Several days into their stay in the Nice House, it appears that most of the survivors are leaning into the vacation aspect of the apocalypse. Issue #3’s primary POV character, Sam, refuses to be distracted from the horrible reality outside Walter’s Friend Preserve. He sets out to explore the boundaries of the space they’ve been given. . . and he does so angrily.
Nice House on the Lake is perhaps one of the most compelling books coming out right now, and there are several factors working toward its benefit. Large among them is a feeling that the book is just as much a character drama as it is an end-of-the-world mystery, with each issue presenting us with one of the survivors giving a sort of confessional regarding their deep, caring relationship with Walter, the book’s central mysterious extraterrestrial doom-bringer.
The legitimate connection and care Walter has given his friends — all in a time before they knew he was, secretly, a harbinger of destruction—is a glowing, earnest thing. We should all be so lucky to have a Walter in our lives, someone selfless and eager to love us. Sam explains it as if Walter’s attention was like having the sun turned on you, the whole of his consideration warm and lifegiving. It’s this central dichotomy of Walter that provides the book with its soul, the man who loves his friends so much that he saves them from the apocalypse. . . the apocalypse he has dreaded his role in their entire lives.
The book uses these opening monologues — presented from the future, when things look much, much worse for our characters — not only to establish Walter but to present how differently each character is experiencing the grief and trauma of the end of the world; each of them feels realized, whole, because of how uniquely they react to the experience. For Sam, an emotionally rigid, meticulous photographer, his refusal of either comfort or relief in the face of horror cements him as a source for discovery in the story. If everyone were willing to kick back with a beer on a boat, the reader’s curiosity might not be addressed. Issue #3, then, is an issue of discovery — if not one of answers.
Behind the story is a strange, unexpected sense of wish fulfillment. What close group of friends of a certain age — post-college, experiencing the first crushing career panic and the very real separation anxiety of being far-flung — doesn’t want to be thrown together once again, to live as closely and freely as they did during their Golden Era. Certainly, my own group of friends has daydreamed for a chance for a Nice House of our own, particularly in this post-Covid isolation. Indeed, this sort of group of friends often has a feeling that they are the only people they need, a sense of community so great that they could survive anything — even the end of the world — together.
The familiarity of the wish, along with how well thought-out the characters are, means we know exactly who Sam is, exactly how his stern, no-nonsense nature sounds and feels to the others. We could drop one of our own friends into that house and experience a set of emotions similar, and so we empathize with Sam all the more. That we need, as readers, answers to these questions doesn’t hurt our engagement with Sam and his exploration, either. The issue, however, doesn’t present any answers, instead insisting on setting up more questions. There isn’t any conclusive solutions in issue three, but it is nonetheless a rewarding experience, as rich and engaging as the book has proven itself to be so far.
It’d be hard to discuss the book without singling out the artwork by Alvaro Martinez (with colors from Jordie Bellaire), who manages to lend an otherworldliness to the story that further establishes the reader’s commitment to the narrative. Each of our unique protagonists are pushed to further realization of depth by how solidly real they are. The atmosphere of the Nice House, in contrast to the shady woods that surround it or the hazy nightmare of that future place from which the testimonials come, is one of almost sterile comfort. Even in the space Walter has deemed safe, Martinez seems to imply, there is still a sense of being unsettled, never at home. You can have beauty and serenity, the sleek and ultra-modern house says, but you can’t have peace of mind.
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