A house at the bottom of a lake - by Bram Stoker Award-winning Josh Malerman
Ok. Wow. Where to start? I think that is the key. Where to start? At what moment is the turning point of suspension of disbelief toward acceptance, an embrace of the other, the magical?
Mr. Malerman’s fairy tale, for that is what it proudly is, is an exploration of budding love, of first love, more importantly, and a discovery of self by the couple undergoing that transformation. It’s a key theme in fairy tales – the gradual, wonderful emergence from a cocoon, of something starting off, unsure but blossoming in its own right. The love story of the two seventeen-year-old characters in the novel, James, and Amelia, is breathtakingly rendered, and, though you will have to excuse the watery simile, it makes you want to drown in that wonderful possibility of the world Josh creates, and not come up for air.
Metaphors are king, of course, as with all Fairy tales, but I think it is well played here. Everything about the novel makes you want to accept the impossible, to believe the impossible, because that wonder is exactly the feeling of first love, all over again. A brilliant, wonderful, exciting, electric build-up of something you have never experienced before. The two main characters' exploration of the house a mirror of their own relationship, the dance of sexual awakening shown clearly through diving into new pools, new rivers, and lakes of experience.
As with all fairy tales, the hint of fear, of failure, of the monster lurking beneath the façade and behind the curtain, is present. Magical discoveries contain the potential of fear, a bitter taste to paradise, a groundswell of uncertainty. The further the characters progress, the more we need them to develop, go further, become more invested, the more the pressure for something, anything, to go wrong invades our belief of the novel, we, and the characters themselves manifesting that fear, which, I believe, Malerman hints does not need to be so. An acceptance of the right of that fear to exist is all the monster behind the curtain needs. Its very existence being nothing, without form, until manifested through the protagonists’ own fears. I think it’s a metaphor, as hinted in Malerman’s own words, that people look for something wrong in paradise, that need to see the horror in beauty, blight in perfection. And of course, at some point, the magic must end, to begin again, this time on dry land and with eyes open.
So. That is my take on this marvelous, poetic, lovingly written testament to budding love, teenage experimentation, and finding oneself in the flesh of another human being. People have complained this is not horror. Pfff. What fairy tale does not contain horror?
This was spellbinding.
Congratulations on the Stoker, Josh. This leaves me in no doubt as to why.
5 out of 5 ⭐’s
You can find Josh's website, with the fantastic online story Carpenters Farm, HERE
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