Fright House by Fred Wiehe is a book about a young psychic named Penny who, after fleeing her old life, goes to work at a haunted house that used to be an asylum. Her boss calls in a TV ghosthunting crew to investigate the attraction after several employees go missing. Ghosts happen, chaos ensues, people die. I was sent a free copy for review.
I didn’t like this book very much, mostly because I found it to be pretty ableist. For those unaware, “ableism” refers to discrimination and prejudice against those who are or are believed to be disabled. Often this is used specifically to refer to discrimination based on physical ability, but it also covers discrimination surrounding mental illnesses and neurodivergence.
Despite paying passing lip service to the fact asylums were bad places to be and the staff did horrible things to the people in their care, there is very little compassion shown to the ghosts of the patients within the concept of the narrative. They’re referred to as “crazies,” “lunatics,” described as behaving basically like animals. Even the ghost of a murdered child patient is evil. It doesn’t stop at descriptions of the patients; “schizophrenic” is used as an adjective more than once, in ways that don’t even make sense in context.
You could make the in-universe argument that, well, it’s because demonic forces are corrupting the place or whatever, but A. having an in-universe justification doesn’t really make it okay; the author still chose to write it that way, and B. we learn basically nothing about these “demonic forces,” other than I guess the asylum’s now like the hotel from The Shining? And it wants Penny’s psychic energy For Reasons?
As someone who is neurodivergent, you can see why I had a bit of a bad time.
To be clear, I’m not saying horror involving haunted asylums can’t work; in fact, this book had a solid groundwork that could have built up to an actually effective critique and exploration of ableism, particularly in regards to ghost stories. I was able to see a thematic throughline that could have led to a deep and engaging story, but that’s not the book I read. The book I read just takes the various toxic tropes of haunted asylum horror and regurgitates them uncritically. There was a wasted potential here that in some ways disappointed me even more than the ableism itself.
There are some other problems with the book aside from the ableism; there are several instances of repetitive writing that are pretty annoying, the introductory descriptions of the characters feel clunky and unnatural, and Penny’s progression from thinking “I am mentally ill and ghosts aren’t real” to “ghosts are real and I’m psychic” doesn’t flow very smoothly. It feels rushed, like she completely changes her worldview over the course of a few pages.
Fright House Verdict
It’s not great, I had a bad time, and I’m giving 1 out of 5 cthulhus. But, if you still want to check it out, you can grab it on Amazon at the link below. Remember that we are an Amazon affiliate, and if you buy anything from the links provided, we will get some $ back.(1 / 5)