I sought a suitable metaphor to describe my experiences with Deadfall Hotel. I thought about using the patchwork quilt, with its multi-segmented, sometimes jarring and other times interweaving and flowing nature. That might have been more than adequate.
Then something more appropriate fell into place, as I recalled a scene from the book where hotel manager Richard Carter is assigned a task by the caretaker to check on some cleaning work recently undertaken by some contractors. Richard has put together his own proprietary map: “now several sheets taped together, walls drawn with pencil, erased, and redrawn, arrows used to indicate geometries that made no logical sense.”
Luckily for literature, logic need not come into play. Actually, this book is blessed by such broad-ranging brush strokes taken by its creator. And to bring the painter analogy more clearly into play, Rasnic Tem uses everything from the fine strokes of an impressionist to the more abstract techniques to be found in works by Jean Miro, and even Jackson Pollock, in blessing us with this most rich of weird-fiction creations.
So what’s it all about? Well, as much as I hate to define a book such as this, at its most concentrated it’s a novel of loss and exploration in life, not to mention a healthy dose of downright general freakery, set in a ramshackle behemoth guest lodge in the woods, Deadfall Hotel. We follow the course of events for the new manager Richard and his daughter Serena, as they’re guided by the former manager and now caretaker Jacob Ascher. And this is certainly one place that benefits such a person to escort the uninitiated through its labyrinthine corridors.
This place at times seems fairly Tardis-like in its dimensions, and as it’s logic-buckling in its construct, so too are its inhabitants and guests in their assorted levels of abnormality.
Haunted by ghosts, and monsters, as well as its current residents, the line between the three groupings is consistently blurred; it’s a monstrous yet magical place. Not since James Herbert’s The Magic Cottage have I felt a conflicting desire to both run away from, as well as spend a couple of nights in, the confines of such a creepy venue; Deadfall Hotel definitely has quite an allure through inevitable charms of its less surreal aspects.
Now – as for the tale itself. There really isn’t a straight line of a plot going on here. Or not one that I chose to focus on anyway. I came away from this book with memories of quirky intricacies, strange warped goblin-like rats in the walls, humans wondering at the various mundane but also greater questions of life, and a series of guests at the hotel, each often stranger than the previous or very nearly attempting to be. In general, I went on a ramble, and was not once disappointed.
I honestly felt like my mind had gotten to take a trip on vacation in what Lynch’s Great Northern Lodge might have become had a few residents of the Black Lodge (and White Lodge) gotten their hands on the blueprints in the design phase. Add a few nightmares, day-dreams and suchlike, and you get the general gist of what one person might take away from Rasnic Tem’s book.
But again, just when you think you’ve found the lay of the land in this most rich and fertile of imaginative plains, and you’re thrown a twist or turn, or simple line of speech masquerading as so much more. Just when you think you’ve nailed a certain style or emotion in the text and again it buckles and surprises.
So many writers out there try to pen weird fiction, and think that the more ridiculous and surreal an event that they add the more it may be defined as such. Or there are those who think that adding a cyclopean angle to some architecture, or hint of some ancient god or tentacle scrambling in the midnight makes a text weird. No, my friends. You want really weird: that nice blend of the mundane and normal with cognitive-scrambling sense-warping freakery added for good measure. Check in at the Deadfall Hotel, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.