Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Short Story Spotlight: "Quiet House"

If you've been following this blog, you know that Halloween Season usually extends into the first week of November.  But that's especially the case this year, thanks to the terrible blow delivered by Hurricane Sandy.  So, for those who've had their holiday celebrations postponed, here's something that might help rekindle the Halloween spirit:

"Quiet House" by Norman Prentiss

This is a story that takes the normally innocuous phrase "trick or treat" to heart.  Jeremy, a seventh grader, has at last reached the age where he can go out on Halloween night sans parents.  And all October long, he looks forward to getting to experience the Myrick House, a neighborhood home legendary for its decorations.  But two days before the big night, the Myricks' property is cleared of its yard-haunting paraphernalia, and a sign is posted stating that this is now  a "Quiet Zone" due to a death in the family.  Jeremy is bitterly disappointed, and decides to prank the Myricks.  Unfortunately, his peevish act has some macabre repercussions, and Jeremy will soon come to rue the nasty trick he plays.

Such synopsis might make this sound like a latter-day Tale from the Crypt, but "Quiet House" is no simple E.C. sketch of ghoulish retribution.  Prentiss's writing transcends the formulaic; the author depicts Jeremy as a three-dimensional character rather than a mere cipher, and is careful to establish the various impetuses for the boy's outburst of juvenile spite.  The climactic scene in which Jeremy suffers for his dirty deed is likewise skillfully handled, and proves a more haunting variation on the hoary vengeance-from-beyond-the-grave motif.  If there's one drawback to the piece, it's that the dialogue of Jeremy's three-years-older stepbrother (who is charged with conveying a lot of exposition) at times rings false, but that ultimately doesn't diminish the impact of the horrific story that the stepbrother (and in a larger sense, Prentiss) is sharing.  All told, "Quiet House" is bound to elicit loud praise from readers who seek both psychological realism and a touch of supernatural weirdness in their Halloween fiction.  

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