by Steve Rasnic Tem
a favorite fantasy: i inherit a sprawling and eerie mansion, preferably on a cliff or overlooking a lake, somewhere remote. it can be populated by eccentric characters but preferably it will be virtually empty. i spend most of my days exploring the various rooms, discovering passageways, musing on the mansion's mysterious history. i spend most of my nights by a fireplace, reading a book from the impressive library, hearing the wind howl, wondering if the various dangers will be able to break in. or maybe they are in the mansion already? maybe they live here, in secret places. bits of Gormenghast and the Overlook (minus the child-killing) and other strange estates combine into one delightfully sinister place. i want! i assume this fantasy springs from over two decades of life in sunny, un-mysterious california. do people fantasize about living in california? hard to imagine. although i suppose i do love it here.
so that's why i picked up this book. the promise of the cover and - rather less so - the description on the back spelled out a premise that automatically intrigues me, a place where i can send my mind to for a little while. alas, my mind did not find much of interest at the Deadfall Hotel.
ok, quick synopsis: after experiencing a tragedy, Sad Sack and his precocious daughter are invited to live at the Deadfall Hotel. he is the new manager. and what he is managing is a sprawling, mysterious, eerie place where ghosts go, where supernatural beings come to live but mainly die, a final stopping-off point of sorts.
i wanted to like this one, i really did. and for a short while, the elegance and occasional charm of the writing lured me in. Tem is an accomplished professional, no doubt about it. he has a gift with words and with the odd phrase or off-kilter image. he also has a somewhat poetic hand at reinvention: the novel is in six parts, and three of them revisit the werewolf, the vampire, and the zombie in surprising and original ways. good display of ambition, author. but, sadly, in the end it felt half-baked and i was left disappointed. actually, not "in the end" but approximately a third of the way in.
i grew tired of Sad Sack constantly putting his daughter in danger. ridiculous! like watching those tired scenes from a horror film when the group splits up and gets picked off one by one. my eyes rolled many times. this is a surreal and fantastical novel, but it became an increasingly aggravating itch to see that poor girl thrust into danger again and again by her father and the annoyingly eccentric former manager. irresponsible Sad Sack! complacent former manager! characters act like they are lobotomized! for fook's sake, the girl gets mauled repeatedly by demonic cats and still gets sent right into the thick of them to try and save the day. she's a little kid, dumbasses! and dad & daughter continue to live there, no matter how much danger she's put in. i don't care if something is trying to be surreal and dream-like... but when the logic breakdown is this complete, it is time to get out of the vehicle and find a new ride. just. too. ridiculous.
and, nearly as bad, the surreal and the dream-like parts were (1) not the point of the novel - they felt more like self-indulgent flourishes; (2) distracting - it grew wearisome watching reality disintegrate yet again and then whaddyaknow, next chapter we're back in reality; (3) ...silly. super-silly.