4 out of 5
Jesus, Josh does some bleak stuff, but this is bleak stuff. And I love bleak stuff, which means I’m inured to it somewhat, but this is still… bleak. And partially because it’s bereft of the kind of indulgences which that may suggest: some shit happens that’s wrong, and then it just doesn’t get right. Simmons doesn’t pretend like there’s light at the end of the tunnel; there’re no slight peaks or plateaus once the hill starts descending. And that he chooses to do this in silence – House is a wordless, sound-effectless comic – is an incredibly effective way to up the tension; the claustrophobia.
Three friends – imperfect; with ratty hair, reasonable bodies, and rough skin, i.e. human – do some urban exploring in an abandoned mansion. As a reader, this is spooky stuff, with wide, empty areas and creepy portraits and long, shadowed staircases, but Simmons seats us amongst the trio’s enjoyment of the exploration; they seem seasoned at it, and having a good time. Their relationships with one another – a guy, two girls – is hinted at, and shown a little, but Simmons is content to have it just be glances and brushes of skin, and not a focus. However, if we combine some of these almost-moments with the seeming lack of point to the story, and the trio’s fates, there’s maybe something there… something dark about our wishes, and our intentions.
This is an earlier effort from Simmons, and while his figurework and environment detail are all up to spec, the only thing I really question is how he paces his pages once the group descends into the mansion’s depths. These are logically clouded in shadow, but the way we somewhat randomly switch between characters, and that these switches don’t align with page endings, doesn’t feel like it affects anything. I would suppose it’s meant to be a bit confusing, as befitting what’s going at that point, but the application isn’t quite purposeful enough. Not that that distills the overall bleakness of the book, or the page-turning, yet hopeless (and absorbing) vibe of the “adventure,” and makes this a must-read addition for appreciators of Josh’s brand of offbeat books.