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In years to come when I look back on the authors that shaped my recent conversion to the sub-genre of cosmic horror as created by Lovecraft, two names will top that list. The first is Tim Curran. The second is, now, Brett J. Talley.
At first glance That Which Should Not Be seems unwieldy. The book takes the form of a manuscript delivered to those responsible for the estate of the recently disappeared and presumed dead narrator, Dr Carter Weston. In it, Dr Weston details his journey to becoming a true believer in evil that lives just beyond the edge of our senses, one that is greater by far than human kind, and is waiting for its chance to slip back into our world and reclaim it whole. The way this journey is conveyed is through the transcription of tales told to Dr Weston by four others who have survived brushes with various forms of said evil, apparently word-for-word based on what he heard. At times this makes for a flashback within an oral story then transcribed by the listener, who is himself attempting to write his own story around the aforementioned tales. Like I said, unwieldy.
But if you can accept the format within which Talley sets his story, there is quality to be found here. Each of the verbal tales adds something telling to Weston’s own journey, and at the end come together in an enjoyable way. In effect, this reads a little like the literary equivalent of an anthology movie: Four short stories told within the context of a wraparound tale. In this case, though, the wraparound is the meat of the novel, rather than the filling to loosely connect the rest together.
Talley is clearly a talented writer, sweeping the reader up in his end of the 19th century tales, and adding a growing sense of menace to proceedings. For me, the stand out was the story set in the insane asylum, but that’s likely personal preference, as each tales brings something worthwhile to the table. If anything, the end of the novel comes too quickly, and doesn’t quite convey the same sense of impending horror as the first three tales told to Weston.
In the end, That Which Should Not Be is both a fine novel on its own, and an even better entry into the sub-genre created by Lovecraft. Fans of that writer owe it to themselves to pick up Talley’s novel and treat themselves.
3.5 up to 4 Many-Tentacled Gods for That Which Should Not Be.