Friday, September 05, 2008

The Man on the Ceiling by Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem

The Man on the Ceiling (US, UK, Canada) is the re-imagined and expanded version of the novella of the same name that won the Bram Stoker Award, International Horror Guild Award, and the World Fantasy Award, the only work to ever win all three. With such a pedigree I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while, only to find disappointment as the unexpected lingering reaction.

This loose mosaic tells the near-autobiographical story of the Tem’s family, at times sad, tragic, and heart-wrenching, yet always hopeful. The madness in their method brings forth an often horrific life to the text – these tag-teamed stories cross back and forth from a world of magical realism to surreal, playing with reality to reveal the truth.

As shown in The Man on the Ceiling, the Tem’s lead an extraordinary life – they adopt troubled and abused children, raising and loving them as their own. The exploration of their past, and their lives with their children and all the fears of life lies at the heart of this mosaic. A year ago I would have reacted very differently to this book, but now I have entered the world of parenthood. Part of the Tem’s journey that is shared deals with the death of a child. In the past I would have found this appropriately tragic, but not having children, I would not have had a true connection and relation to such a tragedy. As a parent nothing causes more dread than the even the thought of a child dying, much less my own. It’s this aspect of the book that affected me most.

In many books the reader can’t help but wonder home much is taken from an author’s own life. The Man on the Ceiling repeatedly emphasizes that ‘everything we tell you is true’. With this statement a line is crossed, the world of fiction blends into the intimate lives of the authors. So assured of the autobiographical elements, I eventually found myself questioning that very ascertain of truth – have the Tem’s turned a common reaction upside down?

Literary – the word comes with baggage in the genre world, yet literary describes The Man on the Ceiling well. Through the exploration of the Tem’s lives universal fears and conditions are revealed strait out of the American heartland. Plot is fluid, unfocused, even nonexistent. Reality twists, turns, and climbs on the ceiling to reveal truth. Such an exploration won’t appeal to all – in fact, it didn’t exactly appeal to me. As powerful as the Tem’s story is, it feels as if it pulls up short, not going the full length it could and should have. I expected a powerful affect on me that would linger for days and even weeks after finishing the book – not only is this affect absent, but the book is already fading away to obscurity. Combined with this not being my usual reading fare and the lack of that final, expected punch, I’m left with luke-warm (at best) feelings for the book. 6/10


Carl V. said...

I've been waiting and waiting for your review of this one! I think you really hit some things on the head very well and I too was disappointed with the book.

I thought portions of it were wonderful, but those were like hidden pearls in a sea of loose associations. Much of what I liked had to do with their ideas about story and storytelling and at the same time I honestly felt like this was a book that was written by people whose knowledge of story was so far over my head that I was just lost. Now the reality may be that it just wasn't a well written book, but I certainly had that "it must just be me" feeling as I read the book.

I also have to admit that I didn't find it particularly scary and don't understand it being shelved in the horror section of bookstores. Maybe it is because I never got night terrors as a child or an adult, but for some reason their descriptions of it didn't bring up the creepy fear reaction I expected once I found this book shelved in horror.

For the most part I just didn't get it, it was too disjointed and strange...and I've certainly liked disjointed and strange novels in the past. The whole time I was reading it (and this was one I was on the lookout for because I like the work of the cover artist a lot) I kept thinking 'is this going to get any better?'. Sadly it doesn't. I think I would agree wholeheartedly with the 6/10 grade.

Thanks for reading this and reviewing it, it certainly helps me put my thoughts on it in more perspective.

Neth said...

I generally agree, though I did find parts of the book to be a bit horrifying, if not exactly scary. It's definately not like any horror book I've read before and if it were up to me to define, horror is not the tag line I'd choose.

Here is another review that might interest you over at FantasyBookSpot. It's a bit more in-depth than my review, but with similar conclusions.


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