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(Collection Review) Corpsemouth and Other Autobiographies by John Langan

Summary: A family’s Halloween haunted house becomes a conduit to something ancient and uncanny; a young man’s effigy of a movie monster becomes instrumental in his defense against a bully; a family diminishes while visiting a seaside town, leaving only one to remember what changed; a father explores a mysterious tower, and the monster imprisoned within; a man mourning the death of his father travels to his father’s hometown, seeking closure, but finds himself beset by dreams of mythic bargains and a primeval, corpse-eating titan.

John Langan, author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning novel The Fisherman, returns with ten new tales of cosmic horror in Corpsemouth and Other Autobiographies. In these stories, he continues to chart the course of 21st century weird fiction, from the unfamiliar to the familial, the unfathomably distant to the intimate.

Includes extensive story notes and an introduction by Sarah Langan.

Content Warnings: Gore, Body Horror, Child Death

Review: Like many horror fans, John Langan has become something of a good omen to me. So far, every book and story I’ve read from the man is legendary. More and more, I find that, if a book has Langan’s name on it, I have to purchase it and read it for myself. To not do so would be a crime to weird fiction. 

Corpsemouth and Other Autobiographies is no exception. The latest short story collection from Langan is astounding, bringing its readers beautiful themes of family, nostalgia, hunger, and memory. 

What do I mean by that? Well, the title of the collection is no misnomer. Many of the short stories in Langan’s collection connect back to the author’s childhood, family history, and interest. All of this is wonderfully explained in the Story Notes you often find in the best Word Horde books. By far, this book contains some of the most interesting notes I’ve ever seen. They really engender a love for the craft along with a great insight into the writing process. 

However, the stories themselves are the great attractions here. Some of my favorites include “The Open Mouth of Charybdis,” the most unique take on the town of Innsmouth I’ve ever seen, and “Corpsemouth,” a story combining an ancient monster of Merlin along with a truly meaningful meditation on the grief of parental death and the complicated relationships we have with our family. “Homemade Monsters” combines kaiju nostalgia along with the most real emotions centered on childhood bullying I’ve seen in weird fiction, making it a must-read for me. 

One of the things I noticed as I kept reading was Langan’s strong feelings over his father. The theme appears again and again in his stories: “Shadow and Thirst,” “Corpsemouth,” “Anchor,” and more. Somehow, Langan never makes it feel repetitive. As much as I the reader can see the familiarities between all of them, he always manages to spin his yarn, so to speak, in exciting and new directions. 

Nevertheless, I can’t lie. It’s quite relieving when he ends the collection with “Caoineadh,” a haunting banshee story centering on the trauma of WWII. Unlike previous stories, the focus of the story centers on a son and mother relationship. This feels especially meaningful because we rarely see stories in larger culture that talk about the relationship between a son and his mother, especially not when the son is older than say, ten years old. 

Furthermore, Langan’s mythological reinvention is breathtaking here. He takes the basic folklore of the banshee, twists its aristocratic leanings, and adds a cosmic, cthonic background to the banshee’s purpose. It’s just one perfect example of how Langan takes so many old influences, including from his own life, and merges them to create something brand new. 

In the end, that kind of melting pot really is what writing is all about. In that sense, John Langan really fits the phrase “a writer’s writer.” However, any fan of horror and weird fiction will find something to enjoy about his work. I highly recommend picking up Corpsemouth for readers new and old to Langan’s work. You won’t be disappointed. 

If you would like to support me and my work, I have a Patreon and a Ko-fi!

Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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