For this review I present an extraordinarily original story that is sadly overlooked. A Google search for Maynard’s House yields a few relevant results but not many. If not for a burning desire to revisit the summers of my youth, I would have missed this fascinating story about a haunted shack in the blizzardy mountains. That’s right folks, you read correctly: a severe case of summer nostalgia led me to a cold and isolated terrain that scrambles the real with the unreal. How did a wholesome quest for summer bliss lead to all this? I’ll tell ya. Read on!
Two and a half months ago, the summer of 2017 was just beginning. There I was, your humble and lovable Haunted House Host, yearning for those teenage summers. Yearning to go to a place where time took a leave of absence, where rules were meant to be broken. Breaking the rules is part of growing up, is it not? I was wishing to approach new experiences with wide eyes and a weightless soul. Well, none of that was happening, so I did the next best thing; I read about such experiences. Long story short, I sought out novels with the theme of summer nostalgia. One such book was The Summer of ’42 by Herman Raucher. Known mostly for the movie adaption of the same title, it is author’s memoirs of a summer he spent on the island of Nantucket as a teen. It is a summer of mindless shenanigans, of idle times and ravaging hormones. It is also a tale of bittersweet romance and sorrow.
Now, how did I get turned around one hundred and eighty degrees from a summery love story to a winter’s horror tale? Well the article: From Summer to Autumn: The Spirit Remains the Same (The Darker Sides of Ray Bradbury and Herman Raucher), contends that each book has similar themes. So in fact, they might not be polar opposites. Ah but that is a topic for another article – like the one I just referenced! But to get back to the original question, I have to thank good ol’ Amazon (Henceforth referred to as “Amzy”); Amzy is always so keen with its suggested reads! Naturally, since I downloaded one book by Herman Raucher, Amzy assumed I would want to read others by the same author. Amzy showed me There Should Have Been Castles and A Glimpse of a Tiger, two love stories involving teenage characters. Who would guess that an author known for penning humorous stories of youth and romance had a real scary story within him? His final book (to date), Maynard’s House, is that story. Standing up on the Amzy lookout post with all the other members of the Raucher collection, its stare met my eyes while the glazes of the other titles brushed passed my shoulders. Ghosts are always looking for new places to occupy. When they see a man with an aura in the shape of a haunted house (hint: that’s me!), they move in for the taking. I didn’t find Maynard’s House – it found me. It found me at the closing of one of those other titles, standing on the sunny shores of a New England beach. It pulled me out of The Summer of ‘42 and took me across the ocean, over the horizon, to a different kind of reality.
While I have said that there are similar themes in both books, a paragraph from the From Summer to Autumn… article summarizes a key difference between The Summer of ’42 and Maynard’s House:
The first book is about the building a man. This man is constructed on a warm sandy beach in the wake of a wartime tragedy. The second book is about taking apart a man. He is deconstructed in the cold winter snow.
Austin Fletcher will come apart. He is a war-weary veteran of the Vietnam War. His war buddy, Maynard Whittier, dies on the battlefield. Maynard wills his house to Fletcher. This house is a simple shack in a hostile wilderness. But Austin will reside in it. After all, he is very much like the house. He is a simple man living in an inimical world. The house, however, will not take to him. Unaware of his final fate, Austin makes his way to the snowiest regions of Maine to seek out the shack.
Austin begins his journey to the “salvage center for his soul” (not from the book; I made that up) via a freight train with some passenger accommodations. He is the only passenger. Snow halts the train, but Austin marches on, contending with the harsh elements on foot. He almost dies, but strangers help him along the way and he warms up at way stations. Austin doesn’t take to these strangers. Although kind and helpful, he is put off by their localized eccentricities. He doesn’t seem to take to much. He’s not exactly the most lovable character. The story itself describes him as forgettable; a face in the crowd. Nevertheless, I as a reader was anxious to continue on the journey with him, partly out of morbid curiosity.
Maynard’s House is psychological horror. It is implied that Austin suffers from PTSD. He is an unreliable narrator. It’s always fun to take an unreliable narrator and stuff him inside some house and wait for the fun to begin. Ordinary objects take on such horrifying shapes. Anything can happen. Eventually Austin makes it to the shack. Shadows dance at night. A rocking chair creaks and moans. We are forced to ponder – is all this real? The things he sees, are they just images from his mind?
Projection. According to Wikipedia, “Projection” is a psychological defense mechanism “in which humans defend themselves against their own or qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.” This often bares out in horror stories. Take the horror that is on the inside and project it outwards. We saw this happen in The Innocents (Henry James – “The Turn of the Screw”). We see it again here. Austin’s brain is the projecter. The Shack, “Maynard’s House”, is the screen. On this “screen” he projects his ghosts. The fun thing about projections – they can be sliced and diced into symbols. The oversize bear that threatens to bring down the shack, is it a projection of his own self-destructive nature, is it a symbol of the harshness of the world against a vulnerable man, or is it literally a big bad bear? The freakish, elusive imps that disappear into snow drifts, are they really some kind or primordial species or are they children, a boy and a girl? If one is a young girl, sometimes youthfully forbidden while at other times seductively mature, is she the physcial manifestation of sexual guilt?
Literalism. What you see is what you get. Books such as Maynard’s House need a dose of literalism for nothing more than to keep the reader guessing. Austin’s encounters might not be the results of symbolic projections at all. The hauntings just might be the very real consequences of curses and witchcraft. Legend has it that a witch was hanged on a nearby tree back in the sixteenth century. Maynard tells Austin some of this before he dies. Locals fill Austin in the stories as well. Diaries found in the shack tell the story of past inhabitants, dwellers long before Autin and Maynard. The House didn’t like many of them either.
Witches. As I learn about the traits of the various classes of horror characters, I am coming to realize that witches exceed at mind-fuckery. Ghosts, demons, zombies – they frighten and terrify. Witches do the same, but they have this uncanny ability to manipulate reality and turn it on its heels, sending their victims spiraling off into the insane unknown. This might be what is happening to poor Austin. There’s the pointed witch hat the “knocks” at his door. Should he answer?
Maynard’s House is a gripping novel. It deserves the same appreciation that is bestowed upon so many of the great haunted houses books. It hides among Herman Raucher’s novels of youth and romance. Perhaps Raucher’s claim to fame, Summer of ’42, steers his brand on a course that leaves horror far behind. Well it found me and now I am presenting it with the hopes that it finds you. The house might hate you and try to throw you away. However, the house might also love you. In that case, it might try and keep you. Forever.