book club guide – The Handyman Method by Nick Cutter & Andrew F. Sullivan

Photo of The Handyman Method by Nick Cutter and Andrew F. Sullivan paperback on a store bookshelf

If your book club has chosen The Handyman Method by Nick Cutter and Andrew F. Sullivan, I think we just became best friends!

Title: The Handyman Method

Author(s): Nick Cutter & Andrew F. Sullivan

Date first published: 8 August 2023

ISBN harmed in the making of this book club offering: 9781797151854 (ISBN10: 1797151851) audiobook, narrated by Corey Brill; it doesn’t matter if you use a different version, this just makes it clearer if/when pages/sections don’t perfectly align from whatever version you may be using. Published by Simon & Schuster Audio.

Book jacket blurb:

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 perfect for fans of Nick Cutter’s bestsellers The Troop and The Deep.

WHO are the main characters? The main character is Trent Saban, a lawyer on long-term leave from his job following a critical incident that occurred at the office, who moves into a brand new house in a brand new subdivision with his wife, Rita, and son, Milo.

WHAT happens (no spoilers)? Trent and Rita are both lawyers who met at work, married and had a son, Milo. Trent got placed on leave after he heroically intervened in an incident where a disgruntled ex-employee had shown up at the office one day swinging a hammer, while Rita’s career was accelerating and made her the family’s primary bacon buyer. They move into a newly built house that is supposed to be a fresh start for the family, but shit starts going sideways on Day One. Trent finds a massive crack in the wall of his bedroom closet, and he flips out about it. I mean, yeah, it’s a new house and you want it to be perfect, but I think Trent was feeling a little sensitive about things in general and somehow this crack just totally ruined his hopeful vibe. Anyway, he consults YouTube for a handyman solution – a Handyman Method, you might say 😉 – when he comes across Handyman Hank, the jovial host of an obscure channel with only two subscribers, and excessive flannel. Let me just say that Hank is kind of a giant asshole. He’s misogynistic, crude, chauvinistic, and almost certainly a Republican. Yeah, I said it. Anyway, Hank starts feeding Trent some serious bullshit, which Trent eats up and then he also becomes a giant asshole. Okay, one spoiler that you’ll figure out in the first chapter: Trent was already an asshole. Things go downhill from there.

WHEN does the story take place? The Handyman Method is set in modern times (early 2020s), complete with YouTube, power tools and frequent trips to Home Depot.

WHERE is The Handyman Method set? The story is set in a fictional housing development called Dunsany Estates (not to be confused with Dunsany Estate in Ireland… or is it? Hmmm… now I’m not sure).

WHY SHOULD YOU READ THE HANDYMAN METHOD? I would recommend this novel for a horror book club mainly because it is wild and fun. There is some honest-to-god batshit crazy stuff in this story, and a building feeling of “WTF is going on” right up to the very end. The exploration of fragile masculinity is *chef’s kiss* hilarious and worthy of the occasional head-shake, and the twists and turns are truly unexpected and surprising. If you like haunted house, ancient curse, body horror, Bentley Little, and twisted thriller soup, then bring a spoon because The Handyman Method is simmering just for you.

FOOD AND WINE PAIRINGS for The Handyman Method, by Nick Cutter and Andrew F. Sullivan:

  • Baked beef enchiladas
  • Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) Hungarian red wine


  • Turtle soup
  • Ouzo

🛑 Once you step past this point, spoilers will be revealed! It is strongly recommended that you read the book before you read the corresponding sections of the conversation guide for your book club. Sections below correspond to the four parts in the novel, one for each month the Saban family live in their beautiful new home.

Part 1: June – chapters 1 to 6

  • The first chapter contains some foreshadowing, where Trent thinks about how there is a “secret at the heart of every marriage”, and how he found Rita’s mind to be “unknowable”. What do you think Trent meant with those thoughts at the beginning? What do you suppose he would have thought about secrets and his wife’s mind at the end?
  • Again with the foreshadowing, Hector says in chapter 1 that “sacrifices” must be made in a brand new development. What sacrifices would he have apparently been referring to, and what sacrifices did he actually mean here?
  • Trent had some… let’s call them “ideas”. He had considered getting a vasectomy without telling his wife, he was cynical about his son reading as a way to learn empathy, and he got salty pretty quickly when faced with the slightest setbacks. Since the story starts at the scene of what will eventually be Trent’s undoing, do you think he was immediately being influenced by unseen forces, or do you think he was maybe a dickhead from birth?
  • The contractors at Home Depot give Trent a hard time, sending him to the plebe checkout and catching him bullshitting when he pretends to know what he’s doing. They call him a “Saturday guy”. Did Trent deserve their disdain?
  • When Rita finds that Trent has nicked his nuts in a failed attempt at manscaping, they end up having some wild monkey sex that ends with a little bit of S&M, followed by Trent feeling ashamed and afraid. Immediately after that, Rita is thinking about her mother, her son, and her obligations, and about how torture can leave a person damaged beyond reach. Did you imagine at this point that maybe there was something seriously fucking wrong about Rita?

Part 2: July – chapters 7 to 13

  • Milo is being guided and directed to do things by Little Boy Blue, the weirdo YouTube channel he’s constantly watching, similar to Trent and his obsession with Handyman Hank. In chapter 7, Blue says some truly disturbing things, and is clearly speaking to Milo rather than going about his creepy business in the videos. Blue tells his junior blues that “you can’t let fear control you”, and also that “fear is a useful tool”. How do you avoid being controlled by fear? What would fear be a “tool” for, if not to control others?
  • Rita hears a voice on Milo’s telephone invention accusing her of leaving them in the dark. There are continuous indications that Rita knows something more than she’s let on. Whose voice do you think it was, saying “you could have warned me”?
  • Trent is getting carried away with an almost sexual desire to do home maintenance projects, and resents that his role in the family has shifted to include housekeeping and cooking. He thinks he should be fixing and mowing, doing burly man stuff. Obviously burly men with an aptitude for physical work exist in real life, but are they really so one-dimensional that they couldn’t also find satisfaction in doing other household things?
  • When Ted and Anna come to the house with the video of Trent’s encounter with hammer-wielding Carson from Harrison-Tate, Trent is exposed as a fraud. Instead of feeling chastened, he is resentful of Rita’s embarrassment. When she said “maybe you deserve what’s coming to you” – aside from this being ominous AF – did you think he deserved some kind of punishment for what he’d done? Did he deserve what ultimately came for him?
  • Did you happen to check out the Nick Cutter audiobook, The Breach? (How about the super-amazing noises above book club guide for The Breach? Hmmm?) If so, you may have noticed that Nick Cutter seems to know just how frigging awful it is to imagine someone ripping out their own fingernails with pliers. This isn’t really for discussion, I just wanted to point out that it’s so gross, it makes me actually gag.
  • Really horrible things happen to Milo’s pet turtle Morty in chapter 11, at Milo’s highly impressionable and manipulated hands. While the horrible things are happening, Rita seems to understand that there was a possibility for anything at all to happen in their house, and knows they will not have happy days ahead. Honestly, at this point should she just be locking Trent in the basement to accelerate the process she so clearly sees is underway?
  • In his obvious campaign for father of the year, Trent sends Milo 20 feet up in the air on a rickety play structure, tells his son that his idea about Sirius tasting like peppermint is stupid, and gets defensive with Rita after Milo nearly breaks his skull in a horrific fall. In a rare moment of self-awareness, Trent considers how kids still love you well past the point when they should have stopped. What do we think about Trent at this point in the story?

Part 3: August – chapters 14 to 16

  • Up until Part 3, The Handyman Method seemed like maybe a story of possession, with Hank and/or Little Boy Blue representing some sort of demonic entity. With Trent sensing Hank’s presence fading the further he gets from the house, is this a haunted house story? Can a new house be haunted?
  • Milo pictures a massive spider at first when he hears a clicking sound in his room. He respects spiders for the job that they do. How does the book club feel about spiders? Do you gently relocate the ones who want to be roomies with you, or do you believe spiders in the house have crossed a line from which there is no return?
  • Milo encounters an old box like a sailor’s chest when he follows not-Morty down to the basement. An old man’s voice tells him that if he behaves Milo can go in the box; if he misbehaves he goes in the box. Yeah… it’s nice to have options, right? When Milo pushes back against the situation even being real, the old man voice refers to his daughter. Is Rita’s dad trying to take Milo somehow? Why though? Seriously. Creepy as heck.
  • Everything that happens in chapter 16 is wild, and the madness doesn’t stop until the story is over. Trent looks for Milo, finds the box. Rita finds Trent, opens the box. Trent briefly considers whacking Rita with a hammer (??!!). Rita takes almost-dead Milo to the hospital while Trent insists on staying put. Discuss whether or not these events are a turning point after which the answers begin to reveal themselves.

Part 4: September – chapters 17 to 25

  • We learn in chapter 17 that Hector, the HOA liaison, is in cahoots with Rita, and that the Saban residence was built for the purpose of giving up an “offering”. Why do you suppose the workers who built the house had some issues (like DIY amputation, for example)?
  • Hank applies the full-court press to Trent, spouting off about globalists and dolphins while Rita and Milo are off at the hospital, and he introduces Trent to an easy-to-assemble replacement family. Trent gets sucked into holes both metaphorical and real, and goes pretty much fully off the deep end. A creature from the crack in his bedroom closet chases him right into the fist of a contractor he’d hurt badly, earlier in the story. Did you feel bad for Ned / Asscrack Al in the end? I mean, Ned really got a wrong place, wrong time reward in that house, if you think about it.
  • Rita finally comes clean and tells Trent what’s up. She believes her father is probably still alive in the house. Was this admission a kindness on Rita’s part? Or was it cruel to let Trent know the true stakes?
  • In maybe an unexpected moment of bravery, Trent faces what’s coming rather than run away. Did his actions (like making the Molotovs, using the winch to go down into whatever lay below his house) redeem Trent at all in the book club’s estimation?
  • While Trent is facing his destiny below the house, Milo remains in hospital and Rita enjoys the peace of the Tradewinds Motel, where the screaming is less frequent. Can you think of anywhere you can go and be assured to hear no screaming at all?
  • Rita considers how the wider world had been closing in on the spot where her family had contained the influence of their generational curse (for lack of a better term… what would you call it? A family issue? An ancient obligation? Meh, I don’t know!), making it harder to keep it hidden. In what ways would you say the wider world has closed in on all of us at this point?
  • The cost of protecting the community has been steep for generations of women in Rita’s bloodline. Has it been worth it? There are a lot of jobs involving protection of the public that you might say are thankless or unrecognized. Can you think of any examples? Is anyone in the book club an outlier like Rita, who keeps others safe without them knowing or appreciating their sacrifice?
  • As she drives through another new subdivision, Rita observes some of the local assholes going about their business. What does it mean when Rita thinks of how humans can crush anything, given enough time?
  • The house directly below Rita and Trent’s house contains many things that may have been typical in a North American house during the 1980s or ’90s, such as a bookshelf full of Time Life books, and walls covered in posters. Do people remember (or still have) Time Life books? Did you ever have them in your house?
  • Ultimately, Rita chooses to protect her family instead of the wider community. Does that make her a sell-out for the sacrifices of her ancestors? Is her decision selfish, or selfless?

Epilogue: Five days later

  • Witnessing what is going on in the neighbourhood shortly after Rita denies the house its sacrifice, what do you suppose is going to be the long-term result? Did she make the right choice? Why or why not?
  • True story: last night I dreamed that I lived in an apartment building that seemed normal, but would sometimes revert to a construction site of unfinished floors, exposed beams, and nowhere near being ready for occupancy. When it happened, I would have no idea where my family, pets, or stuff might be. All the neighbours in nearby homes were constantly buzzing in and out with purchases that appeared to be related to home improvements, and when I tried to speak to them, to get someone to notice that my apartment was acting funny, no one would acknowledge me. It was scary and frustrating, and when I woke up and started working on this book club guide, I realized that my dream must have been rooted in The Handyman Method. Friends, I love when a book hits this way. Has this one affected you in any similar ways? If not this one, has a book ever creeped in and messed with your dreams or perceptions of the world around you?

We’ve reached the end of another noises above book club guide. Be sure to let us know if you have any comments or suggestions for books you’d like to see here, and check out the blog for articles about this and other books by Nick Cutter, and other great horror writers!

go ahead, whistle past the graveyard

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