{Book Review} Memento Mori by Brian Hauser

“This is his first novel.”

Famous last words, cut here from Brian Hauser’s very own About the Author section. Hauser’s first novel is Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows and first novel or not, there’s verve and ambition abound (as well as some minor mis-steps) that make it a worthy addition to Word Horde’s growing catalog of modern horror literature. This is the company that codified Laird Barron’s mythos via anthology; through imitation, making something what once was a blip on the radar into, well, a legacy. This is also the company that published John Langan’s The Fisherman, perhaps the most oft-recomended book in contemporary weird/horror outside of House of Leaves. This is to say, debut novel or not, Brian Hauser is in muscular company—but even as a new novelist, Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows shows he belongs at the table.

The book, more or less, follows the story of a young, experimental horror filmmaker named Tina Mori (the source of the titular pun that should’ve been cut drafts ago, in my opinion). Mori has disappeared, an event that has added an air of mystery to her already considerable underground cult of personality. Mori’s films are jarring and surreal, not looking quite like the horror movies we know today. There are no quipping monsters, but there is an otherworldly aesthetic—aided and abetted by continued references to The King in Yellow. No, not the Chambers’ short story collection, but the play itself.

In the world of Memento Mori, the cursed play exists and is something of an urban legend, a source of terror as deadly and consumptive as a pack of cigarettes. This intertextuality plays a large part of the story and was particularly gripping for me, as I had actually just finished Chambers’ collection (and typically, as most King in Yellow readers, had nothing new or interesting to say on it) and seeing new stories told in this universe struck me as an interesting decision. Horror is full of cursed objects—dig deep enough into any author’s work and you’ll find a book that can’t be read, or more often these days, a film that can’t be seen. Hauser takes The King in Yellow and its oblique worldbuilding (Cassilda, Carcosa, the Pallid Mask—all worthy of head scratches and what the fucks) and recontextualizes it, effectively breathing new life into a work that exists now as a footnote to True Detective’s influences. Hauser could’ve made up a new book—I mean, he made up Mori’s films, he’s clearly capable of making things up, he’s a novelist now, after all—but by using the The King in Yellow he establishes that this book isn’t just about horrible things, it’s about horror itself. Memento Mori isn’t just a horror story, it’s another voice in the conversation.

Mori’s story is told primarily as a memoir by her friend and narrator C.C. Waite—a fellow SUNY coed and roommate who gets sucked in by Tina’s artistic journey. Through Waite’s eyes we see Mori grapple with her influences and fall further away from normality, along the way meeting stranger and stranger people—slowly driving a wedge into their relationship as her films become more bizarre, more inexplicable, and more affecting. This makes up the bulk of the narrative, and while it answers few questions outright, it does offer a lot of atmosphere. The beginning frames Hauser as himself (assumably), in the grand horror tradition of a man finding something that sparks a real-world mystery—the almost classical means of telling a story through stories. In Memento Mori, there are a handful of narrators, each piecing together a small part of the novel’s narrative. There’s the author himself, teenage zine writer (and Tina Mori fan) Billie Jacobs, C.C. Waite, and Tina Mori herself. The multiple narrators gives the novel a pieced-together, found footage feel—as well as highlighting its delicate meta edge. Although I think this concept could have been taken further, with less focus on Waite’s memoir (which takes up the bulk of book, making the other narrators feel rather perfunctory)—it’s engaging and fun and proves Hauser has a knack for the mechanics of novel writing.

And that’s what it all comes down to—Memento Mori is a good book. Brian Hauser has crafted a tense, readable ride down a rabbit-hole that goes straight to Carcosa. The characters are well-defined and appropriately contrasting. The late 70s period setting feels as lived in and desolate as those old documentaries of punk rock talking heads talking their heads off about the city—as big, scary, and inherently corrupted as ever. Hauser even manages to bring some commentary to the table too, commenting through his protagonists on feminism, art, race, and just plain growing up. The result is a book that feels vital, as deeply connected to people as it is genre.

Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows comes out from Word Horde on May 28, 2019. You can pre-order the book here.  And while you’re at it, brush up on The King in Yellow, it’s free after all. Looking for more horror novels that will make you think? The best way to keep up to date with all of our news, reviews, and analysis here at Signal Horizon is to follow us TwitterFacebook, or subscribe to our newsletter below.

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