Review: Haunt by Laura Lee Bahr

December 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm (Bizarro, Review, Uncategorized, Writing)

I have a thing for experimental forms. From Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves to Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper, nothing gets me more excited about a book than when I see strangely placed columns, random font changes and blacked out sections that contribute to the overall thematic power and weirdness of a literary work. I like to think my love of meta-fiction and the trappings thereof were fostered in my youth with the Choose Your Own Adventure Series. Those books allowed the reader to choose directions and actions at certain points of action within the narrative, which led the protagonist (ostensibly, the reader) toward either victory, or (much more frequently) their untimely demise.

In her debut novel Haunt, author Laura Lee Bahr explores the form of Choose Your Own Adventures but like Samuel Beckett cutting sound or lighting or actors from his plays, Bahr subverts the form by removing the element of choice. What do you do, as the hero of the story, when those vital choices are wrenched away from you and you’re forced to live each of the possibilities in a schizophrenic pastiche of probability?

There are three characters of note in Haunt, all of whom are given plenty of time to shine. Simon is the dashing (sometimes) insane (sometimes) journalist who may or may not be involved in the mysterious death of me (Sarah) the ghost haunting your (Richard’s) apartment. There’s also a couch (which is yours, but did you bring it inside? Or did you leave out in the cold? Or did you do both? Or neither?) What’s under the cushions? Who is that singing? And what happened to Sarah to make her dead? This is a rare novel that brings up far more questions than it answers, but Bahr uses tricky plotting and exciting prose style to pull you along through the mystery without question. Haunt is not a book you’re allowed to read at your own speed. It controls the action, it controls the urgency, and it controls your mind. I loved the experience of paranoia creeping in as I read this late at night (culminating in a chapter that consists of only one single line, which I will not do you the disservice of ruining here. Suffice it to say, you’ll know it when you come to it).

Haunt is sexy and playful while still fitting nicely into the land of the supernatural campfire tale. It’s evident that Bahr has a strong background in film and theatre from reading her prose, as the dialogue is tight and the character studies are extremely well drawn. The best part about that is that once these characters have been established, Bahr pulls the rug out from under the reader and traps us inside a puzzle without a solution. I believe that everyone who reads this will come away with slightly different ideas about what really happened in that apartment, and whether they did the right thing (even though they may or may not have been able to change anything at all). A strong debut and a great, fun, eerie read by a fantastic young author. Highly recommended!

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