As 2010 wrapped up, I pulled Usher’s Passing, by Robert R. McCammon, off my bookshelf. I’ve probably read it a hundred times over the years, and I never stop being scared by it. At this point, I know every twist, every turn, every scene designed to make you shudder or jump…and, yet, I hide under my bedcovers, assaulted by goosebumps and chills.
McCammon is hardly the only author that does that to me. I can guarantee you that if I got my hands on a copy of The Dollhouse Murders, by Betty Ren Wright, it would still terrify the crap out of me — and that’s a children’s book! What I love about Usher’s Passing is that there’s so much left unsaid, so much territory McCammon could’ve mined but left alone. The not knowing makes it all the creepier.
Usher’s Passing posits that Edgar Allan Poe’s tragic Usher family was very much real. And it starts with the imposing Hudson Usher seeking out a broken down Poe in 1847 to tell him, “The house of Usher still stands, Mr. Poe, and it shall stand long after you and I are dust in the earth.” With that ominous warning, the reader is taken forward to the early 1980s, where horror novelist Rix Usher is battling a terrible affliction… an affliction that’s only a fraction as terrible as the truths that await him at his family’s sprawling North Carolina estate, Usherland.
The plot is incredibly engaging, but what McCammon excels at is crafting a mood, building a world that envelops you. The landscape of Usherland, of Briartop Mountain, of the malevolent Lodge, is so vivid that it’s like you’re experiencing it all along with the characters and being gripped in the same throes of temptation and fear.
In the right hands, Usher’s Passing would probably make a spectacular film. The visuals would play out so well on a big screen, especially with an accompanying musical score. I could see it being helmed by Bill Paxton, who did a wonderful job with Frailty, and have often pictured Frailty star Matthew McConaughey (though he’s a shade too old for the role now) as Rix. Part of me itches to try and turn it into a screenplay. And the other part…? Well, the other part is completely content to keep the haunting locked safely inside my head… dusting it off every few years so I can run through the woods trying to escape the Pumpkin Man, and trying to ignore the insidious call of what lives inside Usher’s Lodge.