Review: “Brother,” Ania Ahlborn

Rating: 5 out of 5

Ania Ahlborn’s horror novel Brother is just fantastic! 19-year-old Michael is quiet and obedient. His abusive older brother Reb is his “best friend.” He was adopted, but at this point he fits into the family pretty well. He butchers the bodies that his mother the serial killer provides: young women who won’t be missed. One day Reb takes him to a record store where his girlfriend Lucy works, and shy Michael is captivated by Lucy’s friend and co-worker, Alice. Reb seems determined to set the two of them up, but how could Michael engage in any kind of “normal” relationship when all he’s ever known is chaos, abuse, and death?

Two time periods unfurl in parallel: the years surrounding Reb’s collection of Michael as though he were a pet, and the present. It really focuses on the disparate ways in which abuse and childhood surroundings shape different people in different ways. Reb is cruel, manipulative, and devious. Michael, on the other hand, is meek, quiet, and obedient. Their sisters, Lauralynn and Misty Dawn, are treated even worse than the boys and have their own ways of trying to cope. It’s easy to see Michael as the victim, bullied and threatened into going along with what his family wants him to do. I mean, if he’s locked in with a corpse until he butchers it, he really doesn’t have much choice, does he? But when he starts to think for himself, it has to leave you wondering, why couldn’t he do this before everything went to hell? There are no easy answers. He’s in an entirely untenable situation.

The characterizations are fantastic. Momma’s a serial killer, Wade (their dad) is an enabler, Reb is psychotic, unpredictable, and clearly a serial-killer-in-training. Misty Dawn just wants to listen to her music and avoid Momma’s wrath; she asks Michael to bring her jewelry from the corpses. Reb and Michael spend much of their time finding suitable victims for Momma, which is a twist on the serial killer genre that I haven’t seen before.

This family is as dysfunctional as it gets, and Michael’s journey through it is absolutely fantastic. There are no easy answers in this horror story.

Content note: Slurs, molestation, graphic animal harm/death, a bit of gore, a touch of necrophilia, and cannibalism.

People were much easier to deal with once they were dead.

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