Top positive review
Reviewed in the United States on July 18, 2017
Mapping the Interior (2017) is the latest short novel by the prolific Stephen Graham Jones. It is pretty safe to assume that unless the reader is well-versed in Jones’ work, it will be unlike anything else they have likely read in quite some time. The protagonist of the novel begins his story when he is twelve-years-old, a sleep-walker, and who sees the silhouette of his dead father in the house where the boy, his younger brother who suffers from seizures, and their mother live. There are unknowns about the father’s death and unknowns about what the boy sees that fateful night because he doesn’t see his father as he was, but as what he might have become.
Mapping the Interior is a unique piece of fiction in many ways. For one, Jones’ prose is unbelievably beautiful; almost lyrical. It has a deceptive flow to it which lulls the reader into appreciation of Jones’ story-telling without at first noticing that the story’s narrator is totally unreliable. In some ways, Mapping the Interior is reminiscent of what now may be an almost forgotten, albeit brilliant novel, The Kryptonite Kid (1979) by Joseph Torchia in which the reader is forced to evaluate and try to detect fantasy from reality. Jones’ narrator, however, makes it even more difficult than does Torchia’s.
There is no doubt that by time Jones’ narrator sees his father’s ghost that the boy is haunted; but by exactly what? Determined to see his father again, the boy tries to trigger more sleep-walking episodes and he goes so far as to draw a map of the family’s floor plan to their inadequate modular house—including under it—to try to find evidence of his father’s presence. The book’s title, thus, becomes a wonderful metaphor for the boy’s internal search of the house as well as himself.
During all of Mapping the Interior there are moments of realist family drama and interactions between the two brothers and between the brothers and their mother. Some scenes reflect great love. Some reflect tragedy and fear. Growing up for those that are considered different and who do not have much of any luxury to fall back upon is difficult. However, in Mapping the Interior there are also genuinely frightening events—made all the more alarming by the fact that the line between reality and fantasy is a blur throughout and the narrator’s citing of events is filled with misleading contradictions. The ground upon which the reader stands is ever uncertain and shifting.
By time readers reach the end of the novel they will most likely have gained some greater appreciation of modern American Indian life and the trials many of those individuals face without having been preached to by Jones. As per the plot and story, readers who must have everything spelled out for them in black and white with every loose end neatly tied up are likely to be disappointed. Mapping the Interior will best be appreciated by readers who revel in superb writing and who enjoy experiencing a wonderful literary experience and a small glimpse of the terrors of the unknown and the confusion that can be wrought by the human psyche. Because of its length, readers will be tempted to consume all of Mapping the Interior in a single sitting, but that would be like chugging a fine wine meant to be sipped and would not do justice to this short, but phenomenal work of art.