A House at the Bottom of a Lake
by Josh Malerman
Genre: Magical Realism/Horror
Publisher: Del Rey
Length: 208 pages
Release: 1/19/2021 (re-release)
About the Author: Josh Malerman is a New York Times bestselling author and one of two singersongwriters for the rock band The High Strung. His debut novel, Bird Box, is the inspiration for the hit Netflix film of the same name. His other novels include Unbury Carol, Inspection, and Malorie, the sequel to Bird Box. Malerman lives in Michigan with his fiancée, the artist-musician Allison Laakko.
Summary: Love is in the air when Amelia and James, two nervous teens, head out onto the lake for their very first date. It seems like the perfect spot, beautiful and serene, but they will soon discover that there is more to this lake than meets the eye. Below the water sits something impossible—a fully furnished, two-story house just waiting to be explored, almost as if it was put there just for them. And maybe it was, because every trip they take into the house brings them closer and closer together, until the love for each other and the love for the house have become one in the same. It seems like paradise, but as strange things start to happen, the two lovers can’t help but wonder; are they alone in this house at the bottom of a lake? It would seem not.
Josh Malerman’s re-released short novel, A House at the Bottom of a Lake, doesn’t stray far from its titular promise, but it really doesn’t need to. The premise is intriguing, the execution is gratifying, and the added touch of dark, whimsical magic—à la Neil Gaiman—is especially endearing, even in a relatively small space. Add to this an effective balance of skin-crawling creep factor and nostalgia-tickling teen romance, and what you get is a unique story that never fails to dive enthusiastically into the very things that make it different. Hardcore fans of the horror genre might find it a little tame, especially in comparison to Malerman’s other work—most notably the critically acclaimed Bird Box—but the true value of this novel is not measured in monsters alone, proving that the maze can be just as compelling as the Minotaur.
The length and depth of the story will be where most people stumble, and the abrupt ending leaves a bit to be desired, but there is something to say for calculated brevity, especially in the hands of a storyteller like Malerman, who’s love for the strange and unusual shines through on every page. In the end, nothing can take away from what is, in the grand scheme of things, an endearing character study of two likable teens who are falling in love for the very first time. Some may be left wanting more, and others may find themselves scratching their heads trying to figure out the bigger picture, but, for those who can appreciate this story for what it is and not what it isn’t, there is more than enough proof that big things can come in small packages.
From any angle, Josh Malerman’s A House at the Bottom of a Lake is sure to please, even if its smaller size and limited scope holds it back from making any top ten lists. However it ranks, this spooky little novel has a lot to offer, and we feel confident that most people will finish it for the same reason they started it; because there is a house at the bottom of a lake, and that’s pretty damn cool.