Renovation might be the perfect example of a book that I really wish I had liked more than I did. It’s premise is promising (a home renovation company straight out of the pits of hell!), and as a homeowner who was dealing with some roof issues that ultimately escalated with a worker falling from our attic and through the bathroom ceiling (he’s fine, thankfully!) it could not have been a more timely read. Unfortunately, it just didn’t hit the mark for me, and the more I think about this book and try to offer a critical evaluation of it as a whole, the more it continues to fall apart for me.
At times the writing felt a bit amateurish and uneven overall, but what really killed it for me was an early attempt at titillation that quickly fell into utter silliness that jarred me and left me trying to recover for damn near the rest of the book. New homeowners, Barb and Mikey, are christening their new bedroom, but their sexy times are ruined when Brooke interrupts to tell us they are “beginning their sex dance.” Nothing ruins eroticism faster than bad writing or kooky lingo, or some roaming hands and a grinding body that breaks away to do the Ickey Shuffle. There’s a fair amount of sex in this book thanks to supernatural influences and cultish practices, but every single time the story began to veer in that direction I cringed inwardly at the idea of all these characters doing goofy little sex dances as they prepared to get down with their bad selves.
Beyond that, some of the dialogue felt clunky and unnatural, to the point that I often wondered who the hell actually speaks this way? Particularly the twelve-year old, Greg, who, apparently beyond never having been taught about stranger danger, is practically a walking and talking construct built solely for delivery of exposition. [SPOILER – at one point, after letting a man who is a complete stranger to him climb through his bedroom window, he asks the man to help his dad. “I’m afraid for him. We’ve got to get out of here and leave forever.” Which would maybe be fine if we hadn’t had this hammered into us for a number of pages already, and if the house weren’t overrun with an ever-changing number of workers, mold, and cockroaches. Because, sure, when your house is being overrun by pure evil, why wouldn’t you let a strange man who just climbed up the side of the house in through your bedroom window? Sigh…]
And although other characters behaving oddly makes sense in the context of the plot, a lot of it just feels forced and too much, too soon. There’s no tension or pot-boiling suspense, or a creeping sense of dread. Everything moves too fast, which makes the characters seem off-kilter in unnaturally manic ways. I didn’t have a very good grip on who these characters were before they all went bonkers, which meant I didn’t really care about why they were going bonkers and what repercussions would follow.
Beyond all that, nothing about Renovation felt particularly new and fresh. It’s one thing to take old tropes and put a new coat of paint on them, but that doesn’t even get managed here. This book not only feels like the old house at the center of its story, but like the cookie-cutter suburban community in which its set, where every house looks like every other house. It’s all just same-old, same-old. To make matters worse, though, is the ruination of a perfectly good climax with a Lord of the Rings-style multi-resolution, with at least one ending, and a whole new set of characters, too many. This book really had no need for its last two chapters, which attempts to both restart the story and finish it, simultaneously trying to drum up both dread and hope, but producing neither.
This review bums the shit out of me. Honestly, it does. Like I said at the start, I wanted to like this book way more than I did. I even started to rate this book higher by at least a good star and a half, but as I got to writing about it, I found I could not actually justify my initial rating. That’s fucking frustrating, let me tell you. What’s worse is, there’s evidence of a decent book within the pages of Renovation, hints that there, maybe, could have been something better if more time and deliberation had been spent. Unfortunately, like the characters within, I just want to burn it all down.