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A History of Fear


A History of Fear

What could be more frightening than a malevolent evil stalking a family through generations, drawing them to lonely desperation in Scotland? For the main character in Luke Dumas’ A HISTORY OF FEAR, the answer is nothing.

Grayson Hale is tormented to the point of insanity by a figure called D.B. as he tries to parse out the truth about his father and himself through a fractured reality and terrible madness. The novel is mainly comprised of “The Memoirs and Confessions of Grayson Hale” but includes “intermittent notes and other evidence” by an editor who comes into possession of Grayson’s text, penned before he took his own life while in prison for murder.

"Part thriller, part domestic fiction and part horror, A HISTORY OF FEAR lives on the edges of genres as its protagonist also exists on the edges."

Grayson was raised in a very strict church. His father, Edmund, was the local pastor, and most services and study sessions took place in their suburban living room. The household was run by his stern and cold mother, Vera, who seemed to love her older son, the bullying Nathaniel, more than sensitive Grayson. While Grayson recognizes (even if he doesn’t understand) the animosity that his mother and brother have towards him, it is his father to whom he is most emotionally connected, always hoping for his love and attention.

When Grayson turns 13, Edmund shares a strange book with him, one that exacerbates his “satanophobia,” a paralyzing fear of the Devil that cripples him for much of his life. It is because his father had spent time in Scotland that Grayson moves there to complete his graduate work in literature. He hopes that he will learn more about his enigmatic and distant father, while also putting some space between himself and his family. But all the things that Grayson wanted to leave behind --- anxiety, fear, loneliness --- follow him abroad. And when he takes on a new job, it all gets much worse.

Answering an online ad for writing assistance, Grayson meets D.B. on a cold September night, just two weeks after arriving in Scotland. He feels an almost instant fear, which begins a strange push and pull: Grayson tells D.B. that he is unable to work for him, only to return to the task of helping him, then quits again. Each time they meet to discuss Grayson ghostwriting D.B.’s book on the Devil in Scotland, frightening things happen --- and over time, Grayson’s grip on reality seems to be loosened.

Tensions rise with Grayson’s roommate and the small group of friends he has made. He loses time, misreads social cues, is hunted by terrifying beasts, and witnesses shocking and violent events, all while trying to discover what brought his father to Scotland and chased him back to the States a damaged man. When one of Grayson’s friends goes missing, he is a suspect. And when the body is discovered, he is arrested. His trial and imprisonment mean that he no longer can outrun the evil that pursues him.

It is frustratingly obvious that Grayson Hale is an unreliable narrator. Dumas reveals more information carefully as the tale progresses, but even then, the truth is elusive and perspectives fail to align. Is the Devil after Grayson (and all of Scotland)? Is Grayson ill? Is this a tale of repressed sexuality, an abusive family and religious harm? Perhaps it's all of this at once.

Part thriller, part domestic fiction and part horror, A HISTORY OF FEAR lives on the edges of genres as its protagonist also exists on the edges. Suspenseful but occasionally too murky and repetitive, this debut novel heralds the arrival of an interesting and unique storyteller.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on December 10, 2022

A History of Fear
by Luke Dumas