reviewed by Cara DiCostanzo
“Superstition prevails, fear that the fragile unfinished something will shatter, vanish, revert to the nothing from which it was made.”― Joan Didion, Let Me Tell You What I Mean
Devil House by John Darnielle is not a horror novel. Let me repeat that. This is not a horror novel. While the outstanding cover depicts horror in its retro way, this is a book about a book being written as a horror story. I have never read a book as unique as this one. Sometimes Darnielle’s voice changes and sometimes the story changes completely to another story. There are many times when I wondered if I missed something. But because it is a book about a book, the reader must pay attention.
This book is complicated and, at best, confusing. There are times in the book where the story is moving along at a great pace and then boom; there is a different story being told. I imagine John Darnielle writing several stories at once and merging them together to make Devil House. The reader is never quite sure what it is they are reading. The brilliance of it, of course, is that it does all come together at the end to make one solid story with a sad but triumphant ending.
Gage Chandler, a true-crime writer, has an amazing opportunity to move into the “Devil House” in the small town of Milpitas, California. A house where two murders took place back in the 1980s. He is working on a true-crime book about these murders and will investigate while living in the house. And so begins the “Devil House” story about two boys named Derrick and Seth who hang out in an abandoned porn shop. They narrate the book in third person and the perspectives alternate between Derrick and Seth, and then Alex, a homeless boy who sleeps in one of the “booths”. The stories of the boys who hang out in the porn shop, and Gage’s own book, but also stories about his ancestors, alternate throughout the book. Again, pay attention or you may get lost! The book feels like a work in progress at times and I felt like I would have enjoyed it more had the writing been more streamlined. That being said, John Darnielle has a unique writing style which I enjoyed. His depiction of the porn store and what it looked like after Derrick, Seth, and Alex were done with it will stay in my head for a long time. The stories all feel equally intense and “horror” like.
This book is definitely a “thought-provoking” commentary on storytelling, and what telling that story might do to the author in his own life. It is a very slow ride, with a ton of surprises throughout. Devil House is my first book by John Darnielle and I will definitely look into other books he has written.
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