Due to circumstances beyond my control, I found myself sitting on the floor in a church, hunched over my Kindle and reading Garrett Cook’s poetically perverse haunted house tale A God of Hungry Walls (Deadite Press). During a particularly horrible atrocity (in the novel, not the church), a little boy approached me with a sly smile. “Are you sitting over here reading the Bible?”
I shook my head, tilting my Kindle away so that he couldn’t possibly read anything on the screen, though he seemed determined to. “No. Definitely not.”
“Are you sure?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said, but what I really wanted to tell him is that he isn’t old enough to read this book and it was possible that he would never be old enough. Hell, I’m not sure that I’m old enough to dig into this thing, but I’m certainly glad that I did.
To miss Garrett Cook’s book would be to miss a singular vision of horror akin to early Clive Barker with the permeating hopelessness of Scott Smith’s The Ruins or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. To the reader, the book is like the sinking of the Titanic if Salvador Dali was the captain and everyone decided to go down with the ship just to see what happens next.
I may be burying the lead here, but I have to confess that what initially drew me to the book was the promise of the premise: A haunted house story told from the point of view of the haunting. Don’t get me wrong, this is a haunted house story, possibly the most original one that I’ve read, but the premise isn’t really the star of the show. I warn you to not to go into this novel expecting a white middle-class family with 2.5 kids who encounter creaky stairs and cold spots in their Victorian dream home. The book doesn’t toy with the reader like that. There isn’t fifty pages of Could this house actually be haunted? Oh, it is. Just ask the house, it will tell you. In fact, it might possibly be the first novel that I’ve read that is actually written is first person-omniscient. Even the characters, at times, understand that things are really bad in the house, but choose to ignore or, worse, to revel in it. The real star of the show, though, is the combination of Cook’s lyrical prose and the horrible things that he chooses to do to us with it.
The house commits terrible acts on its inhabitants who, coincidentally commit equally terrible acts on themselves and others. Some of these things, I confess, I wouldn’t be able to watch in a movie and in the hands of a lesser writer, might seem gratuitous. The book is about control and manipulation on many levels and one of my favorite sequences involves the book, in the form of the demonic narrator, actually manipulating the reader. No spoilers, but you’ll know it when you read it.
At the risk of being overly meta, I wondered at times if A God of Hungry Walls isn’t in many ways an indictment of not only horror authors but of readers. The house entity crafts his horrors as creatively and ironically as any artist and presents them proudly to us. As a reader, we sympathize with the characters, but, as is the nature of horror fiction, we anxiously await the next violation.
The novel doesn’t keep you waiting. At 164 pages, it is a quick and dirty read that never outstays its welcome, although the torture and graphic sexual violence can be, depending on your personal taste in horror, a little off-putting.
I highly recommend this novel, but make no mistake, A God of Hungry Walls is not an intro level horror novel, this is one for the advanced class.