Mama Fish by Rio Youers

Rating: 8.5/10 ★★★★★★★★½☆ 
Title: Mama Fish
Author: Rio Youers
Genre: Dark Fiction (horror/speculative)
URL: Amazon
Price: $7.99 (note that this is a novella length work at 92 pages)

Summary (from the publisher): At Harlequin High School In 1986, Kelvin Fish was the oddball, the weird kid that no one would talk to, except for Patrick Beauchamp who was determined to learn more. When Patrick’s curiosity about Kelvin leads him into a bizarre and tragic series of events, Patrick gets much more than he bargained for.

My Review: Damn, Rio Youers can write.

Mama Fish is an interesting little novella and one that is hard to categorize. Part coming-of-age, part befriended misfits, part urban horror, and part speculative, this novella is most certainly a page-turner, keeping me engrossed the whole way.

The novel alternates between the present of narrator Patrick Beauchamp at age 36, and his past as a high school student. The young Beauchamp feels a need to befriend the school oddball, Kelvin Fish, the kid everyone makes fun of and creates inventive and disgusting stories about. At first, he’s not sure why he needs to do this. There is something about Kelvin…he’s a misfit, and Beauchamp, despite going through all the motions of fitting in, feels a bit of a misfit himself. Yet, even Beauchamp lets his imagination get away with him when it comes to Kelvin, creating a grotesquerie of a relationship between Kelvin and his mother, Mama Fish. But what is imagined and what is real could not be further apart and the reality of Mama Fish is more shocking than Beauchamp could ever have imagined.

Youers really captures the awkwardness of youth, of being a misfit, and the relationship he develops between Beauchamp and Kelvin Fish rings true on every level. Beauchamp is a fully developed character and even Kelvin, who speaks almost no words for the first half of the novella, is endearing, evoking a modern take on Lennie Small. When events take a tragic turn, the reader is so invested in the characters–and Youers has developed them so well (with sparse text which tells you how good a writer Youers is)–that you are as devastated as Beauchamp.

Likewise, Youers, in the older Beauchamp, captures the encroaching cynicism of age, of feeling disconnected in a world that seems to be changing faster than you want it to. The balance between the two manifestations of Beauchamp is really artful and serves to tie the two story lines together.

What I also enjoyed is that Youers plays with some of the tropes of the horror genre and even with the trope of homoeroticism often implied by the need of two male misfits to be friends. He gives these things interesting little twists that I found refreshing.

Likewise, Youers also captures the disconnect of the modern world, the disintegration of urban life into strip malls and TGI Fridays, and a society which is so technologically in touch with one another that they’ve grown distant. Computers and iPods and Blackberrys and Bluetooth that mute the human relationship despite their promise to bring people closer together.

Youers also manages to create a lot of suspense and tension in the story with a nice fluid prose style that is engaging and realistic, but somewhat ominous. The pace of this story is pitch perfect.

I think the only quibble I had with this novella is that the revelation of Mama Fish and Kelvin Fish’s life was a bit of a let down for me. But I think this is largely due to Youers’ expertise at building these two characters and my fascination with misfits rather than any flaw with the novella. I was far more interested in exploring the relationship of Kelvin and Beauchamp and their odd friendship that the reveal of Kelvin and Mama Fish’s life kind of took something away from that. Still, Youers brings that around with the ending of the novella, tying the older and younger Beauchamp story lines together in a really satisfying (yet not spoon-fed) ending.

This is my first time reading Youers’ work and while the price tag ($7.99) may be a bit high for Mama Fish considering the length, I have to say it was worth it because I feel I’ve found a writer who really, really intrigues and excites me. This wont be my last time reading Youers and if you’re looking for a good, creepy yet utterly emotionally truthful quick read, Mama Fish may just be someone you wanna spend time with.