You can feel Lydia Roberson's strong enthusiasm for the genre the moment you start reading her debut short story collection, Fright House. The first story, "Crawl", reads like a cross between Edgar Allen Poe and David Cronenberg, and is among the best in the collection. Nevertheless, it is plagued by the problems that persist throughout Fright House, rendering it in the end an unsatisfying and often frustrating read.
A work like this shows us the issues inherent in the phenomenon of self-publication. On the one hand, we have a work by an author with obvious affection for and dedication to what she's writing about--there is passion in these pages. But on the other hand, we also have a collection of tales held together by a flimsy concept that's never fully explored, either on an individual or group level. Plus, the constant barrage of spelling, grammatical and syntax errors is more than any reader should reasonably be expected to get through--Fright House screams out for your blood, but screams even louder for an editor.
The overarching theme that ties Fright House together is the trope of the haunted house. Each of the unusually short pieces explore the effects of these houses on their unfortunate inhabitants. There are some interesting ideas here--the ghost of a spurned lover who trades places with his beloved in "Pay Me Back"; the bizarre personification of death in "The Drummer". Unfortunately, Roberson seems to be more an idea person than anything else--though strong in places, much of the writing reads like something from a college creative writing class.
Alas, this brings me back to the whole self-publication thing. Am I holding Fright House to unnecessarily high standards? I don't think so. If one is putting one's book out there with other books from legit publishing houses, there's no reason it shouldn't be judged by the same literary standards. And despite the zeal and creative approach Roberson takes, the finished product just doesn't hold up.
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