Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yet another adult strolling down memory lane

House of Stairs
by William Sleator

I see that I'm not the only adult with strong memories of reading this novel when they were young. In my case, it must have been 30 years ago, but somehow I never forgot the book. I've been keeping my eyes open for a copy for years now, and it's truly fascinating rereading this book that I loved as a child with my 40-year-old eyes.

The novel opens with Peter. Peter has no idea where he is. He finds himself blindfolded and taken to an unknown destination. Removing the blindfold, he finds himself all alone in a truly bizarre environment. Everywhere he looks, as far as the eye can see, he's in a cavernous space filled with stairs. Stairs going up, stairs going down, some with small landings, some connected by bridges. There are no walls, no floor, no railings, no place to feel safe. As he fights vertigo, Peter spies someone below him and calls out.

Unfortunately, Lola doesn't know anymore about where they are or why than Peter does. Their stories of being blindfolded are the same, but they quickly discover other commonalities as well. They are both orphans from state homes and both 16 years old. They discover this is true of the other three kids they meet in the "house of stairs."

Peter, Lola, Blossom, Abigail, and Oliver all find themselves in an utterly inexplicable situation, and they all deal with it differently. They are very different personalities. Survival becomes their first priority. What at first seems to be an entity merely trying to control their actions, quickly becomes far more sinister.

Viewing the reactions of these young people to their circumstances, and finding out how the novel would end, had me turning pages just as fast now as it did when I was a kid. And I'm happy to report that I really enjoyed revisiting this story. I can see that it's a piece of fiction very much of its time, and as an adult I better understand the context of the novel. (Like another reviewer, I, too, thought of the infamous Zimbardo and Milgram experiments.) All that aside, House of Stairs is still a compelling story and a warning to be heeded today.

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