When I got a pitch about Jesse Petersen’s new novel Club Monstrosity, I was fascinated because it had so many similarities with my fiance’s book, Screamland. When the Invisible Man is killed, the rest of the real-life horror movie monsters must put aside their differences and solve the mystery…. is a working one-line summary for both Club Monstrosity and Screamland: Death Of the Party. In Screamland, monstrous personas highlight how artificial Los Angeles can be, and Club Monstrosity uses monstrous identities to talk about how alienating New York crowds can be.
Also I first read Screamland on my way back from covering a show in Los Angeles and Club Monstrosity on my way back from covering a show in New York. I’m just saying.
Club Monstrosity features a delightful cast of monsters in hiding. Swamp Thing, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a mummy, a vampire, the Blob, and the Invisible Man. Also, the obligatory Hot Werewolf. The protagonist, Natalie Grey, is a Frankenstein’s monster. It was lovely to have a supernatural female who wasn’t a glitter vampire or a naughty version of a Halloween standard, and the author never once waffles into a sexy version. Natalie has full body scars, mismatched features and limbs, and brute strength, and never turns magically pretty in the right circumstances. Predictable results regarding Hot Werewolf, though.
The story starts with the premise that all the monsters all meet regularly, and don’t particularly like each other, which is a pretty realistic possibility, and in line with the novel’s themes of urban alienation, but a difficult narrative opening. It makes for a few awkward spots of plot exposition. We’re constantly panning around a room of monsters to note that each one is dressed in character, or that the werewolf is ordering red meat while the mummy drinks extra water to stay hydrated. It doesn’t make you want to close the book, but it does remind you, again, that you are reading about a group of Very Different Monsters.
When the Invisible Man doesn’t show up one week, the rest of the monstrous support group figures he’s just invisibly eavesdropping on them all. Then Bob The Blob doesn’t turn up at the next meeting… When a few of the concerned monsters make their way to Bob The Blob’s apartment, it’s a distinctly Manhattan scene. Of course you’d spend time with someone for months and years without ever seeing their home! Apartments are just for sleeping, not socializing! Without revealing too much of the storyline, the Very Different monsters must put aside (most of) their differences to figure out who is stalking and killing Manhattan monsters, and put an end to it.
Once the group is defined, the misfit monster interactions make this a worthwhile read. The complex relationship between Jekyll and Hyde is an engaging narrative by itself. So is the shudder that passes through the group when Halloween is mentioned — as if someone has indelicately mentioned a bodily function that polite company wouldn’t discuss. There is a lot to enjoy as classic monsters navigate my favorite city. The novel ends with a very clear setup for a sequel (I just Googled, and The Monsters in Your Neighborhood is out next month) so they can have more monster adventures in New York!
Sure, Club Monstrosity might use a scarred corpse-construct, an ancient vampire who won’t freaking dorm down in public, and Van Helsing’s crazed daughter-in-law to tell the story. But it’s really a novel about the moments of alienation in a crowd.