Andrew J. Stone’s second novella, All Hail the House Gods, is a near-perfect work of Bizarro fiction. It’s engaging, fiercely imaginative and highly original. This is the work of a writer at the top of his game. As you turn the final page, you’ll find it hard to believe that Stone is only at the threshold of his career.
The story follows Kurt Nolan and his wife Katie Mara. The couple inhabits a future where humanity has lost a war to beings known as House Gods. These sentient, crab-walking houses demand a daily sacrifice as a way of preserving peace. For this reason, humanity has been tasked with breeding sacrificial lambs or “God fodder” under the ever-watchful eye of the Coupling Caucus. When Kurt and Katie lose one of their children to the House Gods (through a Shirley Jackson-esque lottery no less) their lives are forever changed. In their sorrow, they decide to stage a revolution with the hope of overthrowing their brick and mortar overlords. So begins one family’s struggle against the impossible.
In many ways, All Hail the House Gods is a spiritual successor to Stone’s debut novella, The Mortuary Monster. Both explore the family dynamic and delve into the joys and anxieties of parenthood. However, All Hail the House Gods expands on the ideas explored in The Mortuary Monster, and does so with greater focus and depth, showcasing Stone’s rapid evolution as a storyteller. The result is beautiful, hilarious and heart wrenching. For the most part, this collision of tones is satisfying (in my mind it’s one of the facets of Stone’s unique brand of Bizarro) but sometimes the humor can be a little jarring, especially when injected into an otherwise serious moment. It’s not enough to take you out of the story, but it’s definitely noticeable. When it works though, Kurt’s naïve, jocular voice will have you laughing out loud. Case in point, the ridiculous sex scene toward the beginning of the book. It’s impossible to keep a straight face when he describes his junk as a “plank” or his wife’s genitals as a “furry furnace”.
Despite its humor, the novella beats with a heart of darkness. This is especially true with it comes to the House Gods themselves. They’re the perfect antagonists: unknowable, driven only by their need to subjugate and devour. The idea behind them is simple but genius. Stone has taken the concept of a house, which is meant to evoke feelings of comfort and security, and rendered it into something terrifying. Front doors become inescapable jaws and the smells wafting from inside are transformed into a pheromone used to lure prey to their doom. Their appearances throughout the story are surprisingly few, but when they do appear, it’s usually as a threat waiting patiently in the background. Stone gives us just enough to speculate and share the fear of his characters.
Another one of the book’s greatest strengths is its attention to language. At times, the spare but textured prose evokes the works of Latin American authors of Magical Realism, or the absurd futility of Kafka. My only gripe is that sometimes the dialogue feels stilted and at odds with the narrator’s casual, modern voice. Again, though, like the rare instances of disjointed humor, this is a minor criticism.
All Hail the House Gods is a future masterpiece of Bizarro fiction. It stands alongside the early endeavors of Carlton Mellick III and Kevin L. Donihe. It transports the reader through the full spectrum of human emotion, from humor to heartbreak, dread to happiness. I can guarantee you have never read nor ever will read anything like it again. Needless to say, I’m incredibly excited to see what Stone unleashes on the world next. All Hail the House Gods and all hail Andrew J. Stone.
Brendan Vidito is a short story author and novelist from Sudbury, Ontario. His work has appeared in several magazines and anthologies including Dead Bait 4, Splatterpunk’s Not Dead and Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath. You can visit him online at brendanvidito.wordpress.com.
If Andrew J. Stone were a house, he’d be a tent. If he were a superhero, he’d be Marx. He is the author of the novella The Mortuary Monster (StrangeHouse Books, 2016) and numerous short stories and poems published in places like New Dead Families, Hobart, Gutter Eloquence, and DOGZPLOT, among others. He can be reached on Facebook (Andrew James Stone) and is currently living with his in-laws in Manhattan Beach, California. All Hail the House Gods is his second book.