Author: Robert R. McCammon
Usher’s Passing is a dumb book, with a slightly interesting ending.
It starts with famed horror author Rix Usher, who suffers from a mysterious malady and secretly wants to expose his family’s empire, Usher Armaments, through a tell-all book. Rix had left Usherland and the horrible influence of his father, but he has finally returned as the strange Usher disease is taking his father. Now he must deal with his fashion model sister and his belligerent brother, both of whom hope to inherit the estate and use the money and power to chase naughty ambitions.
As the Usher family crawls around their sprawling mansion, the original house, named the Lodge, looms in the background. It’s calling to Rix, but it’s also calling to a young boy from Briartop Mountain.
The local hill folk who live in the shadow of the Ushers have endless legends. One is of the Pumpkin Man, a child stealing/killing fiend, and the other is of Greediguts, a voracious panther with a rattlesnake’s tale. The mountain folk are ignorant and afraid, and they take the disappearance of their children in stride. But a local reporter and a young boy are about to overturn all the secrecy and shine a light on the truth of what haunts the mountains.
As the story drags on, slowly giving us amateur scenes of dialogue as the Ushers’ fight in a teenage, B-movie style, and Rix visits his wasting father to trade some long over-due insults, the reporter comes closer. Naturally, she and Rix will team up together. Her father, after all, has the fabled details of all the Usher’s evil history, a history Rix is dying to publish under his own name.
As the narrative plods, long scenes of torpid dialogue and family squabbles gradually succumb to snippets of the past before the Usher disease. Is the disease a moral judgement for the armaments, all the Usher guns and bombs that have killed so many, or is it something else? We hardly care to find out.
Usher’s Passing is a poor retelling, as retellings go. Disjointed, uninterested in its own attempted cleverness, at times trying too hard and at other times phoning it in. None of the characters are realistic and none of them, absolutely none of them, are likable.
The only redemption comes in the last thirty pages of the novel, where there is finally some action and a horrifying revelation that ties the mountain lore (well, some of it) and the Usher empire together (and we never thought there WOULD be a connection.) It’s actually a fairly grisly concept, and I almost found myself enjoying the last thirty odd pages, although I didn’t care if any of the characters actually survived them.
Usher’s Passing has a decent underlying concept, but the craft of storytelling is absent. Realistic people and dialogue are missing. Atmosphere and gothic intrigue are attempted, and they woefully fail, and the pacing struggles harder than an asthmatic snail struggling up a mountain in a pollen storm. In the end, it’s a tedious read, one that you’ll find yourself returning to ruefully and only out of sheer bloody-mindedness. Not recommended. 1.5 stars.
– Frances Carden
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