REVIEW: Catfish Lullaby, by A.C. Wise

Catfish Lullaby

Title: Catfish Lullaby

Author: A.C. Wise

Genre: Horror, Folklore, Eldritch, Southern

LGBTQ+ Category: MM, Cis

Publisher: Broken Eye Books

Pages: 118

Reviewer: Dan

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About The Book

Small town secrets lead to trouble for everyone as Caleb must confront the demons of his past in this Southern Gothic queer cosmic horror, a tale of weird magic and monsters on the bayou.

LEWIS IS A TOWN OF SECRETS

The Royce family has been a plague on the small, Southern town of Lewis for generations. Caleb has heard rumors about the family his whole life, just like he’s heard the rumors about a monstrous creature known as Catfish John living in the swamp. 

When the Royce house burns down, Caleb’s father—Lewis’s sheriff—takes in the sole survivor, a young girl named Cere. Caleb quickly learns the truth about Archie Royce and the terrible fate he had planned for his daughter. After a woman is brutally murdered, Cere begins to suspect that not all of her family perished in the fire, and she and Caleb set out to stop her father’s dark vision from coming to pass. 

Years later, Caleb is the sheriff of Lewis, and the monsters of his childhood return. Now Caleb must fight to protect those he loves from Archie Royce’s legacy, and his best hope may be a legend he’s almost managed to convince himself never existed—Catfish John.

The Review

This novella takes place in several parts: the childhood, youth, and adulthood of Caleb, the main character. These parts trace a series of similar events: murders of young women by a madman named Archie Royce hellbent on killing figure of myth: Catfish John.

Catfish John appears infrequently in the actual story, but his legend permeates the story. He’s a man, a monster, a god, a savior, a horror. The more important players are Cere, the young daughter of Archie Royce, and Caleb, the boy who befriends and aids in her in struggle. Together in their youths and adulthoods, they join forces to undo the horrific work of her father.

This book is short, but it’s also well-paced, well-written, and steeped in atmosphere with characters that move through the pages as if they lived. This book features no romance and has homophobic and racist characters, though Caleb does end the book as an openly gay, black man with a partner in a small town in the South, all of which the author tackles with sensitivity and poise. 

With a novella, it is difficult not to say too much and ruin it for future readers. I recommend this book for fans of Lovecraft and could do without his prejudices, those who have a fascination with folklore and urban legends, fans of movies like Candyman, and readers who want queer representation without the usual focus on romance, or the character’s sexual identity becoming a token write off that’s never addressed.

The Reviewer

Dan Ackerman is a writer and educator who has lived in Connecticut for their entire life. They received their BSED from CCSU in 2013 and wrote their Master’s thesis on representations of women in same-sex relationships in contemporary Spanish literature and cinema. Currently, Dan is studying for a second MA in ABA and works in a center school for students with a variety of intellectual, developmental, or multiple disabilities. In their spare time, Dan continues to read and write, supplemented with a healthy amount of movie marathons and gaming. 

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