October Read #1: Hell House - Richard Matheson
With the exception of the adapted Dracula for Marvel comics, which I have not read though I've read the novel dozens of times, this is the only 're-read' on my list. I've read Hell House probably four to five times over the past several years. Each time I read it I find more to like about it, more that gets under my skin, and more that makes me excited to read it again.
Hell House is a true American ghost story, building on the base of the traditional and adding to it the exploration (and in some cases, the breakdown) of science, sexuality, faith, and personality. As a reader you're rather left to your own preconceptions to decide if the psychology of the house and how it affects people is caused by their own ideologies, or by paranormal entities. Each character has their individual ideas, and each seems plausible in the face of how situations are posed to us. The fact that their own beliefs cause (and cloud) their judgment makes each one an unreliable narrator several times through the course of the narrative and it's only in the last twenty pages that we are let in on the definitive answers.
It's not a story without loss, as no horror story really ever achieves acceptance in its genre without it, but the losses are incredibly calculated and important. It's not the body count which is important, it's the timing, the effect, and the reasoning which make them impactful. Matheson doesn't always excel at character development, but in this instance there is beautiful detail and specificity to each character. And I'm just going to say it now: I love Ben Fischer. If anything, he is the core of this novel and in a lot of ways the closest lens the reader gets to a 'typical' person being trapped in that environment. Yet he is truly anything but typical in his abilities.
Overall, the story is engaging, horrific, detailed, and insightful. It's also not a long, complex read. Clocking in at just over 300 pages, it doesn't talk down to the reader in terms of its scientific and parapsychological terminology, yet remains accessible. It's creepy and cool, with a resolution that doesn't feel cheated or forced, and will keep you thinking after completion without making you want to sleep with the lights on for a week.