Book Review: The House of Dust by Noah Broyles
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Inkshares (October 5, 2021)
Length: 445 pages
I believe there are books that require you to be in a certain mood in order to truly enjoy them, and I can’t help but think The House of Dust is a prime example. This is as Southern Gothic as you can get, set “deep in the heat and silence of rural Tennessee”, a simple yet telling line in the novel’s official description. Yes, it’s dark. Yes, it’s heavy. And sometimes, the story can get a little too bogged down by both these traits.
Our tale opens on a lonely road on the way to a small remote town, where protagonist Bradly Ellison plans to kill himself. But what has happened to bring him to this point? Following a split-structure alternating narrative, The House of Dust reveals the story of Brad, a struggling true crime writer, as well as Missy Holiday, his fiancée and a former escort, as they head to the tumbledown town of Three Summers, Tennessee in a last-ditch attempt to find what they need to save themselves. For Brad, it’s a chance to revive his career before the magazine he writes for fires him, and for Missy, it’s a place she can retreat to and heal from her traumatic past.
The couple has rented a rundown plantation house after Brad gets a lead on a possible story in a nearby town. Strange fate has led them here, after a creepy encounter with an old woman brought the dilapidated house to their attention. In his investigation, Brad makes even more disturbing discoveries about the town, including a possible cultish ritual among its residents as well as whispers related to the worshipping of an angel called Adamah. As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Brad believes he is on to something big here, but the deeper he digs, the more he is haunted by the town’s dark and rotten history.
Maybe it’s the structure of the novel, or simply the disjointed nature of the plot itself, but the beginning of this book presented a huge struggle. The early sections were a mess, with issues ranging from ambiguously surreal situations to the deliberate withholding of information, and as you know, it never sits well with me when an author does that, especially when it feels contrived and forced. It’s also difficult to tease out what’s real versus what is merely a product of the characters’ minds, and when the basis of your entire novel rests on that uncertainty, well then, the storytelling is bound to be a bit weaker.
Fortunately, the narrative eventually smooths out somewhat. Once I caught on to the split format and figured out where we were going with it, it did make things easier, and with that obstacle out of the way, I was also able to appreciate the more positive aspects of the novel. First of all, this is a very atmospheric tale. The heat and oppression of the setting mixes with the strange and dreamlike fugue of the story to create a haunting miasma that’s thick enough to choke on. Speaking of which, we also didn’t get as much about the old plantation house as I would have liked, but that said, it’s also the type of vagueness that encourages readers to use their own imagination to fill in the blanks, and one can argue that might be even more effective.
Still, Noah Broyles makes a few mistakes that many debut authors are prone to, namely overwriting which unnecessarily encumbers the prose and restricts the flow of pacing. This story could have been a lot spookier and more disturbing, but I was tripping over too many wonky transitions and instances of awkward phrasing to really feel all that creeped out. Finer edits and polishing might have fixed some things, but generally I feel this was a very ambitious and thus complicated story, and Broyles might have bit off more than he can chew.
Overall, I love Gothic fiction, as well as horror stories about cults or strange things happening in small forgotten towns. The House of Dust is probably worth reading if, like me, you are a fan of those things as well, with the caveat that the novel is a bit rough around the edges. Still, Noah Broyles has a lot of potential, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for his next projects.