Wayne C. Rogers, Maritimes Magazine, Late September 1985

House of Ushers' Fall Continues

by Wayne C. Rogers

Maritimes Magazine, Late September 1985

USHER'S PASSING by Robert R. McCammon
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984,
401pp., $14.95.
ISBN 0-03-061833-9

For the past several years, Robert R. McCammon has consistently turned out what I consider to be top-of- the-line horror fiction (Baal, The Night Boat, Bethany's Sin, They Thirst, and Mystery Walk), and he is probably the only writer in this field to come closest to capturing Stephen King's style and pace. His newest novel, Usher's Passing, is certainly his most daring work, and I venture to say, his best. Add to that the fact that it takes place in Asheville, North Carolina, and you may find yourself running to the nearest book store to pick up a copy.

The plot of Usher's Passing is centered around this premise: What if the Usher line of descendants had not ended with the deaths of Roderick and Madeline in Poe's classic short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher"? What if there had been a third sibling, a brother named Hudson Usher, to carry on the family name into the future, as well as the family's dark, malignant secret? As I had never read Poe's short story, this gave me a good excuse to do so. I should point out, however, that the reading of the "The Fall of the House of Usher" is not a necessity to enjoying the novel, though it might prepare you somewhat for the horror which is to come.

The novel begins in 1847 as Hudson Usher tenaciously searches through the most unsavory sections of New York City for Edgar Alien Poe. Upon finding the famous writer and poet, a serious confrontation follows concerning the slanderous short story written about the Usher family, during which Hudson discovers to his complete satisfaction that Poe knows absolutely nothing about the true nature of the Usher madness. From that point the story jumps to the present and focuses its . attention on Rix Usher, the main character of the novel. Rix, a once-famous writer of "horror" fiction, is now on the verge of having a nervous breakdown due to his wife's unexplainable suicide and his now floundering career. News that his father is dying, however, forces him to face his worse fears and return to the Usher Estate in Asheville. It is there that Rix will have to deal with the intrinsic evil of the Usher Lodge—a place with hundreds of rooms and maze of corridors which will bring back memories of Stephen King's Overlook Hotel in The Shining—and his childhood fears which grew from having been lost inside the dark, boarded-up place for two long days and the frightening thing he encountered there. Only one person will be able to save him from the consuming deviltry of the Lodge—a young boy named Newlan Tharpe, who lives on Briartop Mountain with his widowed mother. Newlan, a mountain boy, has strange and unusual powers of which even he is unaware, that is until his younger brother is kidnapped and killed by the dreaded Pumpkin Man—a legendary figure responsible for the deaths of more than 300 children in the region surrounding the Usher Estate during the course of the last century. It is then, and only then, that Newlan begins to realize that the answers to all the unexplained questions lie within the cold darkness of the Lodge and that he must go there, no matter what the danger, to fulfill his destiny.

Though I haven't even touched on the numerous subplots, characters, and flashbacks to the past which fill the pages of McCammon's new novel, suffice it to say that this book will literally grab you with the first chapter and hold you rooted to your chair till the very end. You may even come away, as I did, with the realization that the author does indeed have a clear understanding about the true essence of evil. He sums it up nicely when he has the Mountain King tell young Newlan that the only purpose of evil is to destroy love. Never were truer words spoken!

As you finish reading this, the $3.95 Ballantine paperback should be hitting the book stores, so you may want to opt for the less expensive edition. If you're a fan of "horror" fiction, you will want to read this novel.

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