22 thoughts on “Deadfall Hotel – Steve Rasnic Tem

  1. Chapter One THE FUNHOUSE

    Up to “I can help you, Richard.”


    “Richard could imagine the dead looking down from their private apartments in Heaven, gazing with a surfeit of arrogant pity at the poor, uncomprehending families they’d abandoned. Easier to imagine that, than to imagine nothing.”

    Llafdaed sounds like a Welsh placename. But that is nothing to do with this book, I guess.
    An engaging start, a poignant start, a slightly absurdist start, Richard and his daughter Serena, he still having visions of his now dead wife, Serena’s mother, killed by a house fire – his deadpan sense of guilt – as he takes Serena to a funhouse maze with distorting mirrors (just like my real-time review labyrinth) whence he thinks he has to rescue her. Then an interview for a job at the eponymous hotel. But why was the interview at Richard’s home, not at the hotel itself?
    No more plot give-aways from me. Just my reactions.

  2. From “He had never really enjoyed driving” to end of chapter


    “I have, perhaps, revealed too much already, I’m afraid.”

    As RIchard arrives at the hotel with Serena, I am struck by this being a tantalising gestalt of a type of Aickman novel you have always wished Aickman might have written before he died – with a soupçon of Alice in Wonderland. And other intangible aspects so far original to our own wishfulness for Tem’s own pre-posthumous legacy.
    Rituals, privacies, strange perspectives of journey, side-mirrors, haunted marital mourning, these and more all factored in…

  3. Chapter Two: BLOODWOLF

    Up to “No, Richard, learn to treasure it.”


    “It was a time of grass that grew too quickly to mow, and in nooks and crannies too out of the way to trim. And it was a time of blood. Richard’s daughter was becoming a woman.”

    We grow darkly captivated by Richard’s overseer, Jacob Ascher, as from excerpts in Jacob’s own diary and by Richard’s own account of Jacob, say, manfully grappling with the hotel’s deadfall incursions and other infestations that need capturing, if not captivating like us.
    And a new guest… Read on, dear reader, to find more about this guest, as I will do so also, soon.
    A sense of complementarity, too, with Stephen Poliakoff’s latest drama serial on British TV (Close to the Enemy.) Apt that I should have picked up this book while in-media-res with that serial. Another young girl in a large hotel, inter alios.
    Meanwhile, I also sense things about Serena’s precocious development and Richard’s recent loss of his wife. Highly poignant and meaningful, especially, also, as I happen to be simultaneously real-timing THE CEREMONIES (1985) by TED Klein, particularly today’s reviewing episode with that book (here) as regard sexual epochs…

  4. From “Richard and Serena sat out in the front lobby” to “Soft sighs under the dry whisper of sheets.”


    “The first time I stayed here, it was a Mr. Grant who was the manager. William. A quiet, dark man, that one, said almost nothing. As ‘other’ as his guests. That one didn’t die, I believe. He was simply lost on a midnight’s journey to the lavatory. Perhaps he booked himself into a room.”

    This book and the history of the hotel, so far richly seeps such a hinterland as that. There is also an insidious feel, a strange-Aickman-absurdist one, a Tem one, and I fear for Serena’s safety – but the danger to her from whom? The old lady guests who regularly play ritual badminton with a flighty shuttlecock? Probably not.

  5. From “The Deadfall was periodically infested” up to end of chapter.


    “Walls suddenly became new passages. Passages suddenly became solid walls.”

    Don’t mention the war. Though Jacob mentions Hitler in one of the lessons as Serena’s in-house tutor. And Richard’s late wife increasingly seems to present an uxorial tutelage over him from death’s approaching distance …. like Sybil once did over Basil in real life…
    And Deadfall increasingly becomes for me a nightmarish Expressionist painting with Jekyll-Hyde and Red Riding Hood-the wolf becoming a shapeshifting theme, worm sticks and birthday parties, notwithstanding.
    The inscrutable other guests, too

  6. Chapter Three: THE KING OF THE CATS
    Up to “Then so be it. Go spend some time with your daughter.”


    “She was no longer part of his life, really. He might wave to her in the hall; she might smile his way. But she was no longer part of his life. She had moved on. He needed to move on as well.”

    ….his dead wife, still that tutelary force. Seen ever with love but also with attempted candid clarity regarding her habits and ways during life. But ever impenetrable like the habits and ways of the hotel itself. The bodily intricacies of a human female’s trajectory of corridors, too? The tragedies of her life, and how one particular foetus is part of some obsessive panoply of foetuses that Serena knows instinctively about but can hardly grasp, foetuses that for me grow into the naked hidden guests we can hardly expect to meet in the unmapped and unmappable corridors, There is some kind of emotion intensely powerful underlying the tropes of this book, I feel. And, indeed, its text reaches conceptual overdrive in this section, but I already thought it had reached overdrive before, and if this is overdrive NOW, what can we expect of its future overdrive? The mind stretching in readiness. Stretching towards the eschatology surrounding a quote from Dylan Thomas in Jacob’s diary. A philosophy, firstly impenetrable like the hotel, but one that slowly, as a result of that provocative impenetrability, creates an oblique meaningfulness about the human lot, and the existential angst that I find grows easier with age.
    The hotel seems to be a mutated structure a bit like a Whovian Tardis? And, indeed, there is overdrive about the hotel itself, too, some of it oblique like the visits from bus drivers. And then we have the annual cleaning of the hotel with an army of cleaners when most guests make themselves scarce. Richard has his work cut out organising it. He is a trainee version of Jacob, subject to the latter’s mentoring. Serena subject to Jacob’s tutoring.
    (After all, Existentialism is all about the Absurd.)

  7. From “One of the cleaning crew found the thing” to “but he would make sure this cat was not found again.”


    “He discovered that besides reading everything she could find concerning babies and small animals, her personal studies had recently turned to volumes of folklore concerning dragons.”

    Serena is at that “temperamental” age that we fathers of daughters know very well!
    There continues to be some very strong writing – each an overdrive of an overdrive in continued accretion that we readers are tutored or mentored by the sense-flows to accept without blinking. No point in diving straight into purple prose without putting one’s toe in the grey first. Here the exponentialities of a creature’s birth from a paint tin to the exploration of the hotel’s outside Deadfall (I nearly wrote Dadfall!)

  8. From “The chaos of the cleaning” to “pushing it up against her doors.”


    “But he’d been the same way at her age. No one really liked growing up, the way the body, the mind, changed. He remembered feeling like some sort of animal. In fact, he remembered smelling like some sort of animal. Cornered and in a constant state of confusion. Transformed. As if you didn’t know what kind of animal you were going to turn out to be.”

    More of the Alice-like? Animal Farm, too. HItchcock’s cinematic birds, in the shape of cats. Even taking Serena in the overdrive car, to slip away from the mass feline attackers…
    This is becoming the most (provide your own adjective) novel I’ve ever read, I guess. But does it work? I can’t actually imagine or empathise with Tem sitting down actually WANTING to write these scenes into the book, much less Cleese sitting down to write Fawlty Towers, with any hope of its eventual legacy of iconicity. But Tem does and Bravo! I say. There are more ways than one to skin a squirrel. Time will tell.
    As to the mass cleaning of the hotel, meanwhile, why did they leave out cleaning the windows?

    “Besides, most of the guests would not help in any case. Remember that they are of a different world – it simply rubs up against ours now and again. Most of them would be quite unable to parse what the fuss was all about.”

  9. From “Sometime in the middle of the night,” up to end of chapter.

    Ah, those who post loving pictures of their cats on social media should steer clear of this chapter’s end scenes. Bur I have no sympathy with THEM, of course. And I sense the attitude of Richard and his authorial doll-master stems from the uxorial residue still present and the ‘candid clarity’ I mentioned above. (“The cat needed to be let out, the cat needed to be fed. His turn. He never took responsibility. He never did what he was supposed to.”) The ‘candid clarity’ of cats, too.

    Peepholes and Escher, and I hope the author and his publisher will forgive me for making more quotes than usual from this section. They grow on you.

    “Some of those things you really didn’t want to see, but you’d paid your fifty cents so you just had to look.”img_2626

    “No more than you, my friend. I simply have a dark turn of mind. It is one of the qualifications for working here. When I’m with other people with similar dark turns of mind, and when we’re looking at the same scenes, it’s not too difficult to guess what you’re thinking.”

    “None of us is entirely safe in this world. It’s understandable when a father cannot accept that. We do what we can.”

    “The Deadfall makes you live up to your potential. Good or bad – it’s all the same to the Hotel.”

    “On Christmas Eve, the cats get on their knees to pray.”

    “Now we’re both in the dollhouse, he thought, and it did not reassure him. We’ll never get back out.”

    We learn much… And even MY Dreamcatcher net couldn’t catch it all. And talking about cats and peepholes, above is my own wife’s latest quilt…

  10. Chapter Four: THE CRAVING (up to “Sleeping, or dead?”)


    “These pipes are old.

    Not cold.
    After the low-grade ‘fun’ of battling with horrible cats, we are now back into the wondrous realms of this book’s Rasnic Temmery. Back to the intricacies of the Hotel itself, its pipes of plumbing and sew-age, also relating to age itself and to bodily passages, the repulsion-and-attraction byways of marital sex. Also winter, the nature of snow and unenthusiasm for Christmas (topical for me in real-time) held by the Hotel denizens – and Serena outside in the cold with a new woman tenant, a woman-to-woman liaison in the bud, perhaps, despite the new one, Mary Rosenow (Rosie?), looking a bit like Serena’s late mother – and there is a general tenant diaspora because of the cold, although I think the mysterious central heating embedded in those pipes keeps it warm by some sort of inexplicable synergy with the Deadfall tree outside, a tree that now gives out pareidoliac shapes for at least one tenant. But why tenants; I thought they were residents.
    I enjoyed the concept of the Checklist, a sort of tenant stocktaking.
    The tomahawk syndrome, too!

    “Of course, death changes most things, but not everything.”

    “The deadness of the winter here,” he continued, “it makes everyone nervous at first, even our long-term residents. The sudden… nakedness, I suppose.”

    “If you do not face the wolf sometime, it’s likely to circle around behind you.”

    • I am autonomously conscious that I may have inadvertently allowed an odd plot spoiler or two above, by nature of real-time reviewing. For this, I apologise, but as this book was published four years ago or so, many will be re-living this great work alongside me rather than for the first time.

  11. From “Alone in his bed” up to end of chapter.


    “….if you are denied a better love, you will settle for any love.”

    There is something effulgent, ephemeral, going on here, uncertain, too, but rhapsodic and rapturous, with a brief wind past a headstone called Renfield. A craving indeed. The moving feast of women’s rôles around Richard, as daughter, late wife, a late mother, lover, assailant, stalker, bloodsucker, and a mix of those women interacting between themselves and late-labelled, to an extent that one of them needs urgently shipping out from the hotel to protect her, and there is also the one I called Rosie now called Marie, earlier Mary, overshadowed by the clever-by-half tutelage of Jacob, and the perhaps living hotel itself. You need to summon up the sinews of power-reading to tap such stuff from the bereaved heart, stuff that even perhaps the heart-owner itself fails to encompass. You simply know there IS something reciprocal to encompass, if you are able to do so. Differentiating dead from dead. And concupiscence from cremation.

  12. Chapter Five: IN MEMORY OF HEAVEN, up to “we will both be tested.”


    “In other words, it’s best to rein in the imagination when looking at this, umm, compost?”

    Serena back, Mary gone, now you read on to see the sweep of imagination needed to disrupt past blots and future Rorschach pareidolia in plant layers of death and life, this the seemingly endless spring disposal of nature’s growth and decay, each pile with its images from scribbled mulch or things within. Things within like your past secrets, secrets even from the close uxorial mate of your life, sometimes a retrocausal thing from her real death later, a bird returned into your past?
    The darkness fairy, a memory of heaven itself retrocausal? The managers of 1930s yore in the past of the name Hotel Deadfall marked on the incinerators, Hitler and Stalin…?
    The pulse of life, the non-pulse of future death.
    RIchard is told that a religious group convention is about to arrive at the hotel.
    There continues to be miraculous writing in this book, whence and whereto is met a couple’s synchronous creation.
    “…we will both be tested” indeed.

  13. From “The next day the Reverend Johnson et al. arrived” to “Annabelle out of there.”


    “…many of them appeared obviously saddened to be so left out, faces yearning like children with no presents at Christmastime.”

    “Annabelle leading Serena through this group, no doubt reciprocating Serena’s tour through the hotel, holding hands the way little girls will, with that talent for making ‘best friends forever’ at a moment’s notice.”

    A seminal, sermonal section, I feel, when darkness (lights flickering with tinned fruit junction boxes) becomes — today in my real-time of all days, out of kilter as well as in tune with THEN — “of an ancient variety”, a Vessel like John Cowper Powys’ Holy Grail, in a novel Aickman should have written given a longer life. Like that Pageant by the Lake.
    Exorcising, cleaning the hotel of other ownership, the Devil’s?
    Cocktail groups of religious discussion – and there is so much wisdom and truth from all quarters in this book, amidst the effective backdrop of absurdism and dark Weird Fiction, the only backdrop optimal for such godly or ungodly work.
    I also love Annabelle’s mother, Rev Johnson’s wife. A character to die for.

    “I’m not sure we can have any salvation, in fact, without imagining.”

  14. From “Richard found Jacob” to end of chapter


    “People are always wanting to get through things, to get over things.”

    Cute and Cure are only one letter different. They say children grow up even before you’ve noticed they’ve even begun.
    Aspirational Horror Without Victims, a Cure or Kill, Healing, Religion, childish attitude towards death, a grown-up being similarly child-like, but being grown-up retrocausated us to become constrained and uncute, a wrong-headed attitude towards bereavement and the potential resurrection of the body without such a healing process, say, hinging limbs the wrong way.
    Attenuation and relative height.
    Gravestones and relics.
    (Born to be resurrected. Like a born-again Christian. thinking of Easter on Christmas Day?)
    Brainstorming the human condition.
    Dark connections of unnatural magicking of resurrection or healing that do the mutating of the loving arms of the couple tangled within each other….
    But –
    “Jacob claimed there was a wealth of useful information here if you knew how to weed out the ridiculous.”
    A real-time poem as a book review. At least for a while. ‘The Hotel’ with hole not heal or health embedded?

  15. Chapter Six: PHANTASMAGORIA up to “when house and sister work as one.”


    “Hanging from much of the ceiling was a huge, continuous fishnet. Jittering shadows danced on the other side of its thick strands.”

    My dreamcatcher net, my hawling device, and I shall perhaps always know this Christmas (alongside its family importance to me) as my Deadfall Hotel Christmas, hopefully not my ‘Last Christmas’. For unaccountable reasons, I have never read this seminal Weird Fiction work till now, which is surprising, I suppose, in view of my previous deep interest in Tem’s work (my previous reviews here.)
    Perhaps it was simply meant to be read now, at the clinched hindsight Gestalt of an optimal moment. There is nothing so great as pretence that becomes constructive pretentiousness. There are many more ways to skin a squirrel, as I said before somewhere above … leading to this chapter’s “The Crooked House, A Story for Children, by M.M. Malachiuk.” A book written by a previous hotel manager, with Richard now its new full-fledged manager, I guess.
    Some brilliant descriptions of the hotel library and its books. This book itself is like an overcrowded museum of weird oddities, curiosities, freakish specimens but also teeming with truths and dark wisdoms, and aids to death and bereavement. And outlandish absurdities. Crowding in with increasing believability that any book can thus be crammed and still survive.
    “Books are safer than dreams.” Irony or truth? You will need to read this book yourself to find out. But you probably have read it already.
    The hauntingly immanent, sometimes raging, uxoriality and Lewis’s Bleeding Nun.
    RIchard’s growing realisation of the nature of the Hotel and what is happening accretively to it now.
    The painting with fat grazing sheep and purple mountains retrieved from the cellar at Serena’s request.
    The Fantascope.
    The millipedal cleaners.
    And much more. Crammed to the rafters.
    Still a bit yet to read, though, to empty my head or fill it even fuller…its bereavements radiated backwards from the future, when a death can come at any time for anyone in these discrete years of ever more crammed potential deaths. Wake me up before you go-go.

  16. From “Richard read to the end of the book” to the end of the book.


    “Most ordinary people, certainly, were monsters. Their skin was scarred, their recesses stank, they hid their motivations behind tired, pain-stained eyes. When they looked at themselves in mirrors what they saw was strange and unpredictable, and yet nothing unfamiliar at all.”

    But we live together, rub along, tantamount to childhood sweethearts till now & forever. Wiring up the tinned peaches junction box in the wall? Et al.

    These closing sections are probably the most humanly powerful in the whole book, and that’s saying something! A power fed by cramming, unlike most other books that are more diluted or more easily paced in the misguided belief we can’t cope with being crammed.
    Brainstorming the human condition, I said earlier above. But this book has a new process that is different to brainstorming, more radical, more deep-seated with a sense of responsibility for our family or children. Those we usually spend Christmases with.

    TV has awful things to show and it is not a funhouse anymore. The Pool room cometh. To drown your cats in.

    “– but we don’t live in Usual, USA, now do we?”


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