacks to his childhood, we see the abuse he suffered under his family and his attempts to run away and join normal society. His abuse and the way he was raised in the cemetery made him unable to relate to anyone. As an adult, he hates his job. He fantasizes about becoming the child of a family whose own son recently died. When he raises Frank, he does his best to keep his son away from any hints of who his mother was or what the cemetery was like before he was born. However, he only ends up alienating his son further.
Gonzalo’s abuse and alienation has distorted his view of the world. He’s unable to relate to anyone but the corpses he grew up around. He tries to avoid becoming like his abusive family, but he ends up unconsciously causing psychological abuse to his son. He tells his son a “mortuary monster” lives in the cemetery to keep him from wandering around it too much and learning about his mother. Even though he’s not the violent psycho his parents were, he’s still continuing the cycle of abuse.
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The Mortuary Monster is a solid first novel from Stone. It maintains a strange and creepy atmosphere while still telling a story of abuse and its effects on a person in a way that rings true. It's a good example of Bizarro that maintains a strong emotional verisimilitude in a surreal world. Fans of horror and dark fantasy would enjoy this book as well.
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