I’ve spent most of the year rereading some old favorites I knew I needed to revisit; IT, Gone Girl, Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. But I was recently able to read two new books as well – both works of queer horror and both written by queer authors. The first of these was The House The Devil Built by Benjamin Hively.
The debut novel follows Ashton, a still recovering alcoholic from New Orleans, and his partner Dillon, as they move away from the chaos and eccentricity of The Big Easy and into the quiet beauty of Acadian Springs. But, like all small towns, this one has a darkness all it’s own, full of hate and fear. And before long, Ashton, Dillon, and several residents of Acadian Springs will find themselves pitted against forces beyond their belief.
For those who have read other debut, self-published novels before, you know that sometimes it’s a rough task. Though being able to self-publish is a godsend for today’s aspiring authors, it’s often done without the assistance of a professional editor, and typos and continuity issues are easily noticeable. So let me begin this review by firstly giving it up to Hively for turning out a quality novel, in terms of editing and clarity. It is no easy task to self-publish, so kudos to him.
As for the novel, I was also quite surprised, especially considering that at first I was expecting the book to be a let down for me. The “small-town Southern gothic” cliches started cropping up fairly quickly and for the first several chapters I was afraid the novel was just going to be a rehashing of horror I’d already seen or read before. But slowly the story expanded and I found myself truly engaged.
Perhaps most interesting for me, as a queer reader, was the subplot of homophobia and hate within the small town of Acadian Springs. Ashton and Dillon are almost immediately besieged by religious fanatics after they move in, and a young local boy is even sent to a “reformatory camp” after it’s suggested that he might be gay himself. Possession and dark spirits aside, I found the realistic instances of bigoted and blind hatred much more horrifying.
From that darkness however, Hively was also able to give us a noble hero in the form of Mark, the town’s sheriff who doesn’t subscribe to the hatred his neighbors and congregation believe in. In fact, it was Mark’s personal story-line I enjoyed following the most, despite Ashton and Dillon being the novel’s main characters.
On the flip-side, I did feel like the finale of the novel was a bit rushed. I couldn’t help but notice how close to the end of the novel I was getting, despite questions and unresolved subplots still remaining. And I was also slightly concerned by some of the actions taken by the novel’s few gay and questioning characters. In mainstream horror (both literary and film), gay men are often presented as being needlessly sexually promiscuous and morally weak when it comes to relationships, so I was a bit let down to see this trope within some of the book’s main characters.
Hively has already begun pre-orders for the novel’s sequel, The Philosophy of Evil, and I am curious to see how he continues the story he’s created. To keep up with the author yourself, you can visit https://www.benjaminhively.com.