This is, by definition, going to be a short review. That’s not to say that Michael Griffin’s Armageddon House doesn’t have a lot going on, both narratively and structurally — it absolutely does. But part of the pleasure of reading this book is trying to figure out exactly what’s going on. It’s not quite a mystery box narrative, but there are certainly elements of that present here. Having finished it, I certainly have my theories about what’s actually taking place within its pages, but I’m not necessarily sure if I’m correct. And that’s fine, honestly.
Armageddon House begins with a man named Mark waking up in a massive underground structure. There are four people total in the compound, nominally two couples, but Mark and his onetime partner Jenna have parted ways before this narrative begins. Although separated, they maintain the facade of still being in a relationship — one of several ominous elements that exist in this book from the outset. There’s also the matter of Mark’s memory, which seems to hold more details than he’s aware of. “Mark wants to believe each day is exactly like previous days have always been, and it’s only his mind that ever changes,” Griffin writes.
All of these elements are introduced in the first brief chapter. What follows is a chamber drama laced with a growing sense that something is very wrong. The book’s title offers some confirmation of that, to be sure — but the way the power dynamics among the quartet of residents of the complex shift, with the added sense that none of these figures may be entirely reliable, keeps things interesting. So too is Griffin’s use of imagery, which begins in a very paranoid science fictional vein — half THX-1138, half Black Mirror — and slowly takes on a host of other subtle references and allusions.
What happens when the narrative you’ve been told turns out to be for a completely different story than the one you’re in? Armageddon House may not be the book you’re expecting, but it never stops being gripping — or suggesting greater mysteries around the next corner.
by Michael Griffin
Undertow Publications; 124 p.