Devil House by John Darnielle

Devil House by John Darnielle

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 1. A second-person narrative

Other Possible Prompts: 8. Involving the art world, 30. Audiobook is narrated by the author, 38. Don’t judge a book by its cover!, 52. Published in 2022

My bad book streak continues! Someone end my misery. Welp, by the time you read this, hopefully I will have read something worth giving five stars to again.

So to be completely frank: I have no idea what this book is really about. There are parts of it that I just…completely lost. I truly thought this was going to be a dark and creepy ‘Salem’s Lot-esque novel, maybe some Amityville touches, but this book isn’t so much horror as it is critical fiction. Here’s what I definitely parced plot-wise:

Writer Gage Chandler crafts tales of true crime by getting up close and personal with his stories and their history, and many of his works have even become movies. When his editor stumbles upon a random article from the 1980s about a satanic killing in an old porn shop north of San Francisco, he implores Gage to buy the home, move into it, and tell the real story.

Interwoven with one of his other tales, The White Witch, Gage tells the story of Devil House and all that he can parce truly transpired there…but as he unearths more of the story, he is left thinking about the true meaning and impact of his work as a true crime novelist.

Self loathing mid-life crisis much? I just felt like there was…a lot of author in this book. It feels like a reflection essay disguised as a tale of “horror”. Which, by the way, it wasn’t, really.

I chuckled as I included “Don’t judge a book by its cover” as one of the possible prompts (only the second book I’ve put on that list this year), primarily because I absolutely adore this cover and the content is…not great. I usually look at book covers as “someone enjoyed the book so much that they took the time to make a truly beautiful cover that reflects the art inside”. I love the cover of Devil House and it’s 90% of the reason I bought the book, actually, but the principle of the artist loving it cannot possibly apply here. I get Amityville Horror vibes, or classic cult fiction from the cover – and none of that within its pages. Soooo disappointing.

This book doesn’t touch at all on any supernatural horror, like I was kind of expecting from the cover art, but it does delve into a lot of true crime. Each moment is painstakingly laid out and can be somewhat gruesome. These parts, the actual horror parts, are admittedly written with care and precision that keeps it interesting – like a car accident you can’t tear your eyes from. Those scenes show skill.

When I rated the book on Goodreads and mentioned the full review would follow, I jokingly said “I wasn’t high enough to enjoy this”. But, um, there’s definitely some truth to that. This book feels a bit like a fever dream or a bad trip. Maybe if you were on the same wavelength as when Darnielle wrote it, it would make more sense, but as it was…big chunks of the book were not at all meaningful to me. I zoned out too easily and was jostled by the writing style.

The only reason this book is getting two stars and not one from me is because of *the point*. Large chunks of the book (that actually make sense) tell the tale of what happens when true crime gets written, to those who are left behind. This is why the tale of the “White Witch” is included – though it confounded me at first. It comes full circle when we talk about the story of Devil House. This book could be far more impactful and widespread if an editor had taken more pain to rein it it from the wild ride it currently is. The sad story behind every true crime is kind of an interesting take…and I liked this one part of it.

So, not recommending this, obviously. Don’t let that damn cool cover fool you, friends. You can skip this one. Have an excellent week.

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