THE CHARACTERS: The cast of characters is small and contained. Raucher is more interested in the effects of a solitary man continuing his life of isolation in rural America after the horrendous life of a Vietnam soldier. It's a curious type of war veteran fiction which was popular in the late 1970s and continuing into the next decade. While writers like Tim O'Brien (author of Going After Cacciato, et al.) captured the horror of Vietnam both in and out of the jungles and of the many survivors' nightmares of PTSD, Raucher explores the camaraderie that develops between soldiers to tell a story of a friendship that manages to retain a deep bond even after death. The novel is one of claustrophobia and solitariness. Loneliness also obviously features strongly in the narrative. Austin meets only four people over the course of the novel and he is constantly travelling back in time via his memories to recall those rare moments of quiet when he and Maynard would talk of Maine, the cabin, and life far removed from Vietnam.
|US paperback (Berkley, 1981 )|
INNOVATIONS: Raucher skillfully plays with the reader's perception in his clever manipulation of fact and dream and memory. The opening chapters seem to be told in real time and Austin seems to be meeting living people. But by the end of the novel a bizarre, almost science fiction, element is introduced that changes everything that occurred previously. One never really knows what was truth, what was dreamed up from Austin's memory of Vietnam, and what was orchestrated by the powerful presence that manages to control time, place, and all who live in the cabin near the witch's tree. It's one of the most unique contemporary treatments of a haunted house story incorporating fantasy and science fiction elements recalling the work of Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and H. P. Lovecraft. Raucher's method takes a less weird path than his predecessors, rather the narrative is confined in the tortured mind of a war veteran. Still, the final chapters cannot be dismissed as anything other than some of the best weird fiction writing of the late 20th century.
|UK Hardcover (Michael Joseph, 1981)|
QUOTES: "There'll be the Devil to pay, " she said, not waiting for his response, leading him about on the rock instead, dancing him to a music he only faintly began to hear--church bells and strings, too distant to comprehend.
He cupped his hand to her chin, raising the dear face to his, sighting it for a kiss. But the eyes looking up at him were so filled with cold and withering hate that the kiss never came to pass. It lasted for but a moment, that look, but all the same it struck him with the thin rage of a stiletto, inflicting no wound yet inferring a bloodless and incredulous death.
The night passed, Austin becoming accustomed to the amorphous haunts that populated it. His house, for some time, had been schizoid. By day it was as bright and inviting as a house could be--a Christmas card, a Robert Frost poem. But by night it was Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, a foreboding thing of shapeless terrors and a casual shadows, a cold place where no lantern lasted the night and no fire emanated any warmth.
"A house is a place to go back to, to regroup in. A house is a kind of special corner of the universe. It's a place where everyone whoever lived in it still does."
"What you're sayin', Maynard, is what I know. I got a lot of company here."
"That's the nature of a house. It absorbs its occupants, kind of keepin' them forever alive."
THE AUTHOR: Herman Raucher began his career in advertising, but soon had success as a writer for TV programs in the 1950s. He then branched out to movies as a screenwriter. He received notoriety for his first movie script, the racially charged satire Watermelon Man (1970), now a cult movie of sorts, with Godfrey Cambridge in the title role of a bigoted white man who wakes up one morning to discover he has transformed into a black man. His most famous writing is the script for Summer of '42 and its later novelization. Other movie work include a script based on the 1967 Grammy nominated ballad "Ode to Billy Joe" about a teenage suicide and an adaptation of Sidney Sheldon's potboiler The Other Side of Midnight. Raucher's other work include the play Harold (1962), produced on Broadway starring Anthony Perkins and co-starring Don Adams, and the novels A Glimpse of Tiger (1971) and There Should Have Been Castles (1979).