A young recluse is unsettled by mysterious children who come to stay with him.
Morgan Fletcher, disfigured by a terrible accident and imagining himself “the dirty secret at the heart of the world,” lives at his sprawling family manor with only his housekeeper, Engel, for company. One day, an infant appears on his doorstep, followed by dozens more children materializing seemingly out of thin air. At first, Morgan is simply glad to be needed: the children are unperturbed by his injuries, and, with Engel's help, the household begins to approximate a normal domestic life. But soon, circumstances surrounding the children get odder: they age (or fail to) in seemingly illogical ways, and they discover a mask in Morgan’s home that replicates his old face and assimilates perfectly to his scarred skin when he puts it on. When Morgan enlists a local doctor’s help in trying to discover who the children are and where they’ve come from, he must gradually travel beyond the walls of his estate, with shocking results. Lambert (With a Zero at Its Heart, 2014, etc.) offers a thoroughly original entry into the tradition of ghost stories; eschewing convention, he revels in bizarre details and images, from Morgan’s mentally ill mother trying to blind herself with rose thorns to the children worshiping an archaic wax anatomical model. Despite the strangeness of the novel’s world, the story retains its subtlety, and though it is profoundly symbolic—and not always easy to decode—it remains compulsively readable. And the reveal, when it comes, is as unforgettable and as saturated with symbolic weight as the rest of the novel; as Morgan muses, “What sense did a mask have…if to remove it meant nothing?”
A one-of-a-kind literary horror story.