Monday, August 9, 2010

The Tilting House by Tom Llewellyn

When the real estate agent shows the Peshik family Tilton House, she is honest about the flaws: the floors tilt at a three-degree angle, and they were designed that way; the walls and floors are covered in script and drawings of a scientific and artistic nature. But the wood is gorgeous, and the price is certainly right — especially when the agent (desperately, it seems) shaves $20,000 off the asking price — so, they take it.

Then weird things start happening, and not just the kleptomaniacal leanings of the mumbling neighbor known only as Purple Door Man. I mean, weird things like the brutal murder of a Rattus rattus, resulting in the victim's father (Mr. Daga by name) getting so peeved he gives Mr. Peshik a talking-to then sells off his rare coin collection (the rat's, that is) so he can buy the house next door and relocate his remaining family.

Oh, and let's not forget the pair of undertakers who go around town, delivering their business cards, one at a time, to the person who'll die tomorrow. Author Tom Llewellyn's debut novel, The Tilting House, continues in this mostly episodic fashion, telling various stories presented as the events of the day, with the next day (or thereabouts) bringing on the next story. This not only makes it easy to find a stopping place if you need to put the book down for a spell, but it also makes the strangeness a little easier to take instead of all at one.

The Tilting House is geared toward readers in the 9-12 age group, but this much older reader found himself swept up in the linearly presented vignettes. There's a little of everything here: suspense, humor, adventure, horror, mystery, and a lot of heart. Llewellyn's story is imaginative and just weird enough to keep the reader interested, but it is also grounded in the realities (such as they are) of a family trying to get used to a new house.

What does Grandpa's leg share with their dining-room set? Why does the dimmer switch bring reporters around? What are the "deadly" consequences of the mysterious "grow powder" found inside the box in the attic? Who was the mysterious F.T. Tilton, and why did he write all over his house? The answers to these and other questions reside in The Tilting House. The result is a sort of House of Leaves for the grammar-school set. One thing is for sure: you'll never see moss the same way again.

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