I’ve been accused of homing in on writing style when I discuss books, and I don’t deny it. The writing is important to me; maybe because the creative side of me likes to appreciate and dissect the construction of art alongside the finished piece. It’s not a science, though. Good writing doesn’t make a good book, and less-than-stellar writing can be forgiven if it brings an outstanding tale.
But one thing that never fails to bring me out of a story is when it feels like the author was afraid to take their own book seriously. It’s one thing to inject levity into an otherwise horrific tale – and even then you must be careful to ensure the humor comes from a place of honesty, the characters themselves attempting to stave off their dread by offering a brave joke or even the prose illustrating the beauty to be found in horrific scenes. It’s another thing, however, to undercut and drag down the story by treating it like a joke, which is what we get far too often here.
I won’t harp on this, as there’s a lot here we need to get to, but I would like to point out the chapter titles as a microcosm of the instances that distracted and frequently pulled me out of the story: “We All Float Down Here,” “Aaaaaand We’re Back,” “This is Halloween,” and “Glitches Get Stitches” to name a few.
Outside of this, let’s get back to style: this is a decently constructed novel. Any time I read a newly-published work that isn’t A) written in present-tense, B) written in first-person, or C) both, I’m pleasantly surprised and the book is off to a great start for me. And because of that, it’s generally readable. There were a few metaphors and similes that had me once more pulled out of the story, scratching my head in confusion, like this: “A fist crashed into Jed’s kidneys like the moon pulled out of the sky…” there were some better ones I should’ve highlighted along the way, but I was attempting – sometimes without success – to just stay immersed the whole time.
What I’ll say in favor of the story is that I am glad it ended up veering off into a direction completely original and unexpected to me, especially after a rough, cliche-riddled start: the teenager no one understands looking for a way out, the bold-talking, creative artist frustrated by work, and an elaborate setup that awkwardly leads the family into buying a spooky old house with an angry past. It’s a house in which one of the main characters must confront their past, with neighbors who just happen to be a good resource for some solid paranormal exposition. But what it does with these familiar elements is genuinely great and more importantly compelling to read. When I was 75 pages in, I could have never predicted where I’d be 450 pages in.
Which is to say, it’s good buildup, but it does plateau. Speaking of page numbers, one of my biggest issues with this book is that it simply felt too long. And I hate that phrase normally, because I don’t shy away from big books and actually prefer them to novellas. I think the issue was stilted pacing that had the feeling of approaching a climax at 260-300 pages but instead just…kept going. Not that the additional two hundred pages were not fun to read. They were, and overall I’d say I enjoyed the second half of the book much more than the first. But would I have taken a sharp knife to it in the editing stages? Probably. As a novel it felt a little long, but I found myself thinking a few times that it would make for even better TV, with enough crammed into the pages to span a limited series (and like I said, I did overall like this book, so that’s also a bit of wishful thinking on my part).
Look, it’s a good book. Whenever I read a book from the library, I will either send it back and go on my way, or I will send it back and then make a note in my book journal to get my hands on a physical copy for my shelf. Depending, of course, on how much I liked it. And I liked this book enough to add it to that list. It was a fun ride, but there were aspects of it that were too flawed not to pull me out of the story. I don’t know who this author is and I’ve never read any of their other works, but based on this book alone, I would read more by them. And based on absolutely nothing substantial but my own internal feelings, I would hope that they are not afraid to take their work to the serious, complex depths that this book was not only capable of but came so, so close to reaching.