What if H.P Lovecraft had written a tale of rebellious teenagers fighting eldritch horror?
Harrison Squared is the prequel to Daryl Gregory’s magnificent 2014 novella, We Are All Completely Fine. The novella focused on a support group for victims of supernatural horror, and in Harrison Squared we get to see just what that horror was for one group member.
In We Are All Completely Fine, Harrison Harrison is a sort-of d-list celebrity, immortalized in a series of books outlining his high school monster-hunting adventures. Harrison Squared shows how he earned that grim reputation. A California teen, who, at a young age, lost both his father and his leg in a mysterious boating accident. While his mother has insisted that the amputation was caused by the boat breaking up, Harrison vividly remembers tentacles.
And teeth. Lots of teeth.
So he is understandably reluctant to accompany her when she takes a research post in the remote Massachusetts town of Dunnmouth, to track the migratory patterns of the giant squid. The town is off the beaten path, there is no cellular service, cable or Internet, and the villagers are a bit stand-offish. He can’t even enjoy the ocean his accident has left him with a paralyzing fear of water.
Things are even stranger when he arrives at school. The students are a sullen, quiet lot, attending strange worship services before class, studying non-Euclidean geometry in math, and learning how electricity can restore life with their biology teacher Dr. Herbert. Above all, it’s clear that the closemouthed townsfolk are not interested in welcoming Harrison and his mother into the community.
Something that becomes even clearer when she disappears at sea. When none of the adults are willing to help, Harrison turns to an unlikely ally, and finds that his classmates are quite a bit more loquacious than he previously thought. He also discovers that his past has made him especially sensitive to the supernatural goings-on in Dunnmouth, and inextricably linked him with the community and its mysterious boogey man, The Scrimshander, a villain that We Are All Completely Fine readers will recognize.
Fans of We Are All Completely Fine should note that while Harrison Squared has several characters in common with that novella, which is shortlisted for the Nebula Award this year, the town is markedly different. While We Are All Completely Fine was definitively an adult foray into the New Weird and Lovecraftian horror, Harrison Squared is firmly planted in the YA realm. It’s almost Scooby Doo meets The Shadow Over Innsmouth, only without Fred and Velma unmasking Old Man Whateley at the end.
Lovecraft fans will delight in Gregory’s playful subverting of style, and the sly allusions to his work throughout, from the above-mentioned Dr. Herbert (West, Reanimator?) and non-Euclidean geometry to Gregory’s use of the infamous word “squamous”. Yes, he managed to work squamous into the novel.
But the most entertaining aspect of Harrison Squared is how he translates life in a Lovecraftian nightmare through the eyes of a 21st Century teen. What would it be like, growing up in a remote fishing village as part of an apocalyptic fish demon-worshipping cult? How would teenage rebellion manifest if your parents are immortal Deep Ones? And what do the Deep Ones really think of the “landlubbers” who join them in worship?
The book is filled with maritime literature references, especially from Moby Dick and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Indeed, Gregory draws unsettling parallels between Lovecraft and Coleridge. I loved Rime of the Ancient Mariner when I read it in high school (and when I heard Iron Maiden perform it!) but I never noticed just how much creepier it could be until I saw isolated stanzas used as epigraphs in Harrison Squared.
Lovecraft has gotten a lot of criticism of late and rightly so. His views on race are reprehensible, even when viewed through the lens of history, even if he is one of the masters of horror. It is refreshing to see such a loving paean to his work, especially one aimed at younger readers.
“Kids for Khtulhu”. I like the sound of that.
Harrison Squared is available March 24. ~~ Michael Senft