Should ‘Open House on Haunted Hill’ win a Hugo?

This piece is currently my front runner for the short story category. Granted, I’ve only read one other nominee so far (also take a look at the full list of my reviews of Hugo nominated works), but I’m feeling like I generally enjoyed this piece more.

My initial thoughts are that the piece is fun, with a good twist baked right into the premise. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that it’s about a haunted house, and not much of a spoiler to reveal that it’s from the house’s POV that we see the story. What makes this story unique, is that the house is a lonely thing, and just wants to HELP a family recover from the death of a loved one.

I’ve been seeing some comments around that say the kid’s characterization is inconsistent, alternating between too childish in some moments, and too adult in others. I didn’t notice this. Kids are surprisingly mature in the moments you least expect them to be so perhaps Wiswell’s characterization is spot on. Regardless, I felt seen by her stomping around the house pretending to be a dinosaur. According to my parents, this was my true-form at four years old as well. It’s nice to see myself represented in fiction.

My only disappointment in the story, is that even though the story uses a haunted house as its subject, it seems strangely disconnected from the long lineage of haunted house stories it purports to be a part of.

The author references Haunting of Hill House in the piece’s author’s note, and the title seems to allude to a 1959 film named House on Haunted Hill (I believe also a kind of parody), but Wiswell’s story seems to have little to do with either. Aside from some rather standard ‘haunted house’ things like creaking floor boards, rooms that shouldn’t exist, and doors slamming shut when no one is around to do so, there isn’t much of the usual tropes and motives we’re used to.

In that same author’s note, Wiswell says:

“I tend to put Horror-y things back out as humorous stories or heartwarming stories. Off the top of my head I gave them the example that if I wrote a haunted house story, it wouldn’t be like Haunting of Hill House

https://www.diabolicalplots.com/dp-fiction-64a-open-house-on-haunted-hill-by-john-wiswell/

So perhaps, by the author’s own admission, this piece doesn’t purport to be a haunted house story despite the title and the POV.

In which case, Wiswell nails it in the execution. This house is not a repository for unexpiated sin, or the waning relevance of aristocracy, or even a mirror into the horror we find within ourselves. It’s a friend and comforter instead.

The realtor in this story doesn’t really play a large role even though the title seems to connotate the action of a realtor. But just because of the fact that they are there at all, I couldn’t help thinking of Surreal Estate, a TV show in which a group of realtor’s try to prove or disprove hauntings (often solving whatever causes the haunting in the first place) in order to up the sale price of the home. It looks like Wiswell’s story was released just before the show was announced, but it still makes me wonder how our views on haunted houses have changed that we’ve shaped them into these most recent forms which (to my mind) bear a likeness. Perhaps that’s an essay for another day . . .

So . . . Hugo?

Yep! Right now, this is the one to beat. If you haven’t given it a read, I highly recommend.

If you have read it, what are your thoughts? On the the story? On the name? On any of the other properties I mentioned during this review. What really makes a Haunted House in 2021?

See you next time!

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