"Creep House" Book Review
Written by Andersen Prunty
2014, 184 pages, Fiction
Released on October 13th, 2014
When you've already heaped praise on an author, it's usually hard to come up with new ways of convincing readers they have to check out his or her work. In the case of Andersen Prunty, the task is surprisingly easy: all of his earlier short story collections are great, but Creep House, which was just released, is his best so far. While all previous collections are packed with narratives that shine by themselves and sometimes have a few cohesive elements that make the book read like a whole, Creep House reaches a new level of greatness because it reads like a novel told in stories; it's like a disturbing biography of place that walks the line between a very enjoyable horror movie and David Lynch's Twin Peaks.
Creep House contains seven tales, all of which take place in the town of Twin Springs, Ohio. The first story, "The Calming Wood," follows Elias Figg, a serial killer who finds a house in the woods and decides to kill its resident and stay there for a while, feeding on the body during his stay. Unfortunately for him, the house and its resident are not what he expected, and the killer will end up paying dearly for having picked that house. The story mixes gore with a strange mentality and a strong supernatural element to deliver the kind of narrative in which the hunter becomes the hunted. Also, this one sets the atmosphere for the rest of the collection and presents the reader with the elements that will come up time and again in way that the seven stories read more like a novel than a disjointed collection: the town, the woods, smart writing, and an unshakably unnerving ambiance.
"May to May" is a truly special treat because the plot is not the main focus of the story. Instead, what Prunty offers here is a master class in creating a mood where everyday things take on a profoundly sinister air. From an abandoned house to a cat looking at a woman through a window, everything the author does here is spooky, and that makes the bizarre sexual occurrence even more unexpected and satisfying to the reader.
"Candy Heart" deals with a mother who's desperately trying to find her missing son. Once again, the woods play a central role here. The only thing that can be said about the mother without giving out the ending (well, the first of two endings) is that she has a dangerous secret that is sometimes hidden even from herself. Strangely heartbreaking and proving that old tropes can be made new via great writing, this one is a good example of what the author can do when he leaves weirdness behind and approaches classic horror elements.
"Running From the Roses" is a bit like "Candy Heart" in that it has to do with a family secret and how the youngest generation ends up having to deal with the awful repercussions that stem from it. A really sad noir with a touch of the uncanny, this one's about those times when getting away from something bad is just not an option.
"The Man Who Hated Stephen King" follows a young woman who returns to Twin Springs. It tells the story of her father and brings into play memory, writing, an unfinished book, and a house that has the power to draw people in. Nuanced, rich in detail, and with a poetic flair that makes the ending one of those paragraphs you come back to again and again, this is another outstanding story in a collection full of gems.
"The Existential Dread of Complacency" is the funniest story in Creep House. In it, a couple of writers receive a visit from mutual friends, a couple they've known for a while and have always liked. From the moment they show up, smelling bad and requesting to use the shower, to the morning after they leave, things only get progressively weirder and scarier. Infanticide, beer, a critique of the publishing industry, a deconstruction of anti-system types, and just a superb weird horror story, this one was one of my favorites.
"King Creep" brings things to an end with a bang. It starts like a regular story about a guy filming porn and quickly turns into a time-blurring tale about murdering kids and aliens.
The best thing about Creep House is the details. The fact that Twin Springs has only one spring running through it, the past as something we have to deal with in the present, eerie atmosphere that goes back and forth in time to enrich itself and provide back stories, a book by Aliester Crowley in one story and a quote from the same book in another, the woods like a perennial entity that holds secrets and in which terrible things happen: these are all elements that make Creep House read more like a carefully constructed novel about a place and its residents than a gathering of unrelated narratives.
Andersen Prunty has built a following by delivering great novels and short story collections, and this one is his best and most cohesive assembly to date.