The latest novel from Shipp (The Atrocities, 2018, etc.) is a creepy fusion of dark fantasy and psychological horror about an intruder who breaks into a family’s home and begins perverting their memories with insidious subtlety.
When a seemingly homeless man in a Space Jam nightshirt crawls through his living room window, Hendrick Lund initially fears for his family’s lives. But then reality shifts, and the emotionally disturbed intruder with the beady eyes—a Gatorade-hoarding pop-culture enthusiast named Marvin—is the man who saved his son Tomas’ life by giving him the Heimlich in a restaurant earlier in the day. As the strange intruder delves into the minds of Hendrick, his wife, Imani, and two kids, Kennedy and Tomas, he tweaks their memories, and soon he’s perceived as a former co-worker; then “Uncle Marvin,” a close family friend; then Hendrick’s twin brother who lives in the spare bedroom. As the family is being mentally manipulated, Marv is hard at work in his bedroom crafting a project—but it’s a secret because “to open a chrysalis early kills the butterfly.” As Marv’s “miracle” takes shape, he uses his powers to unearth and take advantage of the family members’ darkest secrets. Hendrick, for example, has embezzled a large sum of money that he has stashed in the basement and is obsessed with being used by a raspy-voiced dominatrix named Morgaine. The premise of the story—and the way in which it is ingeniously constructed, reality slipping bit by bit—is an undeniable strength, as is Shipp’s ability to create an atmosphere so sick and twisted readers will almost feel it polluting their souls. But there’s an unfinished feel to the book—sequences where more information would’ve deepened the narrative impact—that may leave some readers less than satisfied.
A seriously weird—and impressively inventive—story that, while flawed, is delightfully disturbing.