Review: Black Mouth - Ronald Malfi
Published: Titan Books, July 2022 My Rating: 5/5 stars
“I looked up at him, my vision blurry. ‘It’s Black Mouth’ I told him. ‘It marches all those old ghosts right out in front of me, same as when I was a kid. And it’s to the point where it’s getting harder and harder to tell what’s real and what’s not.’”
Echoing of Stephen Kings It, Black Mouth tells a story of childhood trauma and the way guilt, grief and shame can haunt a person into adulthood.
Jamie Warren has avoided looking back, ever since he left Sutton's Quay at 18 years old, leaving his family, including his disabled brother Dennis, behind. What happened between the walls of his childhood home, as well as in the abandoned shafts of Black Mouths’ mines can remain buried in the depth of his memories, as far as he’s concerned. When the death of his elderly mother forces Jamie back to his hometown, a series of strange events reunites him with his estranged brother and childhood best-friends Mia and Clay. These events become eerily reminiscent of that faithful summer many years ago; the summer they met a mysterious man in the woods, who showed them magical and disturbing things. As familiar patterns begin to repeat themselves, the four friends must, again, confront old fears they’ve harboured or buried for decades inside.
Black Mouth is honestly close to my perfect kind of horror-novel. It has great, well developed characters, nail-biting tension and a finale that kept me up past my bed-time because I refused to sleep until I had answers. Do not be fooled by its almost campy motif of a carnival-magician hiding in the woods; this book takes quite a mature take on the everyday psychological horrors of life, and genuinely disturbed and hit me on an emotional level at times.
A large part of that is due to the excellent main cast, which I quickly became invested in. Each of them have dealt with their shared past in different ways, yet their different paths of life seamlessly converge when the situation calls for their old friendship one final time. From my background a sensitivity reader for disability-representation, I was extra cautious about the inclusion of a disabled character as the brother of the protagonist, fearing he might be reduced to “a plot-point” in Jamie’s story, or simply monster-fodder, as has happened before in horror. I’m happy to say that the opposite was the case: Dennis was written with a lot of respect and dignity and the brotherly bond between him and Jamie was one of the emotional highlights of the story for me. The same compassion and respect is granted to the other characters and their experiences as well. Despite the heavy themes this novel deals with, the way it does so never feels exploitative, but rather like a triumph of growth and overcoming. In that regard, I’ll give it a compliment that I might be crucified for: it does so better than It.
I don’t want to give anything away about the plot of this story, as I loved discovering the twists and turns through the alternating perspectives of the main cast along the way. I will that I was on the edge of my seat, especially near the end, and burned some midnight oil, unable to wait for the morning for answers.
With Come With Me, as well as Black Mouth Malfi shows himself a master of psychological horror that is rooted in the deeply personal and relatable. This happens to be my favourite and puts Malfi on my to-watch-list for authors within the genre. I recommend looking up trigger-warnings if you need them, but to anyone comfortable with these topics, if handled well, I can only say: read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Find this book here on Goodreads