Daryl Gregory’s 2014 novella We Are All Completely Fine followed the members of a support group for survivors of supernatural catastrophe. It was an intricate spiderweb of plot in a slim package, exploring the backstories of each of its characters in turn, save one, who remained an enigma. Harrison Harrison is, we’re told, a monster detective, but the event that brought him to that particular path in life remained shrouded in haze.
Until now. Gregory is back with Harrison Squared, the tale of young Harrison’s first encounter with the supernatural. How to describe it? Imagine H.P. Lovecraft ‘s take on the Scooby gang. But no need to be afraid: this companion story’s horror is more rollicking than bone-chilling.
The narrative begins with a YA vibe: call it Stephen King’s Percy Jackson. Harrison Harrison—H2—has been schlepped across the country by his scientist mother so she can do some underwater research (the mammoth squid are lovely this time of year). We find him standing outside Dunnsmouth Secondary School, an imposing block of a building that is off-putting at first blush: “The building seemed to be watching me,” H2 thinks. Never a good sign.
Things only get worse from there for H2, who, it seems prudent to point out, lost his father (and his leg) in a mysterious ocean incident when he was a tot. In Dunnsmouth, his mother goes missing at sea, and the locals are yokels with secrets, and no help at all, from the sheriff who feels no urgency to solve the case, to the teachers eager to get rid of Harrison rather than deal with a troubled new kid, to fellow students, who have their own unspoken code. (For clues to crack it, note the similarity between Gregory’s Dunnsmouth and Lovecraft’s notorious Innsmouth.)
The only positive of an MIA mom? The introduction of Harrison’s Aunt Sel, a thoroughly modern, booze-marinated Dorothy Parker type. She provides the necessary sense of normalcy (via a charming dinner scene with lobster and a reluctant Harrison) to keep disbelief suspended and counterbalance the creepiness of the not-so-good folk of Dunnsmouth.
That’s about where the conventional ends, however. In discovering what happened to his mother—and for that matter, to his father, and to himself—Harrison plumbs the depths of a town’s secret religion, meets a fish-boy hybrid (named Lub, of course), and runs into the web of the Scrimshander, whose presence so haunted housewife Barbara in We Are All Completely Fine.
Of course, that’s not even to mention the boss level battle with the Deep Ones and their version of Fishy Cleopatra (the Toadmother: she’s a whole lot of woman).
For all the pagan rituals and marine mystery, Gregory shines as always in developing unique characters, particularly when it comes to group dynamics. The ragtag group of kids that Harrison enlists to help him could populate their own book series. Lydia, is an especial treat; the girl assigned to shepherd Harrison at school turns out to be Hermione Granger with a tragic backstory and without the showboat tendencies.
Lydia, Harrison, and the rest of the surrealist Scooby gang (including an ominous doll and her girl companion) have the sort of banter that makes you wax nostalgic for your own childhood friends, only to remember that you weren’t ever that witty (nor under that much duress, else your youthful years were deeply strange one). Adding to the mix Lub, so desperate to make Aquaman cool, only heightens the fun:
“I thought you were extinct,” Lydia said.
“I’m just shy,” Lub said.
Nothing else about Harrison Squared is shy. It’s ambitious, spooky, deftly plotted, and disarmingly charming, with an final ambiguity that lights a path directly to a certain supernatural support group.