I don’t like horror. I don’t read horror novels, I don’t watch horror movies and if I played video games, they wouldn’t be called Resident Evil. As a genre I find it boring, derivative, and generally lacking in imagination. “How is [insert murderous psychopath] going to gore, or mutilate, or terrorize the (flat and poorly written) characters?” Frankly, my dear…
And yet, as so many afflicted with the Netflix virus, I sat transfixed as the Duffer Brothers unraveled their nostalgia-horror story, Stranger Things. How clever! How Weird! “It’s like, if Spielberg [80’s Spielberg] gave David Lynch [any-era Lynch] a script and told him to go wild, but the whole thing still had to make sense, it would be Stranger Things!” I loudly shouted at baristas and joggers and other unfortunates in my neighborhood. Being late to the game, as I tend to be, I’m sure my already unasked for insights were even less interesting to people who had watched, talked about and moved on to the next thing weeks ago.
And now, what would otherwise have been a minor, behavioral aberration is starting to feel like a pattern. First I watched Stranger Things, then I read Slade House by David Mitchell. Before you judge me, I promise, I didn’t know it was a horror novel before I read it. Sure the summary on the back jacket says things like, “A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside,” or, “For those who find out, it’s already too late…”, but that could mean a lot of different things. It could be a sci-fi story about a house that transports you to another dimension, or a sword-and-sorcery tale of beleaguered knights becoming entrapped by an evil magician, or a whole host of others things it is decidedly not. For, as much as it pains me to admit to liking this type of thing, Slade House is a horror story. And a damn good one.
As far as I can tell, David Mitchell is a master of character writing. The quick and frequent changes in tone and voice he employs in Cloud Atlas make it a bewildering and delightful novel. The ability to embody so many different bodies, and ones that are fully realized, with all their depths and flaws and desires, is extremely difficult, especially when done in the space of a single novel. In Slade House, Mitchell pulls an even niftier trick and does the same thing in an even tighter corner, that of a novella. In fewer words, he is able to put us inside the heads of his menagerie of characters: a boy on the autism spectrum, an unsavory policeman, an awkward fresher and quite a few others. Each are real, in that they have histories from before the story began; they have motivations and behaviors which fit their own internal logic and never do their voices overlap or become confused; each are singular and clear. This is of course not even to mention the story’s baddies, a truly horrifying pair of siblings Mitchell must have borrowed from a Hannibal Lecter fever dream.
David Mitchell is a wonderful storyteller, and in Slade House he has taken the trappings of a stale genre and baked a delicious bread pudding; something reminiscent of its former self but chemically transformed into a sweeter (or more savory, if that’s your thing) version, better in smaller, infrequent servings.
This Halloween don’t be surprised if you see characters from Stranger Things traipsing through your neighborhood, if you happen to live in a neighborhood that 20-and-30-somethings frequent for nighttime festivities. And this evening, don’t be surprised if terrifying images make you question your perception of reality, if you happened to have read Slade House. -- David