A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman
At some point, Malerman is going to write something bad right? Or maybe something that is just OK? Actually probably not, because at this point he is like a batter you put at the number four spot in the rotation. You are going to get a hit, just how far will the thing sail into the stands is the question. I know baseball metaphors are corny, and the reality is I don’t like baseball. I do enjoy the work of this author.
Most well known as writing the novel that became the meme generating Netflix hit Bird Box Malerman has been slowly releasing novels he wrote while being a touring musician. While he seemed like a lightning bolt on the scene in 2014 he already had a back catalog of unreleased gems waiting to be found.
I don’t know the whole back story on this novel, and yes I realize the marketing folks in publishing call this a novella but I think it is a novel. In a funny accident, I read this right after Philip K Dick’s 1969 classic Galactic Pot Healer, which is a novel that largely takes place underwater as well. It was on my radar when The website/podcast This is Horror published it as far back as 2016. It wasn’t until my local library had it in the new orders that I got it. I didn’t realize it was getting the larger press treatment.
A House At The Bottom Of A Lake crosses many horror subgenres and I am sorry I slept on it as long as I did. It is a haunted house story, sorta. It is a ghost story, sorta. It is fully a romantic coming of age tale about first love that is built on a slow build that balances creeping dread and romance so perfectly sweet it feels like a fairy tale.
Amelia and James are on a magical first date, that might seem like a bit much. A romantic canoe trip to a small secret lake. Once the young couple boat there they find a third private lake. This third lake felt surreal to me, they talk about it with Uncle Bob, but no one else in town knows about the lake or the full house at the bottom of the lake.
“Yet, there was nothing. No images, no stories, no rumors. And with every dead-end she met, she experienced a little relief. If nobody else had a story about the house … didn’t that mean that, in a way, it still belonged to Amelia and James? And if they never talked about it with anybody else, if they forever kept their secret, wouldn’t it always remain theirs and theirs alone?”
This secret mystery was my favorite aspect of the short novel. I loved that the source of the creepy weird moments of horror was also about the wonderment of the fresh romance. I don’t think this book can be spoiled but I will try not to do that. The power and strength of this book are the push and pull between the sugary sweet prose and story with the eerie haunted house at the most impossible location. Mood and tone are the keys here and when you think about the horror and romance in this work it is like a literary see-saw.
I think the ending will not be what most readers expect or want when they open the book but I think it will leave them happy when they close it. A Josh Malerman book is a safe bet and I think readers will enjoy this one. It is short but effective. A fun piece of work.