Crafting the perfect Gothic McMansion in a 21st century novel

A review of the new novel Fallen Land suggests the McMansion at the heart of the book plays a big role:

The McMansion, that derisively nicknamed trophy home of suburban arrivistes, is different things to all people: the darling of building contractors, the forest-guzzling residential equivalent of the SUV to land preservationists.

Among American practitioners of the modern Gothic novel, the McMansion has rarely been rendered with the resplendent gloom of, say, Shirley Jackson’s Hill House, or the majesterial melancholy of Edgar Allan Poe’s House of Usher. In his smashing followup to his formidable debut novel “Absolution,” however, Patrick Flanery has fashioned a crumbling 21st-century manor that can hold its own among those authors’ most sepulchral, ALLEGORICAL inspirations.

The trappings of “Fallen Land’’ are pure old-school Hollywood. Imagine a housing development that evokes the splashy-cum-sinister Victorian fantasy of “Meet Me in St. Louis” and Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” and you have Dolores Woods, a Midwestern subdivision committed to a regressive aesthetic “in which the past was preferable and this country was at its greatest before it tried to tear itself apart in the middle of the nineteenth century.” The community’s pastiche array of gabled roofs and picket fences disguise the jerry-built nature of its construction: pop-up palaces whose yawning spaces and teetering infrastructure “terrify where they were meant to comfort,” the American Dream turned nightmare.

The development’s showpiece, classically enough, has been erected atop the site of tragic events from a darker epoch whose emotional undercurrents will haunt the home’s new tenants, Julia and Nathaniel Noailles. The Noailles have relocated from Boston with their smart, idiosyncratic son Copley (named for the hotel address where he was conceived) in pursuit of snazzier positions: she with a university lab, he with a mega-corporation that powers virtually every private enterprise on earth, including the fascistic private school in which Copley is newly installed.

I’ve noted before that the McMansion has become a popular tragic setting for modern stories. See this post about McMansions and horror films. The McMansion represents a hollow setting, a place that may look impressive but is empty at its core. The people who inhabit such homes are similar: people who thought purchasing a big home would bring satisfaction but are sadly mistaken. Even worse, the inhabitants – and it sounds like those in Fallen Land fit the bill – might be bad people, the kinds who squander money, are mean or amoral, and are up to nefarious purposes. All together, these stories suggest at the least that tragedies befall those in McMansions with the stronger argument that those who live in McMansions and their homes are rotten to the core.

Perhaps my argument would be strengthened by searching for counterfactuals: can we find many positive depictions of McMansion dwellers in novels, movies, TV shows, etc.?

2 thoughts on “Crafting the perfect Gothic McMansion in a 21st century novel

  1. Pingback: Another horror film set in suburbia; same old story? | Legally Sociable

  2. Pingback: Finding humor in the interior design in great literature | Legally Sociable

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