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Devil House: A Novel (2022 original; edició 2022)
de John Darnielle (Autor)
Informació de l'obra
Devil House de John Darnielle (2022)
Books Read in 2022 (32)
Top Five Books of 2022 (137)
» 9 més
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I love all of his books, and had very high expectations… Devil House certainly did not disappoint. Don’t wanna say too much; it’s an incredibly unique, strange, and thoughtful work of art & i’d expect nothing less. Already excited to read it again! ( )
Devil House is John Darnielle’s (JD) 3rd novel and 4th work of fiction. JD is best known as the singer, songwriter, and lyricist for the Mountain Goats, a band largely known for its outstandingly good lyricism. But, in my opinion, JD’s preceding works of fiction (Master of Reality, Wolf in White Van, and Universal Harvester) have all been inferior to his lyrics with the band. He has shown some promise, especially in the realm of pathos and in his depth of understanding of grief, but his prose style is not my favorite and I have finished his other works wishing they had offered a bigger or more universal “point.” They focused a lot on the small stuff, but all that small stuff never seemed to come together as synecdoche for something broader.
This work, Devil House, still retains some of the flaws of JD’s earlier work. The prose is not very smooth or beautiful, and a lot of metaphors seem clunky or unhip. The first half of this novel dragged at times because of its focus on the particulars. But oh well, every author has their style. On the whole, Devil House is definitely the most impressive thing JD has written so far. Its aims are ambitious and clear, and I think it basically nails them. The meta-fictional elements toward the end of the story are set up well, and the payoff is huge—it isn’t stiff or overly intellectual like a lot of that stuff is. The “setting” for this book—the story of a true-crime writer—is usually entertaining and sometimes enlightening (about the work of writing). Emotionally, this book is at times devastating. I’m thinking especially of Chapter 6 here. I’m actually really surprised how high of a level this book reaches by the end; Universal Harvester seemed to dangle some promise of greatness, but it was always very obscured, and I never felt like the waiting paid off. Well, this time it did, and I’m very impressed. Last thing before the plot synopsis with spoilers: as everyone else has said, the cover art is ridiculously great. Massive props to Alex Metro for designing such a sleek and beautiful piece.
Synopsis (SPOILERS): Devil House is broken into 7 mirroring chapters: Chandler (1st chapter and 7th), The White Witch (2nd and 6th), Devil House (3rd and 5th), and Song of Gorbonian (4th). The central narrative thread connecting chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 is the true-crime writer Gage Chandler. (I’m going to ignore chapter 4 for now.)
Chapter 1 introduces Gage Chandler. Chandler is a storyteller who makes his money writing (successful) books about bloody real-life tragedies, doing serious in-depth archival research on all the involved places and people. He had his big break writing “The White Witch,” about a high school teacher from his hometown who killed two students and chopped up their bodies. This got sold off for a movie deal, and I think he subsequently wrote a few more true-crime books, again to relative success.
Chapter 2 tells the story of the White Witch in a straightforward true-crime style: details about the teacher, the two kids, the events leading up to the killings, the killings, the aftermath, etc.
Chapter 3 is about Chandler’s next story—many years after his first— is about the “Devil House,” a double-murder cold case which had taken place in an abandoned porno store that’d been dressed up by squatters with all sorts of satanic and mystical imagery and symbolism. Chandler moves into the long-since vacant “Devil House” to get a better feel for the scene of the crime, all the while uncovering old evidence from the case and conducting interviews with relevant parties. He focuses on four high school aged teenagers: Derrick, an ex-employee of the porno store who let his friends hang out in the abandoned place; Seth, a hyperactive, good hearted kid who can’t find his footing academically, and who largely instigates and leads the redecoration of the porno shop into the Devil House; Alex, a victim of the foster care system who had been a homeless drifter for a while and happened to stop back by his hometown, and who was sleeping in the relative security of the Devil House; and Angela, a sort of nondescript friend who also helps redecorate the place.
The story we are told is that the teenagers had turned the vacant porno store into a sort of clubhouse, and for Alex, a shelter. They felt attachment to and ownership over the store, and when they found out its lawful owner planned to resell it, they decided to freak her out and litter the place with crazy Satanic imagery. Later, when the landlord comes by to tour the place with a prospective buyer, both of them are slaughtered brutally with a sword, presumably by Alex, who then splits town. However, the case is never resolved, the police have no solid evidence against the three teens (they don’t even know about Alex), nobody is charged, and decades later, the case of the Devil House is still cold. This is all according to Chandler.
Chapter 5 mostly entails Chandler tracking down Angela, Seth, and Derrick as adults and interviewing about the case. He says he was unable to track down Alex. There’s a lot of stuff about how no matter how hard Chandler tries, no matter how much evidence he tracks down, he will never know what it was like to be there, why these things happened, what was at stake.
Chapter 6 is a special one. Its setting is Chandler still at work on his Devil House book, living in the Devil House, connecting old threads, etc. While working, he receives a lengthy letter from the mother of one of the teenaged victims from his first book, “The White Witch.” Basically, she is grieved at how Chandler depicted her boy (Jesse). To Chandler, Jesse was only a pawn in his book, someone he animated to go this way and that, imbued with superficial motivations and characteristics that somehow, inevitably, led him to his slaughter. What Chandler didn’t know—what he could NEVER know—is the true depth of the life he shamelessly used for his story. Jesse’s mother relates a story of Jesse’s life in painful, heartbreaking detail: about how Jesse’s circumstances stopped him from growing into what he could have been, about how her husband was so violent and so mean, about how he had so much trouble making friends, about how he grew from a baby into a young man, about how she had given up on her own life and invested her everything into him, and about how one day, senselessly and without warning, it all came crashing down. Life wasn’t fair for her, and it wasn’t fair for Jesse, and they just had to deal with it as best as they could, and then it was all over. Chandler had made a caricature of the most important thing in her life, of a life ITSELF, and how could he not have? All the infinite inner workings of Jesse, all the networks of meaning and purpose related to him, all that summed up in a few pages of grisly characterization. Chandler never knew the story of Jesse, and he never would. A long passage:
“… your final view of him that of a handsome young man who might have been headed down the wrong path, but didn’t everybody have the right to make mistakes sometimes, a handsome young man only a few steps away from a future in which he might finally have been free—free to be the sweet person you knew lived within him, he whose sweetness had been a comfort in a cold world, he who only ten years before he got cut to pieces and taken down to the ocean to be dumped into the tides had still been your baby, you said, so desperate for help that he told his teachers his father was a bully, so lonely that anyone who showed him kindness became his favorite person in the world, so hungry for friendship that he was a sitting duck for a boy like Gene Cupp. Did I really think ten years was a long time, you said. It’s not. It’s nothing when you are his mother. It is the blink of an eye during a commercial break, you said. That’s how short a time you got to know your son before she took him from you. But you knew, you said. You knew how short a time ten years is, and how easy it was for me to make that whole time, so precious to you, look ugly, worthless, pointless. But Jesse’s life had been good sometimes, it had value and he deserved to live and you deserved to still have a son and I didn’t care, I only cared about the bad parts, how could I, how could I, did I understand at last what I had done to you, twisting a knife that had been stuck in your stomach since the day your son was killed, how could I.” (pp. 350-351)
One other sort of extra-textual thing is that this chapter revealed a lot about JD’s own life. He has written before about the abuse he and his family suffered at the hands of his own stepfather (see: The Sunset Tree), but the depth he goes into here is the sort of stuff you can only get from experience. It’s heartbreaking and emotionally powerful. How horrifying, that our lives can be reduced to only hope and waiting by the cruelty of others.
Chapter 7 is probably the next-most important chapter of the book. We switch narrators here to an unnamed boyhood friend of Chandler’s, with whom he reconnects later in life, after Devil House is all the way written and Chandler vacates the old place. Chandler gives an old draft of Devil House to the narrator to read over, and as he does, we learn that the entire story of these crimes is a fictional imagining [within a fictional novel]. There were never any people named Derrick, Seth, Alex, and Angela. The only people who ever occupied that abandoned porno store were some faceless, forgotten homeless people. True, the store was decorated with Satanic imagery, true, there was a double murder that was never solved, but none of the people involved in the story ever existed. Pure fictional imagining. The truth [within the universe of the fictional novel] was concealed by Chandler. Note, this deception wasn’t revealed within the book Chandler wrote; it is a secret known only to Chandler and the unnamed narrator. It seems that Chandler took cue from the mother of the White Witch victim and realized that his true crime writing was no better than invaders plundering a people’s homelands to display their artifacts in a museum back home. So what can Chandler do now: stop writing? No, he instead opts for the fictional.
This is where the work becomes really meta-fictional. Who are we to take as the narrator here? Is it a fictionalized JD? The unnamed narrator is a “performer,” he lived in Durham, NC at some point, he has a wife and two boys. I guess “it could be anyone,” but I think here we have [a fictionalized] JD writing straight to us as himself. A lot of the reviews on Goodreads take this novel as an indictment of true crime, particularly how it warps and diminishes REAL people for the sake of a story, but I think JD is not making such a narrow point. When we tell stories of any kind—fiction or nonfiction—we inevitably borrow from the lives of real people. I am of the opinion that no work of fiction can avoid stealing from the lives of the author and the people the author knows. So, all of storytelling seems to be guilty of this same sin: distorting reality, showing only fragments of real life, reducing infinitely complex characters to only caricatures, pawns in a story. Real people, people with value, whose lives all have worth, are made little by an author playing God in their little universe. JD seems to take over as narrator at the end of this novel to tell us, “yes, it’s me, I’m the author, I have crafted this distorted world, full of fictions and glimpses of reality. I am every bit as guilty as Chandler, and I know it. But what am I to do? Stop writing?”
As for Chapter 4, “Song of Gorbonian,” I am still unsure what to make of it. Right in the middle of the book, the actual font changes to something gothic or medieval and we are told a story (in archaic language) about a young prince whose father is killed and who vows to avenge the latter’s death. The prince-turned-king wants his tale of vengeance to be passed down through generations, making legendary his bravery and honor. Then, the chapter ends mid-sentence. Is this meant to be an allegory for the Devil House situation, somehow? Something about the subjects of a story taking control of how that story will later be told? Maybe I missed something. I’d like to see a smarter interpretation of this part. Regardless, it was a lot more entertaining than I’d think.
Everything told me not to expect a horror novel. 'Devil House' isn't one. It is a deft stab at the true crime genre and an examination of what people look for when they want a narrative attached to a tragedy. Unfortunately, this was pretty boring and I ended up skimming. When I got to the "reveal" I was glad I hadn't really invested in the story.
Darnielle makes an important point, but true crime isn't my genre and neither is...whatever this is.
Second in a row DNF. My review of 'Adrenaline' stated I 'hope to find something original.' I did. Too bad it sucked. I hope to find something I can't put down and can't wait to pick back up.
248 members; 3.47 average rating; 8/13/2022
This odd novel focuses on a man who writes real crime books. He immerses himself in his work. He decided to buy and live in the "Devil House" where two grisley murders were commited in years past. He learns much about the victims and prior tenants. As time passes the events in one of the previous books comes to light also.. The book is interesting, easy to read but somewhat scattered in the way its laid out hopping from character to character. I liked it but I can't put my finger on why.
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INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER "It's never quite the book you think it is. It's better." --Dwight Garner, The New York Times From John Darnielle, the New York Times bestselling author and the singer-songwriter of the Mountain Goats, comes an epic, gripping novel about murder, truth, and the dangers of storytelling. Gage Chandler is descended from kings. That's what his mother always told him. Years later, he is a true crime writer, with one grisly success--and a movie adaptation--to his name, along with a series of subsequent less notable efforts. But now he is being offered the chance for the big break: to move into the house where a pair of briefly notorious murders occurred, apparently the work of disaffected teens during the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Chandler finds himself in Milpitas, California, a small town whose name rings a bell--his closest childhood friend lived there, once upon a time. He begins his research with diligence and enthusiasm, but soon the story leads him into a puzzle he never expected--back into his own work and what it means, back to the very core of what he does and who he is. Devil House is John Darnielle's most ambitious work yet, a book that blurs the line between fact and fiction, that combines daring formal experimentation with a spellbinding tale of crime, writing, memory, and artistic obsession.
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Classificació Decimal de Dewey (DDC)813.6 — Literature English (North America) American fiction 21st Century
LCC (Clas. Bibl. Congrés EUA)
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