By T.M. Wright (Catalyst Press; 2003)
Another bizarre, fascinating, deeply enigmatic novel by T.M. Wright, one of the horror genre’s most singular talents. COLD HOUSE is even more enigmatic than normal for Wright, as it forsakes most of the genre trappings of his previous books (which include essentials like STRANGE SEED, THE WAITING ROOM and THE ISLAND) in its dreamlike account of star-crossed lovers Michael and Elizabeth, each trapped in a strange alternate reality.
Don’t expect any conventional “explanations”, as none are offered, although we do learn in the course of the book that Elizabeth was killed in a car accident years earlier and is now stuck in a scary old house “as big as Cleveland” where she sometimes sees a young boy flitting around. Michael finds himself in a dark city, searching for his lost love and finding only desolate landscapes, apathetic fellow residents and annoying radio programs, at least until an unnaturally pasty tennis player named Fredric Strasser (who implores Michael to “simply address me like I were anonymous, okay?”) enters his life.
Copious flashbacks fill us in on the protagonists’ respective backgrounds and extramarital courtship. Michael, it seems, has since childhood had the ability to travel into other realities, which provided an ideal escape from his redneck father’s mental abuse. The young Michael also finds himself drawn to an ominous old house where he spies a woman staring back at him from an upper window–a woman, the adult Michael reflects, who looks an awful lot like Elizabeth.
T.M. Wright is a celebrated poet in addition to a prolific genre novelist, and COLD HOUSE is his most overtly poetic novel. The narrative proceeds in short, self-contained scenes that put one in mind of bursts of memory or hallucination. Past and present are juxtaposed freely and the narrative voice alternates between the first and third person. This is a novel that, more than telling a story, is primarily concerned with illuminating concepts like loneliness and love (although strictly of the unrequited variety). It’s a somewhat frustrating, self indulgent book (I probably could have done without the gusts of poetry that frequently interrupt the narrative) that’s nonetheless a beautiful, haunting and even profound evocation of longing and regret.
COLD HOUSE, it should be noted, comes complete with an admiring introduction by Jack Ketchum, whose standard fare (which includes hard-core horror like OFF SEASON and THE GIRL NEXT DOOR) is light years away from Wright’s. Still, Ketchum’s observations are dead-on (“It’s a work by a writer who started off with courage and resourcefulness and just seems to get and better and better over time”).
This book is a must for genre fans in the mood for “something different”, but it also seems pitch-perfect for the upscale crowd who ate up literary horror efforts like David Searcy’s ORDINARY HORROR and Mark Denielewsi’s HOUSE OF LEAVES…but I know they’ll never read it. For that matter, I’m certain most genre mavens will pass it up, if only because it was published in a limited edition paperback by the indie publisher Catalyst Press. Nevertheless, I applaud Catalyst’s decision to take on such a unique work, and urge you all to track it down ASAP!