If dystopian fiction holds a magnifying glass to trends and aspects of the present day, increasing their prominence horrifically, then what about a bizarro dystopia? It presses a distorted glass against our fears, holding it so close that the details twist and mutate, making us not entirely sure what to think any more. Touches of weird humor leak through, and it becomes a question of debate where the divisions are between parody, satire and warning.
All Hail the House Gods is, partly, dystopian horror, and it’s particularly inventive in where it aims its magnifying glass: you could consider most of the horror to stem from a millennial anxiety about the changing nature of adulthood. Things that previous generations took for granted, that you’d grow up, that you’d raise a family, that you’d own a house, are distorted and made grotesque. Your family only exists to satiate monsters. Your house isn’t yours; you belong to it. You won’t grow up, because the state of childhood no longer exists. (Even the “typical” adult pastime of poker is made part of the mechanism of terror, and the old realtors’ trick of baking cookies to make a house smell tempting is a trick perpetrated by the houses themselves.)
But it’s also absurd comedy! I hope I’m not too horrible for finding the endless, child-like euphemisms funny (if kind of gross at the same time). Same too with the never-ending diet of aphrodisiacs — is there a funnier food to see mentioned repeatedly than “watermelon arugula salad”? I don’t think so. Throughout, the writing has a lightness and wit that made me smile, unless something awful was happening at just that moment… There’s also the surrealism, which, if not exactly funny, here seems more aligned with humor than horror. A House can crabwalk. A house can be a Gothic, a pueblo, or a log cabin shaped like a dachshund. It can be brown, white, or teal. Houses can blow their sides in and out, like they’re laughing, and can stack themselves into a tall, dancing column that stretches to the sky, an image more strange than frightening.
And, maybe most affectingly, it also includes a heartfelt debate about how to fight systemically entrenched oppressors. There are two opinions presented, both of which are convincing. Should you work from within the oppressive system, or attack it from the outside? There are no real villains, apart from the faceless and characterless minions of the system and the Houses themselves, which are the system. Stone is great at presenting characters simply and sympathetically, and I wanted nothing more than to see these people succeed, though the difficulty of their struggle is best portrayed by a single, darkly funny image: that of a brave or foolish hero, who has decided to fight a house, and who is armed with only a bow and arrow.
The reviewer, Caleb Wilson, is the author of Polymer, published as part of the 2018 New Bizarro Authors Series.
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