I’m not sure what it says about me that within three chapters of this book, I thought, “This had better end with a divorce.”
Really, I don’t know what it says about me that my standard reaction to married couples in books is the same.
Or most episodes of House Hunters.
In this book, though, the husband spends the first few chapters so busy throwing red flags that I don’t know how he got anything done.
I’m struggling hard with what to say about this book, and I think it’s because it managed to tread over worn paths that have been making me tired and sad for a long time. As a haunted house story, it felt so wearyingly familiar.
There’s the old house with the mysterious past that the main characters purchase despite the warning from their realtor.
There’s the woman experiencing mysterious things who isn’t believed by her husband.
There’s a kooky mother who’s actually a complete monster because she’s not only forced her dog onto a vegan diet, but she’s trying to get other people to do the same. Seriously, if you’re a vegan who wants a vegan pet, get an herbivore.
There’s a drawn out attempt to find out what happened in the house because no one in this world can ask or answer a straight question, and the main character is uncomfortable with the internet.
It all plays out in a way that’s very pat and isn’t satisfying, and there’s a single likable side character who’s barely present. Everyone else is annoying at best and terrible at worst. The main characters are ‘poor,’ but they also start the book by spending 100k on a house, and over the course of the book buy a lot of new furniture, a ton of baby stuff, a car, lots of clothes, and all kinds of other nonsense. That’s without counting all the ambulance rides and ER visits and hospital stays and other things that will eat up anyone’s money.
There are people who’ve ended up on reality TV shows so strangers at home can gawk at their financial mistakes who are better with their money than these people.
The husband was born into a wealthy family, but lost all his money when it turned out his parents were crooks. However, instead of having to find a real job and make his own place in the world, he got a job at his uncle’s law firm. Yeah, he’s working very long hours for the cheap clients, but he still had family there to bail him out when he needed it. He’s the kind of guy who will punish his wife for disagreeing with him by abandoning her (including during the move into their new house, when he left her without a car, without keys to get into the new house, or a phone). He’ll stay away long enough to make sure that when he comes back, his wife knows to never, ever mention the fight again, and that makes everything ok. Then he’ll ‘apologize’ for abandoning her because she tripped and broke some dishes they couldn’t afford to replace by buying a whole set of furniture for their new house, which also conveniently stops her from putting her own mark on the house. He’s also the kind of guy who insists you need to talk, but by ‘talk’ he means ‘listen to him and do what he wants and not talk at all.’ He also works very hard to not believe his wife, ever.
She grew up rootless and sometimes homeless with a ‘crazy’ mother who’s into essential oils, homeopathy, crystals, veganism, and earning some of her income as a pet psychic. She supported her husband through law school after his father went to prison and his mother disappeared on him, and she’s constantly managing him to make sure he won’t blow up and disappear on her. She internalizes any abuse she receives as a failure on her part, and she values boys above anyone and everyone else, to the point that she even acknowledges that she’s probably failed girls she’s met by not paying attention to them.
There’s a ghost of an angry little boy in the house, and though there’s some effort to make it seem like maybe the wife is going crazy, the book never risks letting you doubt whether or not the ghost is real.
This is a book riddled with fat phobia. If you’re a woman, you don’t have value unless you’re thin. If you’re fat, it’s because you’re lazy and greedy and probably abusive and neglectful. I’d let it slide if it were one character, but every view point character at some point makes this clear.
If you’re pregnant, this probably isn’t a good book to read since a great deal of the horror focuses on endangering a pregnant woman and her fetus.
This book also features some pretty stunning and unacknowledged emotional abuse.
And if you’re sensitive about animals, there’s a dog who is at different points neglected (refused veterinary treatment in favor of homeopathic and EO treatment), abused (hit, nearly drowned, forced to survive on a vegan diet), and ultimately dies (of natural causes, sort of).
There’s also a very horror novel depiction of mental illness/possible brain damage.
Starter House is the author’s debut novel, and ultimately, the writing wasn’t bad. I’d be interested to see how her writing develops in the future, and I’d pick up her next book.