Maynard's House is up in Maine, out beyond Millinocket, where almost everything belongs to the Great Northern Paper Co. and the tree-to-person ratio is something like a million to one. It is an old house, weathered by a century of Maine winters and standing on foundations that are two centuries older than the present superstructure. Its original inhabitant, some 300 years ago, was a witch, who was hanged on a tree that still stands on the property, bearing no leaves or fruit, though it sometimes oozes a sort of yellow fluid down around the roots with an odor that could almost knock you down. The tree casts no shadow in the sunlight, but sometimes it does cast a shadow -- when the sun is gone -- in places where the tree itself is far out of sight.
There are no indoor toilet facilities, but the house has some other interesting features, such as an old rocking chair that sometimes rocks with nobody sitting in it; a wood stove that sometimes seems to cast cold rather than heat, even with a raging fire inside; and a wooden plaque on one of its walls where some of the former inhabitanats have carved brief, enigmatic memorials of mysterious misfortunes.
Scary? It should be, heaven knows; besides the tree and the odd furnishings, there is a devil's rock where strange creatures with small footprints come to dance, and there are a lot of animals about that behave strangely, and there is a self-propelled witch's hat that wants to get into the house and do things to whoever is inside.
The current inhabitant (the year is 1972) is Austin Fletcher, a rather nondescript Vietnam veteran who is "basically not too smart . . . twenty-three years old, six feet tall, one hundred sixty-five pounds and only two cavities." yThe house was willed to Austin by Corporal Maynard Whittier, its former owner, on a battlefield in Vietnam shortly before Maynard was killed. After his discharge, Austin went to see the house he had inherited, and decided to stay awhile -- first because he didn't know how spooky it was, then because he was stubborn, and finally because he was cut off from civilization with no way to escape.
To complicate the situation, Austin is occasionally visited by the ghost of Maynard -- well, not exactly the ghost, but his own memories and mental projections, usually against a backdrop of combat in Vietnam but later in the house. At first, Maynard behaves as a memory-projection should, following the script given to him by Austin's subconscious, but later he begins to take on a semi-autonomous life of his own; so perhaps he is, to some degree, a ghost as well as a memory.
Finally, there is Ara, a mysterious young lady who is 16 years old but sometimes seems to be 300, whose personality is as changeable as New England weather, who fascinates Austin, appealing to him sometimes as a child, sometimes as a woman, and finally as some sort of key to the mystery that shrouds the house.
Herman Raucher (who wrote "Summer of '42") is, to put it briefly, a literary spendthrift, squandering on a single book the material for at least three -- let's say "The Shinning," "The Deer Hunter" and "Lolita." The reader may feel a special tingle of joy as the realization slowly dawns on him that the $10.95 he spent for one book has actually given him possession of three. But for those who think of a novel as a single, integrated experience, the chances are that this tingle will be short-lived, because the three potential books in Maynard's House" spend much of the time pulling in opposite directions. Raucher has not quite bitten off more than he can chew, but he seems to have ingested more than he can digest and assimilate. "The Shinning" might be blended with either "Lolita" or "The Deer Hunter," but the three-way mix seems to have one ingredient too many.
It's not that Raucher doesn't write well; his style is always lucid and sometimes elegant. And it's not that he lacks structural technique; he clearly knows what ought to make a story spooky (which seems to be the prime goal of "Maynard's House" but the most notable nonachievement). The spookeries begin, as the formula requires, vaguely, with events that are a bit strange but not impossible to explain, and they start to escalate nicely. with Maynard's ghost (or memory) contributing to the process. Then along comes Ara and the situation changes, the plot complications stop being synergistic, and the reader is left with three partial books instead of one whole one. Careful editing could have made this a much better novel. And if Raucher decides to write just one story his next time out, the odds are that it will be worth reading.