DEADFALL HOTEL by Steve Rasnic Tem (Solaris, 2012)
Deadfall Hotel. A curtain of gnarled, skeletal oak and pine hides it from the rest of the world. The hotel is not well-lit, there is no sign, and night comes early here. The main highway bypassed its access road nearly half a century ago. From the air (and a few private pilots still venture over, out of curiosity) the hotel appears to follow the jumbled line of a train wreck, cars thrown out a all angles and yet still attached in sequence. Additions have been made haphazardly over the years, torn down, rebuilt, fallen into disuse. Repairs have not always been effective. From the back, facing the lake, boarded-up windows, doors, even entire discarded sections may be seen, coated in slightly different shades of paint, constructed of a miscellanea of materials and in a range of styles. But the owners have always tried to maintain a uniform appearance in the front of the hotel, facing the road; they have established facades, like film-sets, over some sections of the structure.
-- first paragraph
After the death of his wife, Abby, in a house fire, Richard Carter and his young daughter Serena go to live in the Deadfall Hotel, which is surrounded by forest and the deadfall there from, where rooms appear and disappear and the hallways sometimes start on one floor and end on another, and sometimes stretch the length of the hotel and sometimes farther, and the cellar is filled with items previous proprietors left behind. Richard has been chosen as the new proprietor under the guidance and tutelage of the Hotel's former proprietor, Jacob Asher, who has become the caretaker of Deadfall Hotel.
In the process of learning his job, Richard learns more about grief and its management, about loss and love and the resiliency of children. Each chapter is an independent story, in each Richard and Serena face something that puts one or both at risk – something rather like a vampire or a ghost or a werewolf or memories – something that demands their inventiveness and stretches their ability to carry on, and in particular pushes and challenges the attachment between father and daughter as Jacob looks on and mentors Richard.
At Weirdfiction.com comments by Jeff Vandermeer allude to Bradbury, Peake, Edward Gorey, Peter Straub, and John Gardner. Heady company. I'd suggest especially that line of descent could probably be traced to Something Wicked This Way Comes; the first chapter is titled, "Funhouse" and that's a recurring allusion not far from Bradbury's carnival, and the father-daughter relationship harks back to the relationship between father and son in Bradbury’s novel. But Deadfall Hotel also reminded me of Gaiman's Coraline and The Graveyard Book if those novels had been written from the perspective of an adult rather than a child.
I would not say Deadfall Hotel is on a par with Bradbury’s novel. For instance, while Jacob is fleshed out well, at times he does verge on becoming Tem’s spokesman. And Serena is not well developed, having neither quite the independence of thought nor of action that Will and Jim had in Bradbury’s novel: While Tem gives her some good scenes and some choice moments, on the whole I finished the novel feeling she was less likely to act on her own than to act as Richard’s reason for action. This is largely Richard’s story, and so really a novel for adults about how an adult contends with loss, how a man faces becoming the sole parent of a daughter and copes with her maturing; and whether or not it measures up to Bradbury’s novel, that’s a good thing and, in my reading experience, in a supernatural fantasy/horror novel a rare thing.
Next: Bag of Bones by Stephen King