Greetings from the Ethereal Plane,
Dark fiction titan John Langan has been on the scene for many years, producing numerous memorable tales, collections, and novels along the way. We previously reviewed his 2016 effort, The Fisherman, and now present to you our analysis of House of Windows. Once all is said and done, we’ll cap off the review series interviewing the man, the myth, the legend himself.
In today’s day and age, it is difficult to steer from the norm, especially in something as near and dear to the public’s hearts as literature. The times change, and so do the popular uses of language and storytelling. Though modern readers relentlessly voice their cravings for something original, when they are presented with a product that is innovative, the hivemind usually withdraws in shock and resentment. John Langan’s House of Windows does something that a plethora of novels have failed to. It encapsulates the classic storytelling of legendary authors like Shirley Jackson and Henry James while instantaneously driving its roots into modern reality.
The reviews for House of Windows have been generally positive, the less positive reviews often comparing Langan’s freshman novel to his sophomore hit, The Fisherman. Can one compare fire and ice? Darkness and light? Skies and oceans? Life and death? These novels are so different from one another, so significantly separate from one another, that it would be ludicrous to make such a comparison. Langan’s House of Windows is a love letter to classic ghost/haunting literature. A self-aware novel that shares its meta core with morbid illustrations of a haunting and a core within the plot that is as flesh and bone as the writer himself. House of Windows isn’t a story of a haunting, or a ghostly apparition. It’s a tale exploring the effects of resentment, the fractures in marriages that go unaddressed, the madness that people will embrace just to prove a point, to have their pride left intact. Throw in a terrifying haunting in the story, and you have an emotional tour de force that is as beautiful as it is engrossing.
Langan structures the plot through an unorthodox narrative, a story within a story. His ability to seamlessly transition from scenario to scenario, telling to telling, is admirable and expertly done. The characters of Roger and Veronica, their marriage, the moments filled with glee, contrast against the darkness that pervades through Roger’s relationship with his son, Ted. The generalized fear and apprehension that took place amongst Americans after 9/11 is on full display, the questioning and lingering paranoia that befell the nation. The tragedy of losing a son to a war whose motivations are easily questionable, the resentment founded between a father and son, the expectations that are shot down once the child grows. The examination of these relationships is the heart of House of Windows.
Whereas The Fisherman is a novel you can pick up and read at any given moment, lost in the strange and peculiar events, House of Windows is so deeply interwoven, it is a novel best served in solidarity, long sittings that allow the words on the pages to consume you and thrust you into the lives of these characters. Beyond everything else, the novel is a character study, a deep analysis of what it means to be human, and the consequences of our actions. The moments of the hauntings, and the thrilling climax to the book, are terrifying in their own right, but present themselves, more than anything, with sadness and regret. The spirit haunting Veronica and Roger (no spoilers) is not as angry as it is hurt, disappointed.
Langan also builds upon the background to the haunting in clever ways, while also establishing the meta atmosphere of his writing, by consistently mentioning famous authors like Charles Dickens and Henry James. The themes of Dickens, in particular, play a major role in the overarching theme of the novel. Langan also presents some mythology to this world, concerning the previous tenants of Belvedere House and the extra-dimensional ravings of the mad painter involved in the subplot of Veronica’s research. As with his previous writings, Langan is patient and meticulous every step of the way, saying what needs to be said and progressing the story at a leisurely–though expertly!–crafted pace.
Combining the haunted house tales of old, hearkening back to Shirley Jackson’s work while portraying hypnotic visions and scenery that reminisce Richard Matheson’s work, Langan has created a novel that brings its readers back to the classic era of horror, simultaneously anchoring them into the present.
John Langan is the author of two novels, The Fisherman (Word Horde 2016) and House of Windows (Night Shade 2009), and two collections of stories, The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (Hippocampus 2013) and Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (Prime 2008). With Paul Tremblay, he co-edited Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters (Prime 2011). He’s one of the founders of the Shirley Jackson Awards, for which he served as a juror during its first three years. Currently, he reviews horror and dark fantasy for Locus magazine. In early 2017, his next collection, Sefira and Other Betrayals, will be published by Hippocampus Press. Later in 2017, Diversion Books will release a new edition of his first novel, House of Windows, which will include new material, including a new story further exploring the legacy of Belvedere House.
John Langan lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with his wife, younger son, and many, many animals. He teaches at SUNY New Paltz. Recently, he earned his black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do.
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