A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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.

Josh Malerman does an excellent job at developing creepy, uncanny atmospheres. The House at the Bottom of a Lake excels at just that. Although I found the characters a bit flat and difficult to become invested in, I was thoroughly drawn in by their exploration of the strange, underwater house they discover. Locked doors, strange noises, and clothes floating through the water where no current should be all come together to create a read that will keep you on edge.

I felt chills run up my spine as these two teens explored the mysterious house. They have many questions, but agree not to vocalize them – something instinctual tells them that they may not like the answers. They spend their days and nights together out on the lake, using old-fashioned diving suits to reach its bottom and the house that sits there.

Unfortunately, I found the romance between the pair to be rather flat and unbelievable, which did hurt the rest of the book. It never felt like a genuine teen romance. To be honest, it felt like an out-of-touch, middle-aged, white man’s idea of romance – which, well, I suppose it was, in all fairness. While the romance itself wasn’t a focal point of the book, a believable relationship and more relatable characters would have made for a more compelling story. It was hard to care about what they were doing any time they were outside the house, and those chapters felt like a slog, breaking tension for me.

Further, I felt that the ending was a bit of a let-down. It seemed to reduce the house to a symbolic construct representing their relationship, reducing most of the mystery surrounding it. To me, it made the earlier, eerie bits feel cheap.

All in all, it’s a fairly good read if you’d like some creepy underwater horror.

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About the Author

Josh Malerman is an American author of novels and short stories. Before publishing his debut novel Bird Box with ECCO/HarperCollins, he wrote fourteen novels, never having shopped one of them.

Being the singer/songwriter of the Detroit rock band The High Strung, Malerman toured the country for six years, as the band played an average of 250 shows a year, and Malerman wrote many of the rough drafts for these novels in the passenger seat between cities on tour. He says this about those days: “I never saw the books with dollar signs in my eyes. It was no hobby, that’s for sure, it was the real thing and always has been, but I was happy, then, simply writing, and while I blindly assumed they’d be published one day, I had no idea how something like that occurred.”

As the pile of rough drafts grew, so did the questions as to what he was planning on doing with them. Malerman often says that he lived long in a “glorious delusion” in which he took part in phantom interviews, pretended to have an agent, debated with fictitious editors, and placed invisible hardcover books upon his shelves.

It wasn’t until a friend from high school, Dave Simmer, contacted him that those delusions became reality. Simmer, having worked with authors and properties in Hollywood, asked Malerman’s permission to send one of his books to some people he knew in the book business. Malerman heartily agreed and the pair sent out Goblin, a collection of novellas that all take place in the titular city of Goblin. From there, a team was assembled and Malerman suddenly found himself speaking with a real agent and debating with actual editors. He says this of the part Simmer played in his career: “There were two things at play at that point in time; one, Dave was a ghostly benefactor, golden hearted and smart, descending from the sky to help me. And two, what may sound like some luck couldn’t have become fortunate if I wasn’t armed with a dozen novels to talk shop with.”



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