Have you read this book?
Here’s how Jack Ketchum begins his intro to T. M. Wright’s Cold House:
“A woman and her dog, alone in an old, Cold House with many rooms, fearful of the even colder world outside.
A man searching through a city he cannot even name.
They are lovers.”
That’s all he’ll say about the plot of the book. And this IS the plot stripped down to its barest essentials. But this wouldn’t make for much of a review if I simply left it at that. So I figured I’d go into a bit more detail about this wonderful, haunting book Mr. Wright has created.
The woman in the previously quoted synopsis is named Elizabeth. The man is Michael. And, yes, they are lovers. They are also two unique and wonderfully developed characters, shaped by childhood events they find themselves incapable – – quite understandably – – of escaping as adults. Elizabeth, who was faced with the sudden decline in her mother’s mental well-being; Michael, who was forced to deal with the constant emotional abuse heaped upon him by his father. The narrative jumps back and forth through time giving the reader firsthand accounts of the traumas suffered by each character.
For Elizabeth, there was the incident at her ninth birthday party when her mother came in carrying the cake and singing Happy Birthday, repeating it over and over and louder and louder, eventually simply mouthing the words until the candles had completely melted. At this point Elizabeth had turned to her friends and said that they should probably call their parents to come and get them. There was also the occurrence, years later, when she brought home the boy she was dating to meet her mother who they found in the sewing room, working at the sewing machine, completely ignoring her visitors. Eventually Elizabeth had walked over to discover that her mother held no cloth, that there was no thread in the machine.
And for Michael, well, one episode stands out above all others… After a particularly bad day at school he was sitting in his room, working on a poem. It began with the words “Daddy, dear Daddy,” and went on to proclaim such things as “But you’re as scary as disease, Daddy” and “Sir, yes I am stupid, Sir, yes I am.” After discovering and reading the poem, his father came to visit Michael. It was nighttime and Michael was in bed trying to sleep.
His father told him that he wasn’t angry, that there was no point in being angry at something that didn’t even exist. He then approached the bed and proceeded to urinate on his son as he lay there unmoving then left the room and closed the door quietly behind him. Is it any wonder that over the years Michael found himself increasingly drifting into trance-like states in which he escaped to imaginary and far-off places?
The book has a certain air of inevitability about it, as though these two characters were born to find one another, to fully understand one another as no one else possibly could, and to fall in love. And just as inevitably they would lose each other and they themselves would be lost: one alone within the endlessly roomed Cold House of the book’s title, the other within a dark city filled with strange people, places, and names. The depictions of their brief time together are poignant and beautiful, their separation tragic and sad.
Will Michael and Elizabeth ever be able to escape their respective prisons? Will they be able to find each other once again, to continue with the all-too-suddenly ended task they had previously undertaken, that of healing one another? Well, this is one aspect of the plot I will not give away. I will say, though, that Cold House is one of the more emotionally stirring books you are sure to read and that T. M. Wright has created a book that should find a welcome place on the shelves of dark fiction fans everywhere.