“I need to try something else – to learn to live with fear, rather than in fear.”
I purchased Laurie Faria Stolarz’s Welcome to the Dark House on a whim, partially because it has a pretty cover and partly because its premise gives off some serious House on Haunted Hill vibes. The story follows seven teenagers who enter an essay competition in which they detail their worst nightmares. Upon winning the competition, they are invited to a horror themed weekend getaway, hosted by movie director Justin Blake. During their trip, the lines between illusion and reality become blurred – and each of the contestants are forced to face the nightmare they wrote about.
This novel is essentially a slasher film converted into book format. The whole thing comes off as very surface level, particularly in regards to the characters. There are six POV characters, and only we only get to know one of them with any kind of depth. The others remain stereotypes, written off as the “pretty girl” or “hot dude,” even though half of the book is dedicated to set up and characterization. I couldn’t find it in me to care about them when they went missing or died, which is pretty unfortunate. Most of their voices are also indistinguishable, so if you too are peeved by constantly having to check whose perspective you’re in, this read might not be for you.
The premise of the book is one I can appreciate, though I found the execution lacking. I liked the idea of the essay contest and horror film weekend, and I appreciate that the author was able to create a fandom that was easy for the reader to fall into and understand.
Pacing is a big issue in this book. As I mentioned, the author spends about half of the book allowing the readers to learn the situation and the characters. Then without much warning, we’re thrown into the horror section and characters begin dying like flies. If she was going for a slasher story, she could have slowed things down and made the murders and nightmarish scenarios more intense. These were the more important parts of the book, and they felt rushed to me.
I also had an issue with the representation of mental illness, specifically in reference to Natalie’s character. But now i’m not sure whether that issue is legitimate because I couldn’t tell whether the voices she heard were symptoms of illness or something paranormal. Toward the end, it seemed Stolarz was taking the ghost route with that, but honestly, I couldn’t even tell. I should probably be able to tell (you know, considering I finished the book). Either way, I was uncomfortable with the way Natalie’s character was treated – by the other characters and by the writer.
Another problem I had is that there are a ton of awkward, insta-love romances thrown into this story. Two of the main characters fall for one another after meeting literally-i-shit-you-not the day before. And they speak to each other like they’ve been in love for years. It’s awful. It also doesn’t help that these characters go off on romantic tangents during intense moments that would make most normal human beings panic and put all that jazz on the back burner. There are also weird flirting interactions between the other characters. At one point, one guy gets angry because the girl he met yesterday and flirted with a few times slept on the couch with another guy. Women are also referred to as “teases” pretty frequently, which bothered me to no end.
The ending was also kind of anticlimactic. Pretty much everything is left unresolved. People seem to write this off, saying that there is a sequel that explains things. And I agree, it’s totally fine to leave some things open ended so that you can continue in the next installment. But literally nothing was explained in this one. You can’t write a thriller story and not even slightly address who was behind the murders, how the plot twists came to be, and what came of the characters. Tell me, what is the point of that?
So you might have noticed, this book wasn’t really for me. I gave it a two star rating on Goodreads, and after writing this, I’m kind of thinking of lowering it. I did have fun binge reading it, but when you take a step back and look at it critically, you realize it’s actually problematic on multiple levels. That said, if you’re into slashers and looking for something quick and easy, this could totally be for you.
Have you guys read Welcome to the Dark House? I’d love to hear what you thought of it.