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The Handyman Method: Horror Beneath the Foundation

“If women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” These words echo in the minds of Canadians over a certain age, the catchphrase uttered countless times on The Red Green Show, the titular handyman armed with a trusty roll of duct tape. This over-the-top masculine desire for self-sufficiency can be comedic and horrifying, and that’s precisely what The Handyman Method brings to the table, with an added splash of cosmic terror.

Trent, Rita, and their son Milo move into a brand new home that immediately has issues. Ones that start driving the so-called man of the house to buy every power tool under the sun to fix them. It doesn’t take long for the squishy, nasty things that live in the basement to crawl out and the escalation is just delightful.

I admit that when I first heard of Nick Cutter (who I’ve fanboyed over before) and Andrew F. Sullivan’s collaborative book, I was excited as hell. This was akin to a superstar team-up in my mind. Goku and Vegeta, if you will. These are two writers who know their goop, and as fellow Canadians, I feel that kinship even harder. A character says “Keep your stick on the ice” at one point. Iconic. There’s also a stretch later on that is so deliciously gory that it had me kicking my feet with glee. And it just keeps going and going. Something so horrifying you can’t look away, and neither can the characters who unfortunately bear witness to the act.

I’m sure that growing up with a handyman father doesn’t hurt to understand Trent’s struggles through basic fix-it tasks and contractor jargon. We had a show for years, Canada’s Worst Handyman. I remember showing my Dad an episode and he did the trademark crossed arms and displeased frown I have come to know well. What starts as “let’s fix a crack in the wall” in the book becomes a rabbit hole of Black-and-Decker tools and bizarre, specific YouTube tutorials at 3 a.m.

And he’s not the only one affected by the strangeness between the walls. Milo becomes equally addicted to his iPad and the sock-puppet show dispensing morals and goading him into building disturbing Rube Goldberg devices, contraptions that mistify and impress his father for once instead of giving him “The Look,” a concept I am keenly familiar with as an autistic individual. “What do you think the stars taste like?” Milo asks his Dad, an innocent level of inquisitiveness that is squashed down to fit into the “get-er-done” mindset Trent comes to adopt.

A middle aged, beared white man dressed in flannel and red-green suspenders sits at a desk, covered in various tools and knickknacks.
What d’you mean you don’t have a tap and die?

And he is a deeply unlikable protagonist, digging himself into an Info Wars-shaped hole in the ground. The kind of person I would avoid like stepping around a puddle if he was real, and yet, I was still sad to see him unravel and lose himself, which shows what a great story this is.

I was oddly reminded of the film Deep Dark, where a man finds a glory hole in his apartment (yes, I know) that grows and evolves to have a symbiotic relationship with him, offering pinkish lumps of flesh he displays as art pieces in return for love and devotion. With each, the human/building changes both parties into this toxic co-dependency that I don’t think you could make work outside of horror—there’s a willingness within the genre to roll with absurdity and forgo logic that I deeply cherish.

Houses within houses, branching architecture that can (and does) combine with biological matter is so hot right now—I mean, that’s entirely what Sullivan’s debut The Marigold is about. I think he knows a thing or two about the subject. It’s not just him, though. MyHouse.Wad is a Doom map that on the surface is a recreation of a childhood home that expands into layers upon layers of impossible geometry, blending storytelling and gameplay (and references to House of Leaves) that have been detailed by hours-long YouTube essays, an obsession that rivals Trent’s.

If you want to dive into a different rabbit hole, of disturbing puppet-based media and horror video games, then the recent My Friendly Neighborhood about a defunct Sesame Street TV show with a Resident Evil gameplay twist should be right up your alley. I’ll never get over “I’m here to educate the children!” as their noodle arms flap toward you. It feels like the kind of show Milo would watch.

What does it mean to make a house your home? Is it the memories we create within, or the personal touches we add, the changes to the physical space? When does this feeling leave you? I realize I’m getting a bit too introspective here, but in my defense, it is 3 a.m. Rita experiences this first-hand in the book, but I don’t want to get into spoiler territory. The reveal is too good.

Co-writing is not an easy process, as I’ve come to learn myself recently, but when you click with someone the results can be so unbelievably rewarding. I felt that reading The Handyman Method, Cutter and Sullivan had a blast writing this together, swapping ideas and expanding on what was once a 5,000-word short story if you can believe it. It reminds me a lot of Good Omens, and how Neil Gaiman regaled that Terry Pratchett would leave messages on his answering machine saying “Wake up, you bastard, I’ve just had another great idea for the book.” Thankfully we have the internet now, but I’d like to imagine similar text message exchanges.

A copy of The Handyman Method was provided for review purposes. The book was released yesterday (August 8th, 2023) from Saga Press.

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Written by Lor Gislason

Lor is a body horror enthusiast from Vancouver Island, Canada who can be found chilling with their two cats and playing farming simulators. Find them on Twitter: @lorelli_

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