“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.” – Amazon
A House at the Bottom of a Lake is a short novella by Josh Malerman. This is another title that showed up over the course of the summer months all over my Instagram newsfeed. I get really, really excited when a title like this one has such a variety of reviews. Depending upon the website and reviewer, there are just as many 1-star reviews as there were 5-star reviews. That’s a WIN/WIN for any book reviewer because it leaves me with so much anticipation! Will the book flop or flourish with me? Let’s get on with it, shall we?
Amelia visits James at the hardware store he works at for his dad. Since it’s a relatively short story, there’s not a whole lot of back story between our two main characters, but I was under the impression he’s been fond of Amelia for a little while. He finally gets the nerve to ask her out and she accepts. They decide their first date will consist of borrowing a canoe belonging to James’s Uncle Bob. They will meet at the hardware story and head down to the local lake that James knows well. After paddling and paddling, they discover the main lake flows into a secondary lake which secretly flows into another lesser known third lake. They make their way to the third lake and are enjoying the jitters and first date anxieties as a couple of 17-year old kids. They eat some lunch and look over their canoe to discover the roof of a house.
The title of the book ain’t no fancy metaphor. There’s actually a house at the bottom of this lake. The story escalates quickly from there with James & Amelia hell bent on exploring the inner workings of this house. They make a pact to each other that there will no be questions. Neither of them will ask “how” nor “why”. They will simply explore, exist and keep the house a secret between each other. Their relationship escalates at the same pace as exploring the house does and a wave (canoe… lake… water… waves….get it?) of events takes over their lives.
“Is there anything in there that can bite us?”
“In the house?”
“No. The water.”
Welp, despite the numerous negative reviews, I really enjoyed A House at the Bottom of a Lake. The characters weren’t terribly shallow, but for a novella – the author does a pretty damn good job of giving us just enough, in my opinion. I was able to live vicariously through James and the adventure that never seemed to end. I really enjoy the water and I could easily picture being at that lake with James & Amelia which made it an easy story to relate to. Not that I believe there are two story homes at the bottom of your local lake, but still. It was a story and concept that I enjoyed. That doesn’t mean the story didn’t have its faults.
I agree with several reviews that state the book shouldn’t be labeled as a horror novel. It’s not a horror novel, per se. No blood. No guts. I kept waiting for something super scary to happen, but alas, it didn’t. There are definitely scary elements and there are several aspects of terror that appear within the story. It’s not what the author tells us. It’s what he DOESN’T tell us that allows our imagination to run wild. And THAT’S what I loved about A House at the Bottom of a Lake. I think if you look past this genre classification oversight, it’s still a damn good story as far as I’m concerned. Some reviewers were, like, “OMG! Who in the hell said this was a horror novel?!” along with a few other elitist reader comments. I don’t disagree that it probably shouldn’t be classified as a horror story, but I don’t think that’s any reason to give the novella 1-star.
The ending for me felt a bit rushed. The fact of the matter is I don’t know how I would have wanted this to end. I mean, for crying out loud, there’s a scary house at the bottom of a lake for Pete’s sake! Where in the hell do you go with that? I get it. I didn’t hate the ending, but I just didn’t love it. It seemed like we had this elaborate story and then in a matter of two pages, the whole thing is over. I was taken aback by how rushed it all felt to me.
I love novellas, but I don’t enjoy how quickly everything seems to unfold. I would suspect the author doesn’t have the time to put forth a lot of extraneous backstory. Things just… happen. i.e., James & Amelia decide they’re going to explore this house even more at the bottom of the lake and will obtain diving gear. How did they come across this knowledge? Are they both PADI-certified scuba divers now? There’s no mention of that. They get some random gear from a cousin of James and no one questions him or Amelia at all? Where are the two of you going everyday? Where did this professional knowledge of diving come from? Granted, I suppose it’s not rocket science, but breathing underwater as a human being is sort of a big deal. These are just little nuances in the book that bugged me a little. I’m not being nit-picky. I just wanted MORE!
I’m happily giving A House at the Bottom of a Lake a full 4-stars. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! It’s a fun, fast-paced read that is open to all kinds of interpretation which I enjoyed… some did not. At just 118 pages in length, it’s not a terribly long book which means you won’t have much time invested if you decide it’s simply not for you. It’s one I have added to my growing collection with excitement and am glad I brought this one on vacation with me! I would, however, not recommend bringing this title kayaking with you to a lake with a max. depth of 65 feet. Yikes! Fun read and recommended!
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