by Molly Collins (@mollyec)
A cold, snowy landscape; a protagonist grappling with the ghosts of his past; a witch tree surrounded by animals acting strangely; and a long history of tenants fleeing a haunted house. These are the ingredients Herman Raucher makes use of in his novel Maynard’s House, and by all means, it ought to have resulted in a delightful little horror story. So how did it go so wrong?
BEHIND THE PEN
Born in Brooklyn in 1928, Raucher started his career as a cartoonist and later became an advertising executive—he was on the team that developed the ad campaign for Disneyland’s grand opening! When off the clock, Raucher began writing plays as well as television and movie scripts. He also wrote novelizations for some of his movies, including Watermelon Man and the box office hit he’s known for today, Summer of ’42.
Maynard’s House is an original novel, rather than a novelization, although a film adaptation was in the works before eventually fizzling out. It was his last novel, and Raucher has since retired from writing and from the public eye.
A NO-SPOILER SUMMARY
The year is 1972, and Austin Fletcher has returned from the Vietnam War. He’s on his way to Belden, Maine, where he has a house waiting for him—a haunted house that his war buddy Maynard Whittier bequeathed to him upon his death. In the Maine wilderness, he encounters strange beasts and odd people, and even as he blunders through the Northern winter, Maynard’s house has its own plans for him.
VOICES FROM WITHIN
We began Maynard’s House with optimism. On the first day of discussion, we were intrigued by the story’s humble beginnings, and had high hopes for where it would lead us. The last scene we read for that day featured an erotic encounter with the fauna of the Maine woods, leading to delight and copious innuendos. Readers pointed to the witty banter as a highlight of the book so far. We excitedly wondered who the witch was and what her plans were. @Frylock conjectured that Austin was already dead, and the peaceful Maine landscape was really Hell.
There were some mixed opinions, even at that early stage. Several HOWLers found Austin to be a bit of an asshole, and we debated whether his PTSD excused that or not. Some didn’t quite jibe with the prose, especially that phonetically spelled Maine accent. Even with these misgivings, the majority of readers were willing to withhold judgement. We decided to wait and see where the promising beginning led us.
In the words of the ever eloquent @Frylock at the dawn of the second discussion, “This sure went from a furry book to a pedo book real quick.”
A mild spoiler: in the second part of the book, Austin meets two local kids named Ara, 16, and Froom, her 12-year-old brother. Austin, 23, is immediately attracted to the teenage girl. HOWLers were—understandably—grossed out. Although there was a little speculative discussion on that day (perhaps Ara was the witch? We were really interested in the briefly-mentioned witch), most of it was spent complaining about how an underage romance wasn’t necessary and didn’t serve to move the plot forward. It had soured our feelings so much that little else was discussed that day. @Fossie shared an article about Raucher and his own experience with an unwanted underage encounter, which you can read here (please be aware that this article discusses the sexual assault of a minor). HOWLers discussed whether this was Raucher’s way of dealing with his own trauma, but the extra knowledge wasn’t enough to save the book.
As we trickled in on the last day of discussion to talk about the ending, we were spared a few minutes of pedophilia discussion to try to figure out what was up with that ending. At long last, we were able to see the full picture, with our disjointed puzzle pieces of weird animals, mysterious fires, witches, hot pencil, and PTSD! The final result… a pile of disconnected puzzle pieces tied together with fraying string. HOWLS was full of questions. Why was the PTSD theme picked back up after being ignored for most of the book? What is hot pencil? What happened to the animals? And most importantly, was the pedophilia really necessary?
HOWLers were left scratching their heads wondering how so much potential could result in such a garbage fire of a book. The disgust at the contents coupled with the complete failure to create a cohesive narrative left a sour taste in most readers’ mouths, as evidenced in their reviews.
WELCOME TO THE BLURBS: HOWL SOCIETY MEMBERS’ REVIEWS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
- No. just…no.
- The description of this book promised a spooky story about a veteran coping with the trauma of war in an isolated setting. Instead, we got a story about a grown man lusting after a teenage (maybe pre-teen) girl.
- Weird ass hallucinatory blend of Thoreau, rural Maine culture, and I don’t know what. I’m not sure I knew what was actually happening ever, but one lesson I learned: lock your doors…or the deer will steal your crackers!
- I curated the list for this week and worked so hard to only have one blizzard on the list, we chose the blizzard and it was a mistake…Imagine the obnoxious 19 year old cis het white man writes an ode to Thoreau with underdeveloped horror elements that had a lot of potential but didn’t deliver, a reference to PTSD in Vietnam veterans with no actual reflection, and questionable sexual ethics – you’ve got Maynard’s House.
- There was so much potential with this – a story [of a] traumatized guy back from Vietnam in an isolated, haunted (!?) house in wintry Maine – but it fell flat for me. Most points where I thought it would get into some serious spookiness, it was instead a “huh” or a “meh” or a “that’s… weird” reaction instead. It still might have been decent, but the 23-year-old protagonist’s crush on a 16-year-old really squicked me out.
- This book taught me that I can be won over INCREDIBLY easy by witty banter. You can have silliness, you can have unlikable characters who really toe the line of acceptable behavior at the best of times, but if they’re charmingly combative, I’m SOLD.
- I came for a haunted house story, instead the only real creep was our protagonist. Needed way more thrills and chills from the actual house, and less creepy pedophilia between Austin and Ara. This was an awesome set up full of opportunity to explore the history of the home, Austin’s trauma, isolation and loneliness… anything. Anything at all.
- This book had been on my TBR list for a long time, and now I wish I’d never heard of it. The book focuses way more on Austin’s creepy crush on an underage girl than it does on the creepy haunted house vibes. There were some spooky moments I did enjoy, and the setting was wonderful, but the story’s treatment of the underage girl character was absolutely unforgivable. Ugh! Stay away from this!
Maynard’s House was a book that could have been delightful. It was something that was funny at parts, and serious at others, but Raucher never managed to gather all the pieces together into a cohesive narrative. The lust for a minor was the nail in the coffin, dragging a middle-of-the-road book down to its grave.