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Incidents Around the House


Incidents Around the House

Josh Malerman quickly has become a modern master of horror, and his latest release blew me away. It doesn’t just take on the familiar horror tropes of possessions, haunted houses and innocent children; it goes several steps further.

INCIDENTS AROUND THE HOUSE deeply frightened me from start to finish. It is so strongly character-driven that the very nature of haunted individuals leading lives possibly filled with moments they are not proud of helps to foment the very horror to which they are subjected. Told entirely from the perspective of eight-year-old Bela, which is a brilliant concept, we are brought directly into her home in Chaps, Michigan, where she lives with Mommy and Daddo. Everything we experience is exactly what Bela sees and hears.

"INCIDENTS AROUND THE HOUSE is the most frightening, well-written novel that Josh Malerman has ever produced. And that is really saying something.... Even though I was sure it would induce more than a few nightmares, I did not want this book to end."

There is, however, a fourth member of the household: “Other Mommy,” who first came out of Bela's closet and now has become a regular fixture in her room and house. Other Mommy started off friendly and innocent enough, but lately she has been insistent on entering Bela’s heart. She explains that they simply would switch places. Bela would go where Other Mommy comes from, somewhere far different from the closet, and Other Mommy would be able to reincarnate in Bela’s body. Or, as Bela mishears it, carnation.

At this point, any horror fan will recognize that, similar to a vampire having to be asked into a home to enter it, a demon or evil spirit is constantly seeking that opening to go into the body of their victim and possess them. Bela is far too young to understand any of this and initially doesn’t even bother telling her parents. That is, until the night of a house party, when one of the guests flips out after seeing Other Mommy.

Described as a huge, dark figure with long hair, the sighting of this thing that is called a monster brings the festivities to a halt. It also brings about much concern from Mommy and Daddo, who realize that Bela has much more than an innocent imaginary friend situation going on. Once confronted, she tells her parents all about Other Mommy and the carnations she proposes. She also indicates that she may have had as many as 100 meetings with her since her first appearance.

Mommy and Daddo have been dealing with their own issues when all this Other Mommy stuff hits, which includes Mommy having an affair. The most frightening part is when Mommy hears that confession coming from Bela’s room by someone using her own voice. She then sees Other Mommy sitting at the foot of her daughter’s bed in full conversation. The family is so shaken by this that they decide to run, choosing flight over fight, especially since they cannot comprehend what is happening.

It becomes a comedy of errors as they bounce from home to home, location to location, only to be turned away every time because Other Mommy goes anywhere that Bela goes. Everything from increased security cameras to trained guard dogs proves useless, and the physically and emotionally spent family end up at the home of Bela’s Grandma Ruth. She listens to them and agrees to stand by them no matter what.

When Other Mommy gives Bela a present by killing someone her parents know, the plot really begins to ramp up. At the same time, Other Mommy is becoming more persistent and angrier with Bela about switching places. It gets to the point where she begins to consider what might happen if she just said yes to Other Mommy. Not giving that idea any credence, Mommy and Daddo involve a paranormal investigator who stays at their home, which turns out to be a flop. There is a specific scene with Bela in a bathroom during this ordeal that I will never forget --- and neither will you.

Lois, Daddo’s friend who is a bit of a psychic and regularly meets with a group obsessed with the paranormal, believes she can help the family. It is risky and dangerous, but they have absolutely nothing to lose at this point. This opens up the story to some deeply complex character details and emotions that set the book apart from any work of horror I have ever read. There are so many moments and scenes that are indelible for me that I cannot even begin to list them all.

INCIDENTS AROUND THE HOUSE is the most frightening, well-written novel that Josh Malerman has ever produced. And that is really saying something. This is coming from the same brilliant mind that gave us the classics BIRD BOX, MALORIE and PEARL. Even though I was sure it would induce more than a few nightmares, I did not want this book to end. For a horror story, that’s the best review of all.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on June 29, 2024

Incidents Around the House
by Josh Malerman