Both seventeen. Both afraid. But both saying yes.
It sounded like the perfect first date: canoeing across a chain of lakes, sandwiches and beer in the cooler. But teenagers Amelia and James discover something below the water’s surface that changes their lives forever.
It’s got two stories.
It’s got a garden.
And the front door is open.
It’s a house at the bottom of a lake.
For the teens, there is only one rule: no questions. And yet, how could a place so spectacular come with no price tag? While the duo plays house beneath the waves, one reality remains:
Just because a house is empty, doesn’t mean nobody’s home.
“Just because a house is empty, doesn’t mean nobody’s home.”
Though this is classified as a horror novel, I’d say that it’s more akin to a suspense story. However, for those of us who have a fear of water/drowning or the deep dark blackness of the sea, then there’s definitely a horror element there for us — one scene in particular in which one of the teens is thrust into complete darkness while deep inside the underwater house comes to mind. That being said, it’s definitely creepy once our two characters begin exploring the depths of the house under the dark lake, lending quite a claustrophobic feel to some scenes. I shuddered as I thought how easy it would be to get trapped there and unable to find your way out.
There’s also a fascinating human element of “obsession,” which I thought worked well in this novella. So yes, there is a major creep factor, but it’s subtle and kind of sneaks up on you, causing the hairs on your neck to stand up without you even realizing it.
I loved the whole premise of this slice of life story following two awkward and somewhat shy teens on a first date who not only discover a hidden lake, but a complete house sitting on the bottom of the lake. The teens feel compelled to investigate, leading to several subsequent diving explorations of the house as each time, they enter deeper and deeper inside. In this way, we have a first love accompanied by extreme adventure.
Interestingly, the existence of the house with all of its furnishings is completely illogical, and that was kind of the point of the story. In fact, we are reminded not to ask “why” or “how” but simply experience the house, and I found this aspect of the story especially fun. Every item in the house is firmly rooted in place, contrary to the laws of physics, including books and knick-knacks on the shelves.
In addition to the house’s mesmerizing mystery, we also follow along with our young couple as they share their secrets with each other, slowly get to know each other, and eventually experience first love. Their budding relationship, paired with the intrigue of the irrational house, lent to some interesting symbolism which I’ll leave the reader to discover themselves.
All in all, I thought this was a beautifully written and haunting story with vivid imagery, especially of the house. Though it’s a short tale, coming in at 188 pages, it definitely packs a punch, and I loved how Malerman continuously ratcheted up the tension. A House at the Bottom of the Lake felt disconcerting, and even a tad sinister, but was charming at the same time. The story sucked me right in, and I couldn’t read it fast enough to find out what was going on with the house.
But…as if often typical of horror stories, the story concluded with an ambiguous ending. Personally, I’m not too fond of such endings, and for that, I knocked off a star. Yes, the story was undoubtedly unique and addictive, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Still, the vague ending left me feeling a tad unsatisfied — but not enough to stop me from highly recommending this gem of a novella.
A huge thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a review copy of this book.
This book will be released on December 1, 2020 but it as available for pre-order now.