It’s not always clear why horror is such a popular genre. After all, it intends to horrify—to inspire fear in shadows that seem to disappear the second we turn around. Andrew Pyper’s The Guardians reminded me of the reasons Stephen King novels and the endless slew of gory sequels do so well: like it or not, being scared can be fun. Pyper’s book is intriguing, fast-paced, and difficult to put down. And yet, the author pushes past the tried-and-not-so-true methods of his realm. The Guardians is a haunted house story, sure, but it relies on psychological taunts and a world of fearful speculation, rather than shock-and-awe bloodshed.
The story concerns four small-town boys, bound together by a hockey team as well as something much more sinister. The Guardians is told in alternating time periods, separating high school boys and middle-aged men. In 1984, Trevor, Randy, Carl, and Ben are united by the story of a damaged house that haunts them during their youth. In the present day, Trevor and Randy are called back to their small town of Grimshaw to revisit that ghostly building and revisit their past.
The narrator is Trevor, a middle-aged man plagued by Parkinson’s disease and loneliness. He is called to action by the suicide of his friend Ben, which acts as the catalyst for the re-emergence of crimes the four witnessed and committed back when they were teenagers. Just as he did in the winter of ’84, Trevor begins to lose his grip on reality when confronted with the house and the disappearance of a beautiful young woman.
The house in question defies all horror stereotypes. It hasn’t been plucked from a Poe story. It’s not creaky, cobweb-ridden, or cursed. Inside, the house is tattooed with graffiti, remnants of parties, and evidence of forbidden trysts. But outside, the house is normal. Its power comes from an ominous past and the cruel inventions of a frightened imagination.
This unconventional haunted house is representative of Pyper’s ability to exploit and surpass the boundaries of the horror genre. He leaves some of the house’s impact up to the reader’s imagination, but makes sure not to introduce any clichés that would affect their vision of the setting. The supernatural force in the story, an always changing but ever-present boy, is treated in a similar way. The phantom is frightening because he is so vague, but Pyper describes his ghost in original, offbeat language as “the opposite of music.”
Pyper’s distinctive, highly visual writing style compliments his plot perfectly. The story’s developments are all unexpected, but it works. Every twist and turn in The Guardians is shocking, and yet still feels right. The entire work is treated with a sense of realism; the characters are flawed but relatable, and the setting is raw and unembellished. This sets the groundwork for a tense, raging final showdown in the house.
The story’s conclusion elucidates some of the most pressing themes in the book—middle-age anxieties, subjectivity, and the very real threat of irrationality. It’s an intelligent, well-worked haunted house story. Though Pyper gets beyond the traditional tropes of the horror genre, he mines it for all its worth and gives readers what they’re really looking for: can’t-tear-your-eyes-away fear. Simply put, The Guardians gave me nightmares, but I didn’t want to put it down. If that’s not horror, I don’t know what is.