By James Han Mattson
Why do folks take pleasure in being scared?
This can be a fairly frequent query for these of us who write horror, or tales tinged with horror, and perhaps for individuals who design curler coasters too. Why do some folks get pleasure from terror?
It’s a query that might be posed to most of the characters in James Han Mattson’s insightful and gripping novel “Reprieve.” The story is about largely in Lincoln, Neb., and its focus is a spot known as the Quigley Home, a “‘full-contact’ haunted home.” What does that imply? It’s an expertise a few thousand instances extra intense than the enjoyable little haunted homes that pop up each Halloween, the place you wind via a maze of low cost plastic figures and badly amplified sound results.
The proprietor of the Quigley Home, John Forrester, describes the expertise this manner: “Folks may go away with cuts and bruises and minor shocks, nothing main. All the things is timed, every little thing is staged, every little thing is choreographed, however folks don’t essentially know that — they assume there’s an opportunity they are often harm, and due to this, one thing in them modifications, they turn out to be fully new folks, primitive.”
It must be famous that Forrester is providing this description as a part of his deposition in a legal case. As you may think from the time period “full-contact haunted home,” to not point out the essential wants of a novel, one thing has gone unsuitable throughout one of many haunts. Somebody has been harm far past the impacts of the “choreographed” occasions. What occurred? Who was harmed? Who brought on hurt? Mattson’s novel solutions these questions, however has much more it desires to discover. Like why the guests, who’re known as “contestants,” and the home staff would take part in such an ordeal in any respect.
Together with Forrester, Mattson’s forged contains Kendra Brown, a Black teenager who strikes to Nebraska together with her mom within the wake of her father’s dying; Bryan Douglas, her cousin, who already lives in Nebraska and turns into her lifeline when she arrives; Jaidee Charoensuk, a Thai change scholar on the College of Nebraska-Lincoln; and Leonard Grandton, a white resort supervisor who does enterprise with Forrester.
I’ve famous the races of every character as a result of questions of race are paramount to Mattson’s novel. On the floor, “Reprieve” is a narrative about an assault at a haunted home, however Mattson can also be investigating questions of id and energy, particularly who on this story controls fears and who’s topic to them. Fortunately, the reply isn’t so simple as having the Black and Thai characters undergo as victims of the highly effective whereas the white characters function the abusers. As an alternative, almost everybody right here takes turns in these roles, being harmed by the greed and prejudices of others after which displaying their very own not lengthy afterward. And but, the novel doesn’t faux every character is equally at fault; there are, in spite of everything, levels of energy and powerlessness. The haunted home on the heart of the narrative is a wonderful contact as a result of the concepts of hazard and hurt turn out to be materials, horrifying and imminent. At instances, the reader is trapped in Quigley Home with the contestants, in scenes which are genuinely unnerving.
Early on, Mattson name-checks a lot of horror greats: Clive Barker and Stephen King, for example. Like these writers, Mattson takes time acquainting the reader with the individuals who will ultimately endure nice ache and hardship. So we get quite a lot of background on Kendra, Jaidee and Leonard particularly. A lot of it’s attention-grabbing and significant, however I might say, as one may discover with Barker and King, there’s such a factor as an excessive amount of again story.
One other option to say that is that I stored eager to return to the terrors of Quigley Home. I needed to see who survived and who didn’t. After all, I cared about who did or didn’t make it out solely as a result of Mattson did such a nice job of creating these folks really feel actual and their pasts so satisfyingly complicated. Nonetheless, their histories may have been trimmed down right here and there, and nothing would have been misplaced.
Why do folks take pleasure in being scared? I wish to return to that query as a result of there’s one other, extra profound query tucked behind it: Why do folks like being manipulated?
After we learn or watch a horror story, or a romance, or a thriller, we normally know the way it’ll end up. Identical as once we climb aboard a dizzying curler coaster. We all know the way it will finish, however we wish to be taken on the journey. We belief that it’s only a journey and that’s why we will take pleasure in it. Folks wish to be manipulated, to expertise the emotional blitz of relinquishing energy, so long as they’ll belief that the expertise will probably be protected and that they’ll ultimately reclaim management. However what if the particular person on the high doesn’t have your finest pursuits in thoughts? What if, in truth, that particular person is completely satisfied to abuse and manipulate others to carry on to energy and fortune? How may these round such a pacesetter turn out to be warped, their worst impulses unleashed? In his sly means, Mattson turns his novel right into a portrait of present occasions. They usually have, certainly, been terrifying.