The First 100 Pages Review
THE HANDYMAN METHOD was pitched to me as a horror story about home renovation, online radicalization, and dangerous family secrets—all set in a haunted house.
I’m a new-ish homeowner reluctantly embroiled in endless DIY projects, with a keen interest in how online spaces and (dis)information silos affect the populace. And I love supernatural horror that skewers real world insecurities. Which is to say I was “all in” for this novel.
Unfortunately, Cutter and Sullivan’s collaboration quickly alienated me. I think this is a strong case of “a certain kind of horror” that I am just not the audience for.
About THE HANDYMAN METHOD
The novel begins with the small Saban family moving into a newly constructed home, isolated in an unfinished development community devoid of other houses. The Sabans look for a fresh start in their new abode, but carry enormous baggage across the threshold.
Husband and father, Trent, washed out of his mediocre professional career on an oddly positive note, by—maybe—halting an act of workplace violence. Unemployed and untethered, he struggles to connect with his wife and son.
Their new home, with its great many quirks and bizarre issues, presents an opportunity to re-fashion Trent’s identity as a man. A man’s-man, a DIY-er, a guy with tools and know-how—guided by an unusual YouTuber who seems to speak just to him.
Rita, wife and mother, is a rising star at her law firm and the family’s sole bread-winner. Her strange reaction to the house and odd fluctuations of mood keep Trent off balance. But Rita holds secrets her family can’t know or understand, and their unusual home pushes those peculiarities to manifest.
The family relocation deposits their young son, Milo, friendless and lonely into a new town for a friendless-and-lonely summer. With Trent and Rita increasingly occupied by their own obsessions, Milo is left free-range to explore the house, its ugly yard and expansive, empty development.
He soon discovers unsettling oddities in every corner of his new world. With his own unmoored digital companion asserting dominance via his iPad, the boy is compelled to create bizarre inventions that should not work, but do. And to dig deep beneath the house, opening channels to unspeakable things and places.
A Deeply Unsubtle Novel
THE HANDYMAN METHOD is a bleak, brutal, deeply unsubtle novel. Every line of dialogue lands like a hammer, and tension is presented rather than allowed to build. There are certain forced ambiguities—the reality of Trent’s workplace heroism, Rita’s true nature—that are not foreshadowed so much as pointedly telegraphed.
It wastes no time delivering the weirdness of the house, or the mysteries in the land around it. There’s a rushed quality to the setup, like a film desperate to keep its first act under twenty minutes.
It also spares no time making Trent a thoroughly unpleasant character. While he seems well-intentioned enough at the start, Trent sucks as both husband and father, and never manages any situation competently.
His sharp descent into toxic home-improvement masculinity carries satirical overtones, and there’s some bite there. But this transformation, escalated by the direct-to-Trent commentary from a YouTube handyman, is too abrupt to feel authentic. Much like how Trent gives little pause when Handyman Hank’s videos proliferate too rapidly, creating an omnipresent, follow my lead, don’t-be-a sissy monologue. The acceptance is just too easy.
I found Rita frustrating because, early on, she’s a chaotic mess of ever-changing moods. There’s no sense of her as a person because she might change entirely within a scene. While this seems purposeful, moving to her sinister POV didn’t reconcile those quirks for me.
No character is likable here, even poor Milo. (And, full disclosure, my dog’s name is Milo, which should have boot-strapped some extra sympathy from me.) You can’t blame the kid for the horrific mess he’s wrapped up in, or his inability to refuse the demands of Little Boy Blue, his own supernatural influencer. But there’s not much to him besides insecurities. I felt bad for him, but I also couldn’t root for him.
A Struggle with Tone and Delivery
There’s a certain kind of horror I’ve never connected with—stories soaked in a brand of meanness, a deeply cynical distain for almost everyone who inhabits them. THE HANDYMAN METHOD falls into that category for me.
When Trent ventures to his local hardware store, nearly every interaction is negative and abrasive. The conversations he overhears are blithely obscene and overbearing. Perhaps his declining emotional state alters his perception of everyone around him. But for me (who spends more time than I’d like at my local Lowes and Home Depot) that dialogue felt too much like heavy-handed parody.
Also, I generally enjoy creative swearing! A lot of it here, though, repulsed me. I’m sure discomfort was the point, but it was all too off-putting to encourage my persistence.
An early review referred to this novel as “ferociously funny”. I didn’t spy a single amusing moment in what I read. I wouldn’t have thought there was even an attempt at humor. I’m guessing that reviewer and I have exceptionally different perceptions of what is or isn’t funny.
I suspect horror readers who enjoy an angrier, unerringly direct delivery will find something to like here. Audiences seeking hard-hitting critique of modern masculinity and passive indoctrination will discover plenty of meat here, too.
Personally, I prefer my horror with a bit more subtlety, and characters to care about. I’m chocking this up as a case of being the wrong reader for the novel. THE HANDYMAN METHOD is competently written, with some strong turn of phrase and twisted, creepy worldbuilding. It’s just not the kind of story I want to spend my time with.