by Brian McNaughton
McNaughton is yet another lost, unsung author - a tragedy! although he did receive some recognition in his life, in the form of a World Fantasy Award for Throne of Bones - a morbid and beautifully written tale of corpse-eating ghouls.
The House Across the Way - despite its faerie villains - is pure horror, set in the here-and-now. basically the story is about a few residents of a small college town learning how much the faerie world really wants to fuck over humans, in the worst possible ways. blood-sucking, co-ed murders, corpses walking, dreams of the future and the past, entrails strewn hither and thither, a sinister house-cum-demonic castle, a bizarre and upsetting faculty party, the Eldritch King and his vengeful but sometimes less-than-effective servants, a blind granny, a chase through dimensions and time, and a haunted playhouse are some of the items featured. the writing is fluid, equally at ease in detailing everyday details as well as the many supernatural, hallucinatory events.
the elements that set this one apart from most horror novels are the structure of the narrative and the perspectives of the characters. the reader is plunged right into things - not in a way that inspires breathless page-turning, but rather one that keeps things constantly off-kilter: details parsed out slowly and ambiguously, versions of past stories differing surprisingly depending on the teller, the meaning of the events and mysteries surrounding the cast of players only becoming gradually clearer as events unfold. characterization is also fascinatingly conveyed: although the characters remain fully grounded in reality, they also exist on multiple levels, and somehow McNaughton is able to make them both very real and disturbingly mythic. another virtue: pulling away from the action or what may even seem like the climax of a key event, only to let that event be recounted through another character's perspective. the author is not afraid of graphic depiction, but even better, he is comfortable with meaningful ambiguity.
the first chapter, perfectly detailing a sad outsider's frame of mind and his disturbing transformation, is striking to say the least; the last three paragraphs - jaw-dropping, horrific. another chapter - a firsthand account of the long, terrifying night of a corpse that walks - is brilliantly unsettling and dreamlike, a grim and grotesque journey but also the second sympathetic portrayal of a terrible being's confused thought process. and another chapter, depicting the advent of a deadly home invasion while a blind grandmother struggles to come to terms with her simultaneous life in two different dimensions, starts out as compelling, almost amusing, and ends in one of the more gripping horror sequences that i've read in a while. the final struggle between granny and the Eldritch King is powerful, surreal, and really moving. the entire novel demands close attention and i found myself constantly flipping back and forth through the pages to re-read and puzzle over various clues and multi-leveled comments from characters. passive readers will not find much of value in the experience; i absolutely loved it.