#7: The Manse by Lisa W. Cantrell

Cannonball Read: #7: The Manse by Lisa W. Cantrell Lesson learned: The Bram Stoker Awards sure did make some misguided choices in their early years. Lisa W. Cantrell is an award winning author of horror fiction. What? You've never heard of her? Well, surely you've heard of the Bram Stoker Award winning novel The Manse? No? Yeah, neither had I. If Wikipedia is to be believed, Lisa W. Cantrell and The Manse aren't even worth discussing. Google digs up the Fantastic Fiction page for Lisa W. Cantrell, indicating she penned four novels and three short stories before throwing in the towel. In some ways, I'm not particularly surprised. The Manse doesn't show a whole lot of creativity or style, and even seems like there were moments she didn't even want to write (like an ending, or a conflict, or any worthwhile character development). In other ways, it is a bit upsetting. This was a debut novel, and, as such, did show quite a bit of potential. Cantrell knows how to create a tense moment without relying on gore or confusion; if a child is turned into a hideous monster by a mirror, you know it. There was potential, and that is most likely what the Stokers awarded. The Manse is a haunted house novel that, if written today, would be snatched up for film rights before the book was published. The images are that arresting and the plot that straight forward. It would be a perfect popcorn horror film, like The Ruins. The town of Merriville holds a house haunt every year at the old Manse on the hill. The Jaycees, a young adult community group, began with the intention of creating a fun, safe alternative to Trick-or-Treating and quickly shifted to a state of the art house of horrors that only the bravest community members could stomach. It's so horrifying in its twelfth year, that a little boy is helped out through a back passage, runs through traffic, and is killed by a tractor trailer. Now everyone seems to be crawling out of the woodwork to prevent the thirteenth (get it? Huh? Huh? 13? Unlucky 13? Get it? Do ya? Do ya? Cause Cantrell won't let you forget it) House of Horrors from happening. Turns out the Manse (like every creepy old mansion in horror fiction) has a long history of violence and death. And, a crazy old black woman (not my words, people) predicts destruction if they hold one more haunted house there. Does it sound like a groaner? It is, in many ways. For one thing, Cantrell had to set a story that surrounds so heavily on Halloween in America, even though she is British. As such, you are faced with teenagers who do not want to be "bloody" this or think something would be "jolly good" (I wish I was joking). Or other cultural inaccuracies, including awful moments of spelled out accents because the book takes place in the southeast, "ye-awwwllll." Is there any point to reading this novel? Actually, yes. If, like me, you are an aspiring horror author, fighting for your big break, it's funny to see how many other recent Bram Stoker Award Winners steal (yes, steal, meaning take the ideas, scenarios, storytelling methods, and characters without credit) from Cantrell's The Manse. I can almost say you don't need to read The Manse if you read Sarah Langan's The Keeper, since they are the same exact book. One deals with an evil house, the other deals with an evil town. One takes place in the southeast, the other takes place in the northeast. One has a crazy woman that absorbs the wrongdoings of a town; the other has a house that absorbs the wrongdoings of a town. Even some of the deaths are identical. I'm not trying to call Langan out, since every horror author does this to a certain extent (especially King); and really, Langan wrote an excellent novel while Cantrell's is mediocre at its highlights. Still, it's funny how this stuff goes unnoticed. I don't even think Langan meant to do it. There are images that are still stuck in my head from The Manse a good month after I read it. Some of it will probably wind up in a future story. In conclusion, save your penny + shipping and just take my word that this book is not worth your time and effort. Unless you really, really must read every nominee and winner of best debut/novel in the Stoker Awards like I do. Then, more power to you.

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