Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Powerful Pages: Maynard's House by Herman Raucher (1980)

Powerful Pages: Maynard's House by Herman Raucher (1980)

This book had quite an impact on me in my youth, but it had faded into the fog of memory.  With that in mind, I was eager to revisit it this year during the spooky season, but I did so with some trepidation.  All too often, art that wowed us in our formative years wilts under mature inspection.  I shouldn't have worried.  Herman Raucher's thoroughly unique haunted house tale seems even more significant upon deeper reflection, and I somehow doubt this impression will dwindle going forward.  The author has a gift for detail that shows up everywhere, painting a lovely picture of a foreboding setting, deftly fleshing out the characters, and thoroughly ensnaring the reader in a nuanced plot.  The story centers on a plucky Vietnam vet with a quick tongue and an impulsive need to leap headlong into challenging situations.  He has inherited a fallen comrade's meager home in the harshest recesses of New England.  There, this adrift fellow who desires nothing more than some sense of purpose finds himself in the midst of another war.  In fact, he finds himself fighting several battles on treacherous fronts, with a loss in any of these conflicts spelling certain doom for our stubborn hero.  Beyond the isolation of his new home, Austin Fletcher must contend with a serious case of PTSD*, a harrowing winter, and a desperate search for identity in a world where he can never find sanctuary.  Oh yeah, and the house is haunted by a vengeful witch, and there may or may not be a ferocious bear on the prowl.  Given the protagonist's weakening grasp on reality, much of the novel leaves the reader to determine whether or not the perils at hand are real or imagined.  Lest that sounds too quaint for my fellow horror fans, fear not, for the sense of dread is powerful, and in one of the most riveting passages I have ever encountered, Raucher plunges the reader into a nightmarish depiction of absolute evil guaranteed to unnerve even the hardiest of the hardy.  The ending is perhaps the strongest portion of an impressive work and a delightful read.  Some may find it too mercurial to rank among the best excursions into the macabre that literature has to offer us, but I'm obliged to give Maynard's House my highest recommendation.

*The author conveys the combat veteran's condition with alarming precision and incredible empathy, and this novel was written long before analysis had graduated from a simple understanding of so-called "shell shock" to the more detailed study and acceptance of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder we see today.

Final Grade: A+

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