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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. 

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I’ve been a bit behind on my reading this week and was painfully aware of the fact I haven’t written a review in a while, which was why I decided to read a novella. I didn’t want to just pick up any random thing, though. I was really in the mood for something a bit spooky, so when I saw A House at the Bottom of a Lake on a list creatively titled ‘Good horror novellas’, I thought it sounded perfect.

On paper (but not really, because I read it as an ebook) A House at the Bottom of a Lake seemed to be a horror that catered specifically to my needs in regards to this genre. Have you ever ever heard of thalassophobia? It’s the fear of the ocean. It’s fear conjured from the simple fact that so much of the ocean is unexplored. What lurks at its lowest level? What exactly is that darkness hiding? It’s something that we might never know and it’s that knowledge that can make your heart kicking up a pace or two while you’re casually frolicking in the ocean on a summer’s day.

A House at the Bottom of a Lake, while not about an ocean, addresses the fear that many of us harbor when faced with large bodies of water. As humans, we’re not designed to exist in the deep, dark depths of lakes. The underwater world is something quite different to that around us. We’re incompatible with such an environment, having not evolved in way that enables us to breath in lungfuls of cold, sludge-filled water. Consequently, when we find ourselves in such a place, we feel…well, out of place. We, warm, soft, delicate beings, are at odds with such harsh, unrelenting surroundings. We feel like we don’t belong. We feel like intruders.

So when I read that there’d be a house at the bottom of the story’s lake, I was excited. Such a quintessentially human thing in such an inhuman environment struck me as uncanny and uncanny, that which is familiar yet oddly unsettling, is, for me, what makes a good horror story into a fantastic horror story. Why would there be a house down there? How did it get there? And, perhaps mostly importantly, why was it there? Was it there to lure unsuspecting people, such as Amelia and James, down into the lake’s murky depths, tricking them with a seemingly harmless facade? I mean, sure, a house at the bottom of a lake is pretty weird but hey! But if it’s got bay windows then it’s okay. That’s cute and quaint, right?

However, A House at the Bottom of  Lake fell short of my expectations. Sure, there were creepy moments aplenty. The scene where Amelia is surrounded by a myriad of floating, colorful dresses sent shivers trickling down my spine. The dresses, something so ordinary, were rendered into something horrifyingly other, the underwater currents manipulating them in such a way that it appeared they were worn by unseen forms. The writing too was great. Josh Malerman has a gift and its a gift he put to good use, enabling me to visualize his story and its characters and setting with crystal-clear clarity.

Despite that, though, it didn’t shake me down to the core. It didn’t chill me to the bones. There seemed to be this building anticipation with each turning of the pages as it gradually became apparent that the teen couple were not, in fact, alone and this anticipation seemed to amount to nothing.

I won’t spoil the great reveal, or the ending, but I found them both anticlimactic and confusing. Perhaps A House at the Bottom of the Lake would have been better as a full-length novel. It just left me with way more questions than it answered.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Song: Dio’s Holy Diver

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This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.

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