The Cellar Paperback – Mar 15 1990
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About the Author
Richard Layman was born in Chicago in 1947. He grew up in California and has a BA in English Literature from Willamette University, Oregon, and an MA from Loyola University, Los Angeles. He has worked as a schoolteacher, a librarian, a mystery magazine editor and a report writer for a law firm. He now works full-time as a writer. His novel FLESH was shortlisted for the prestigious Bram Stoker Award, as were FUNLAND and his short story collection, A GOOD, SECRET PLACE. Richard Layman is the author of many acclaimed works of horror and suspense, including THE STAKE, SAVAGE, AFTER MIDNIGHT and the three novels in the Beast House Chronicles: THE CELLAR, THE BEAST HOUSE and THE MIDNIGHT TOUR. He lives in California with his wife and daughter.
Top Customer Reviews
Do not read this book unless you are a fan of the violent and bloody rape of children.
Now for a few examples so you get some of the reason this is terrible, beyond the bad writing. The main character, a woman and a daughter run from an ex who has been let out of prison. Sometimes her daughter acts like she's five years old, other times she talks like she's thirty. The sister of the mother dies a terrible death and the mother finds out. She's distraught. Well, not too badly because within about an hour she's having passionate sex with a guy she met the day before. This guy is a mercenary, a man who kills, justifiably evidently, a real macho guy. Yet in a scene where the ex enters a hotel room he is said to mutter a phrase, which is immediately followed by a scared whining phrase, and in the third sentence the author adds an exclamation point, as though this guy is hysterical.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
'The Cellar' is one of his best in that it couples this stripped-down readability with an absolutely merciless plot. At his peak, you can never tell how Laymon will end his tales, who will die, who will live and what will be left of them. The conclusion of 'The Cellar' is legendary and it thoroughly deserves this status.
If you like horror fiction, be it Poe or Barker or Blackwood or Hutson, give this book a try. Nobody ever wrote quite like this before.
The Cellar opens up (after a brief prologue) with Donna Hayes finding out that her ex-husband Roy has just been released from prison. Roy is a true villain with no redeeming value to speak of, and he is out for revenge against his former spouse. He also intends to take up again his "romance" with their pre-teen daughter, Sandy. With a few hours head start, Donna and Sandy flee to Northern California, where after a car accident, they find themselves stuck in the small town of Malcasa Point.
This town has one tourist feature, the Beast House, where some disturbing killings have taken place over the years. Fortunately, the creature that supposedly lurks within only goes come out at night and never leaves the house. Hence, during the day, it has tours. Larry Usher, one of the rare survivors of a Beast attack when he was a kid, finds he is still haunted by the creature; he recruits Jud, a mysterious mercenary, to take out the creature.
Eventually, the paths of all these characters will cross. It's obvious that Donna will eventually be trapped between Roy and the Beast and that romance will bloom between her and Jud, one of those virtuous assassins that seem to only exist in fiction. It is to Laymon's credit, however, that he does not always go in obvious directions, and there are twists that lead to a logical if unexpected conclusion.
This is not a perfect book. Laymon's efforts to make Roy repulsive are effective yet sometimes overly gratuitous. Also, although this would actually be the first time he used this theme, he tends to produce more woman-in-jeopardy stories than the Lifetime Channel movie division. All the novels I've read of his follow this idea, albeit in different fashions. Even with his flaws, however, Laymon writes well enough and The Cellar is a quick, suspenseful read.
By the end of the book, which is hardly a challenging read, you are so battered by the violence and the sexual depravity that you hope there's a decent denouement, but no such thing happens. I won't go into details, but the final "twist" is so contrived and ridiculous that you have to just shake your head and toss the book aside in disgust. The resolution of the conflict with Roy, in particular, is poor payment for the long, foul passages you have to endure earlier in the book.
I don't write many reviews, but almost like a form of literary ipecac, I feel I have to disgorge my revulsion to clear this book from my head. Awful, and as I said, not in a good way.
That's a very barebones description of the plot. As you can see, it's silly, schlocky, and fun. The book moves along at a tremendous pace, describing action and dialogue and little else. I think I counted two similes in the entire book and every chapter makes certain to end on a cliffhanger.
And yet, there was something that troubled me about the whole thing. Let's take a look at Pg. 267 - 268:
Roy has just sexually molested Sandy and Donna is asking her about it:
"Where did he hurt you?"
"He pinched me here." She pointed to her left breast, a barely noticable rise through her blouse. "And he put his finger down here."
She nodded and sniffed.
"He didn't rape you though?"
"He said later, and he used the bad word."
"What did he say?"
"The bad word."
"You can tell me."
"He said later. He said later that he'd F me till I can't walk straight. And then he was gonna F you. And then he was gonna gut you like a catfish."
"Bastard," Donna muttered. "That stinking bastard." She held Sandy gently, stroking the girls head. "Well, I guess he won't get a chance to do that, will he?"
I'm not complaining about the level of violence implied here, or even the kind of violence. It's sick, it's sexual, it's horrible. But it's a horror novel. It's supposed to be those things. What I have a problem with is Donna's reaction following the exchange: "Bastard."
Now I'm a 27 year old guy and don't have a daughter, but I imagine if I did and she told me this I'd have a considerably stronger reaction. Here Donna seems to have very little concept of the weight of what her daughter has just been subjected to. Why? I suspect because the author himself has very little concept of the weight of what her daughter has been subjected to. Please also bear in mind, that this is not me calling into question Mr. Laymon's moral character. Not at all. However, I do see here a certain failure to truly empathize with the suffering of his characters and for me that is the one great shortcoming of the novel. As a result, Donna often comes across as 1) stupid, or 2) a bad mother. Both of which makes me care far less if the monsters get her. Horror hinges upon our ability to identify with the characters (in a good horror story we identify with the victim, in a great horror novel we identify with the victim AND the villain). There are of course exceptions to this. In American Psycho, for instance, the theme of the book is apathy and emptiness-- it's also a satire which, traditionally, underemphasizes character. But The Cellar is not a satire and has no greater philisophical growing out of such exchanges. It's simply poor writing.
Is this a case of me trying to put a round peg into a square hole? Perhaps. The books goal is, after all, to provide a fast plot and gruesome deaths. But it's goal is also to scare the reader. And without that base level of honest characterization, I don't see how one could ever hope to achieve that.