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Interfictions Reviews – "What We Know About the Lost Families of — House"

April 9th, 2007

“What We Know About the Lost Families of — House”
Christopher Barzak

I suspect Mr. Barzak may have been reading Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Not that this is that. But it is a sort of abstracted, more distant, simpler version of that. Told from the collective, rather starchy POV of a small town, using the royal We—or I guess the legislative We—this story approaches the interstitial from a social standpoint. The boundaries it crosses and creates are those of marginalization, ostracization. And there’s no coming back once you’ve crossed them. Though I’m not sure how intrinsic that interpretation is to the story, and how much of it is conveninelty imposed by the interstitiality-minded reader.

Beyond that, “— House” is more or less a haunted house story held at arm’s length. The line between good and evil is blurred only by the starchy attention to propriety of the POV—the townspeople aren’t good or evil, they’re just telling the story. Unfortunately I think that distance handicaps their story somewhat. I have trouble engaging with the characters or feeling bad for them, or forgetting the fact that they are made of ink and wood pulp. And I think that if Barzak really wanted to challenge us with that, to give us something tangible to cling to in lieu of the characters and really make this an interstitial story, he could have told it from the house’s POV. Or from the collective houses of the town, as oppposed to the collective people. Which isn’t to say there’s nothing to enjoy here. As with other Barzak I’ve read (which has tended to be quite a bit more abstract and experimental than this), the prose has its high moments. For me, the most endearing thing about “— House” was the image of people disappearing into a misty apple orchard on a cool morning, never to return. Beautiful and shiver-inducing. I wouldn’t mind dying that way.

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  • Jeff Howell says:

    Nice review, thanks for posting it. Kind of a tangent, I actually have a story from a house’s POV. Is that something you think has been done before or is definitely ‘interstitial’ and I shouldn’t bother sending it to any mainstream or genre publications? Thanks for the input and I look forward to your future reviews.

    • mjd says:

      I can’t think of any particular instances of house-as-POV off hand, which doesn’t mean there aren’t any out there.

      I’ve noticed, though, a kind of trend in slipstream (and I guess by extension interstitial fiction too) towards narration-by-inanimate-object. Or at least really stupid object. I read a ‘story’ on Ideomancer once whose main character was a goldfish. It was mostly just a lot of sparkly, distorted verbs and adjectives going by at an alarming rate. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a really cool story by Ekaterina Sedia in the Jabberwocky anthology wherein two Eastern European college girls come to the realization that they are in fact the anthropomorphic personifications of a forest and a swamp. And as a matter of fact, one of the stories we’ll get to later on in the Interfictions anthology uses a lake for a main character.

      So I do get the sense that the inanimate narrator might be a hip, edgy thing to do, which concievably could ingratiate you with some editors while pissing off others. But I wouldn’t say it should *limit* you to ‘interstitial’ markets. F&SF prints slipstream stuff. And the New Yorker prints Haruki Murakami, who F&SF can only dream of getting.

      Anyway, whether interstitial art and slipstream turn out in the end to be stratifying or unifying elements remains to be seen—and even then I think what sells will still depend on the individual who sits in the editor’s chair.

  • MaggieDR says:

    I think I might have enjoyed this story more than you did. It made me think of “Our Town” with supernatural/horror twist. I really loved the author’s voice, as the voice of the town. This was the kind of story that makes me want to be a better writer–makes me realize how far I have to go as a writer.

    My only quibble was the pretense that the town had forgotten the names of the original family. Yet they knew all about them. I just didn’t believe a town would forget that family’s name, especially after all the dramatic events.

    I am a sucker for stories that are steeped in family histories, and unfold as though the elder members are telling anecdotes. So this was right up my alley.

  • […] is a style of story I was expecting to make its way into the Interstitial fold (as discussed in the “— House” thread): the inanimate narrator story, ie one which uses an anthropomorphic personification as its main […]

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