The Man on the Ceiling
Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem

Wizards of the Coast Discoveries
Trade Paperback, $17.95 (review based on advance reading copy)
Review by Sheila Merritt

No one can label Melanie and Steve Rasnic Tem “cowards.” This team’s, in all senses of the word, latest collaboration is a gutsy work of horror literature. It is in a different league from horror “fiction;” much more demanding of the reader, and potentially more rewarding.

The Man on the Ceiling was originally published, in chapbook form, in 2000. It garnered the Bram Stoker Award, International Horror Award, and World Fantasy Award; the only work to win all three. That novella is expanded into a novel in its current incarnation. Via varied vignettes the authors take the reader through different degrees of emotional exposure. This is an autobiographical fantasy; sometimes extremely dark and foreboding. It is a book about the everyday horrors of life: The anxieties, the inevitabilities, the things which get shelved into “too hard to address right now.”

It is also about creativity. Melanie states that: “I write dark fantasy because it helps me see how to live in a world with monsters.” There are remembrances and reflections regarding child abuse, the loss of a child, the losing of a parent. In the many ruminations about fear, the relationship between fear and creativity is explored: “Anticipatory by nature and definition, fear is an act of imagination, of pure creativity. We’re afraid of things that haven’t happened yet. Once they’ve happened — which is to say, taken form — it isn’t fear anymore but grief or horror or despair or maybe relief.”

The autobiographical elements in this book are secondary to the stories themselves. One needn’t feel compelled to ferret out what events “really” happened to Steve and Melanie. The emotions are real. The profound impact comes from a brave and cathartic couple who by sharing the shudders, both tortured and tender, embrace vulnerability with an uneasy acceptance.

The reader is reminded: “Everything is dangerous. Even in your dreams. Even if you sleep without dreams. From the moment you jump out of bed and take that first breath. Something terrible might happen. Someone’s bound to die before the story is over. You might even fall in love.”

Thanks to Melanie and Steve Rasnic Tem for this book. It faces fears, and eloquently embraces that which is exquisite and excruciating.

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