By LINDY RYAN
If you’ve read The Troop (currently in development as a film with producer James Wan (Saw X, The Nun II, Malignant)) you know Nick Cutter leaves behind few survivors. And, if you’ve read The Marigold, you know Andrew F. Sullivan knows his way around the bleakest dystopia. Now, Cutter and Sullivan have combined their impressively terrifying chops with THE HANDYMAN METHOD, a brand-new domestic thriller from the spooky folks at Saga Press.
When a young family moves into an unfinished development community, cracks begin to emerge in both their new residence and their lives, as a mysterious online DIY instructor delivers dark, subliminal suggestions about how to handle any problem around the house. The trials of home improvement, destructive insecurities and haunted-house horror all collide in this thrilling story of domestic terror.
RUE MORGUE recently had the opportunity to sit down with the authors and chat about THE HANDYMAN METHOD, now available wherever books are sold.
Outside of the official cover copy, what is this book to you?
Andrew F. Sullivan: For me, THE HANDYMAN METHOD is a book about self-destruction. That’s at the core of it to me. Attempting to live up to an ideal that never existed and becoming a worse person for it, someone obsessed with the perception of outsiders and the weight of the past on their shoulders. It’s a path that only leads to a dark place. I think that also connects to how desperate people are to find some meaning in their lives. They’ll look to anyone who presents as an authority figure, even if it is just a man on a screen who tells you that you’re doing everything right.
Nick Cutter: I think I mirror Andrew’s thoughts, though I come from a full generation (and a bit) past him. A lot of the fixations the book dwells on go back to the days of the Piltdown man, honestly, but they change and diversify and likely metastasize with each generation of man.
For me, it was written when my son was the age of the boy in the book, so in some ways – not to align myself strongly with our main character or my wife with his wife – but in some ways, it was a mirror of my own family and some of the strange thoughts that go zipping through a (I think!) sane, loving person’s head, regarding how families work now – and need to work now and work better now and more equitably than they did in older generations … So trying to find your current place in it vis-à-vis your father or grandfather or great-grandfather.
How did the co-writing process shape the book’s final form? For example, did one person take point on each character or mold particular plot points, or was every scene a dynamic conversation?
AFS: Early on, it was just about keeping the ball in the air, passing 500 words back and forth to build it into a story. We overlapped on almost everything by the end. It was a very cohesive experience, not one that we intended, but I was happy it turned out that way. Cowriting a novel takes a lot out of you, there’s a level of trust you need to have developed with your co-writer. I am lucky Nick and I are friends and we have that trust. By the time we were closing things out, we’d both left our imprint on every page.
NC: Yeah, we didn’t exactly know what we were getting into! We said we’d write a short story and it kind of embiggened itself as it went along. It’s not like these kinds of collaborations are all that common, there’s no guidebook, so I think we just said to ourselves to let the other person’s work breathe as much as was possible, keep some things sacrosanct and do our best to put the best pages forward.
This story of subliminal possession takes inspiration from classic tales of haunting, and THE HANDYMAN METHOD has been called a “modern twist on the haunted house story” by Library Journal. What’s your favorite haunted house horror, and what inspired you to reinvent this timeless horror archetype?
AFS: There are so many, and they all build on each other. I will have to go the typical route here and say The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, just to get that out front. You can’t ignore or deny its influence on the genre and the power it still carries to this day. The idea that a place can possess you has always haunted me. For THE HANDYMAN METHOD, I think I wanted to show the home as a site of betrayal, a place that is supposed to protect you and fails to live up to its end of the bargain.
NC: As I said in my side of the acknowledgments, yeah, the haunted house has a hundred variants, a hundred mothers and fathers. I feel like over all the edits, I almost backed us into The Shining, one of my favorite haunted house stories. The idea was to make it more domestic. The initial story was just a guy alone out at this house, fixing it up – give him a wife, a child – and, for me, I ended up feeling comfortable going with my own family unit at the time: my wife, my son, myself and a daughter on the way. So my own family mimics the Torrances, without the axe-murdering. But then, I could have as easily based it on the family from Burnt Offerings, another excellent haunted house book with the exact same family dynamic.
THE HANDYMAN METHOD is a possession-via-algorithm story for our time. Are there ways in which this book can be a paranormal cautionary tale for readers?
AFS: I’m definitely haunted by the parasocial relationships people develop with streamers or podcasters. The idea that you can “know” someone you’ve never met but have experienced as a curated viewing experience, whether it’s TikToks, reels or long-form videos, is wild to me and points to a deep, hungry desire for connection that exists in a lot of us. Handyman Hank is like that in this novel, a comforting voice who provides answers that our lead, Trent, wants to hear. Confusing a product for reality is what really haunts me.
NC: Andrew’s answered that adroitly. You young whippersnappers with your Tikky-Tokkys and so forth and so on…
Finally, what’s next for both of you – future books on the horizon, either together or separately?
AFS: We will probably do another one of these together. I think there are still ideas we want to explore as a unit. I’ve had a pretty crazy year with this book and my other novel The Marigold released back in the spring. Two books in a year can wear you out. I will probably continue exploring my obsessions with entropy, decay and generative rot in my fiction. I want to write another big book about state capture and generational wealth – what hoarding money does to a person’s brain. It can’t be anything good.
NC: Yes, I hope to once again purloin the rich and fertile loam of Andrew’s psyche for my own personal gain someday quite soon. Until then, I’m happy to let those ideas gestate in his very thoughtful, very hirsute head.