The House of Dust is a sobering southern gothic with a religious horror twist. There’s no need for readers to have a religious background, but the horror aspects will be much more effective for those who find cults creepy. The deftly painted scenes are so mysterious and bizarre that there’s a sense of dread that the whole tragic story will never come into focus.
Right off the bat, main character Brad intentionally overdoses. He stumbles into some godforsaken hole of a town called Three Summers in a chemical haze, barely grasping his surroundings. Everything feels ominous and surreal as he tries to keep his eyes open and he is utterly unable to make sense of the few snippets of information that make it into his head. Still, he’s intrigued by these scraps and becomes absorbed in the town’s history. This chemical confusion translates from the page to the reader who slowly makes sense of the story as though emerging from their own chemical fog. The effect is spectacular and it’s something I don’t think I’ve experienced in literature before.
Yes, it’s a confusing way to start a book, but it makes the crystallizing of the story that much better. Readers should dedicate a weekend to this book to get the full effect of living inside Brad’s head. About halfway through, the story clarifies, and the other main character, Missy, becomes dominant. The parallel timelines keep things moving.
The House of Dust relies heavily on mystery, but there were some secrets that didn’t really need to be kept. Brad’s fiance’s name, for example. For half the book, she’s just his fiance, but suddenly she has a name. There’s no fanfare, no introduction, and I can only assume this is part of the overall clarifying technique the author started in the beginning of the book. Other mysteries were all clues and no reveal. Some characters’ backstories, for example, had a ton of buildup only to be summarized in a couple paragraphs at the end. The overarching mystery of Three Summers is outstanding and has a tremendous reveal when Brad pieces it all together.
I’m not quite the target audience for this book, but the writing style really worked for me. It’s so artful and emotional. From a feminist viewpoint, The House of Dust does raise an eyebrow; but to be fair, none of the characters are shown in their best light. They’re all at rock bottom, so to speak.
Overall, I feel that as a southern gothic, the book succeeds. Admittedly, it’s a bit over-mysterious at some points. It’s such an original concept, though, that I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Between the sweeping plantation house, claustrophobic rural setting, bizarre rituals, and creeping supernatural elements, The House of Dust truly terrifies.
CW: I started to write a list of potential triggering themes in this book, but it quickly became a paragraph full of spoilers. Long story short, skip this title if you’re a sensitive reader. Phobias and emotional triggers abound.
The House of Dust by Noah Broyles is expected to be released on May 18, 2021. Thanks to NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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