Mapping the Interior
“Mapping the Interior is a darkly meditative tale of innocence, family, and ghosts that only Stephen Graham Jones could tell.”
There’s something profoundly upsetting in the thought of being able to interact with a late family member—upsetting and disturbing. Such is the twisted, black, beating heart at the center of Stephen Graham Jones’ latest tale, Mapping the Interior.
Jones has always had a knack for telling unusual stories that challenge and break through a wide variety of genres; yet there is often a theme of profound loss, and all the emotions that surround it, which recurs in many of his works, making for tales that are as emotionally powerful as they are unsettling, and Mapping is no exception to this.
A dark and surreal coming-of-age story (most definitely geared toward adults, however, and not the YA crowd), Mapping is the narrative of Junior, a 15-year-old boy living with his mother and seizure-prone younger brother, Dino, in a small trailer in the southwest. Junior occasionally sleepwalks—which is how he discovers a man, who looks like his late father, dressed in traditional Blackfeet regalia, walking through the house late one night.
Faced with a possible ghost in his house, Junior begins to question everything he thinks he knows, from the truth behind his father’s death to what the ghost wants . . . and the deeper into the mysteries (and the house) Junior goes, the darker and more disturbing the answers become.
Over the book’s short span (only barely over 100 pages), Junior’s explorations take some very surprising and eerie turns, including an absolutely unnerving expedition in the dark spaces beneath the house. This sequence is full of claustrophobic terror, and not for the squeamish, if only for its many unseen and implied horrors of what Junior touches (or is touched by) in the shadows.
Although a short tale, with most of the plot centered around Junior’s dark quest for truth, there is a heavy emphasis on his emotional journey, pondering life, death, and what he believes must come after.
“When you come back from the dead,” Junior ponders at one point, “you’re a spirit, you’re nothing, just some leftover attention, some unassociated memory. But then, what if a cat’s sneaked into some dark space like this, right? What if that cat comes here to die, because it got slapped out on a road or hit by an owl or something, so it lays back in the corner to pant it out alone. Except, when it’s in that state, when it’s hurt like that, when this cat isn’t watching the way it usually does, something else can creep in. Something dead.”
Why is Junior’s father back from the dead? Why is he dressed in “fancydancer” clothing? And what does it all mean for Junior, who seems to be the only person in his family aware of his father’s return? These questions and more are raised through the course of this novella, in Jones’ signature, stream-of-consciousness narrative style, and although some are answered, they only raise more questions.
Despite these many larger questions being raised from a young perspective, there are some truly disquieting and gruesome sequences that keeps one foot of this novella planted firmly in the realm of horror fiction. Junior’s journey takes him far beyond the heart of darkness beating beneath his family’s home, concluding on a bleak note that is sure to give even the most steadfast reader a shiver. Mapping the Interior is a darkly meditative tale of innocence, family, and ghosts that only Stephen Graham Jones could tell.