Final exams and thesis deadlines prove even more horrific than expected in this overheated debut by a recent Harvard grad and set within that College’s tradition-bound and intimidating environs.
The nameless narrator is a senior absorbed in fulfilling his final graduation requirements, facing the future, and healing a fractured romantic relationship with his girlfriend Rosie, whose former boyfriend (and the narrator’s former roommate) had committed suicide during their freshman year. The stage is thus set for a “crack-up,” and our narrator impulsively obliges, drinking and drugging to excess and falling into infatuation (and bed) with Maeve, a seductive hellion and fellow substance abuser. Odd things happen in rapid sequence in Adams House: guilt-induced dreams and fantasies, an electrical blackout, recurring headaches, vandalism, blood-soaked clothing, menacing apparitions—provoking the narrator’s panicked query, “Who was trailing me in the halls, destroying my notes and laundry, and smoking silently on the roof?” Clues perhaps lurk in the subject of his thesis (Shakespeare’s “middle plays,” notably Hamlet), as a meeting with his advisor suggests. And things really get hairy when the violent aftermath of a Halloween “masquerave” convinces the narrator that he’s reenacting the bloody events of a half-century ago, when a flurry of related suicides and murders created the scandal whose history just may be buried in the archives of Widener Library. . . . Desmond piles on the melodramatic special effects enthusiastically. Nevertheless, he offers a nicely detailed picture of Harvard Yard and thereabouts, and English majors may enjoy doping out its influences and implied meanings (a hint: don’t overlook the anonymous early English poem that is surely the unacknowledged source of Desmond’s title: “In Adam’s fall/We sinned all”).
Rickety, overwrought, and more than a bit derivative. Still, it delivers the grisly goods, and horror fans should take to it like bats to a belfry.