As the shadows grow longer outside the Starving Review Kitchens, what better luck could I have but to pull a meal promising horrors and an encounter with the Devil himself? With Halloween just over a week away, we have the promise of the horrors of the 21st century set to mix and mingle with some old-school, ancient horrors. Add to that what the blurb would suggest is partly a haunted house tale, a true classic recipe, and it looks to be a meal to relish. But does The Building live up to the promise?
Before we find out, let’s set the Starving Review ground rules:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible
The Building shows some amazing potential. There is some beautiful/horrific imagery mixed in to spice up some of the scenes of terror. The core concept is elegant and refined in its simplicity. The methodology of the supernatural elements, that is to say the ground rules by which they work, also work beautifully to present a tasty candy shell of horrors to fill up with fears, scares, and nail-biting catastrophe.
But that is where things start to go off balance. I would say the core issue that The Building has is that it is comprised of at least two times as many courses as a meal with its recipes should. There is a simple core cycle to how the plot flows, one that any reader will recognize quickly, and it adheres religiously to that cycle, repeating the same course over and over again. There are minor additional elements slowly mixed in, but so many recounts of the same plot points and character beats adds bloat and weight to the whole affair. If, for example, the key plot changes scattered throughout all these samey-same courses were pulled out, then recombined with the start, the main cycle repeated perhaps three times at most, then the ending, it would have gone down much smoother and kept its dramatic tension.
That’s really what the repeated cycles do: shatter the tension and sense of horror. A key element of horror is suspense, that feeling of the unknown and the unknowable. When the same course of actions repeats with similar consequences over and over, there is no longer suspense. We, the readers, can now predict the course of the book, up to the end. There was no last-minute twist, no surprise dessert whipped out to put the whole meal on its head or to justify the extended cycles it went through. Just the ending I expected from the midpoint of the book on.
There is one last minor quibble, one I find more and more to be prevalent, and that is paragraphing. Yes, that particular little form of style and formatting. Extended tracts of the book are contained in mammoth multi-page paragraphs that blend into columns of inky darkness as I tried to read them. It’s a fairly easy thing to fix and perhaps a nitpick, but as I see it more and more in books, it makes me all the more upset, especially as it is so easy to get right.
The Building has a recipe for horror greatness that has been turned into a bloated mess by unneeded repetition of its one-cycle story. Cut down and remixed into a novella half its size or even a masterful short story, this could be really amazing. Also, if more variety of horrors or more concepts about the mystery of the titular Building were explored to vary the repetition and preserve the suspense, a novel of this weight could be justified. As it is though, this terrorizing souffle collapses under its own weight.
FINAL VERDICT: ** (A potentially-great horror souffle that collapses under the bloat of repetition!)