The Man on the Ceiling: A Novel (maybe)

~by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem

The Man on the Ceiling, written by the married team of Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem, is an extension of the award-winning novella by the same name. As of 2008, the novella was the only work to win all three major dark fantasy and horror awards: the World Fantasy Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the International Horror Guild Award. I haven't read the original The Man on the Ceiling, but if it is anything near the caliber of the book, it well deserves the accolades.

The Man on the Ceiling is a difficult book for me to describe, so instead I'll quote the text itself as it will do a better job than I could ever manage:

This memoir--or testament, if you will--is as much a biography of one family's imagination as chronicle of real life events. It is about both our love and our fear, about what we know and what we cannot know but can imagine. And although what happens in the imagination may be real in a different way than the apparent history of waking events, it is real just the same.
Even before the book begins, the authors affirm that "Everything we're about to tell you here is true," a sentiment that is continually repeated throughout the text--a gentle but terrifying reminder that just because something is categorized as fiction doesn't mean that it false. The Man on the Ceiling is brutally honest, and demands the head-on confrontation and acceptance of our fears. The book is indeed True.

The Tem's are both award-winning authors of horror and dark fantasy in their own right and are incredibly imaginative. Their roles as storytellers permeate the book and their lives. The basis for much of The Man on the Ceiling draws on the Tem's experiences as the adoptive parents of troubled children. A particular touchstone is the tragic death of one of their children when he was only nine years old. The intense emotions of love, joy, grief, and despair are intertwined to create a marvelous and profoundly genuine work.

One of the reasons I find the book so hard to describe is because it is so utterly surreal; I have never read anything like it before. It is visceral, gut-wrenching, and horrifying. But at the same time, while it is disquieting, I found it oddly comforting. There's no real plot to speak of--it's more like a drifting exploration of feelings, life, and death. The stories told and the moments depicted are intricately related and it is surprising how cohesive the book is despite its dark kaleidoscopic nature. It's difficult to tell what is real and what is not, but in the end it doesn't really matter because it's all true.

I came across The Man on the Ceiling mostly by accident and decided to pick up the book more on a whim than anything else. I am so glad that I did. First, I checked it out from my local library (there was a waiting list), but it wasn't long until I knew I needed my own copy of the book. While it is often described as horror, that characterization only begins to touch on the depth and complexity of the work. The Man on the Ceiling, and especially its style, is not something that everyone will appreciate. However, it is absolutely one of the best books I've read. The Man on the Ceiling is an extraordinarily evocative book, and I know it is one I'll come back to again.

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