This is a short(ish) horror novel from 1981, and was written by the same writer of The Amulet which I thought was really weird and curious, but was also strangely harsh and bleak in a way that wasn’t much fun to read. This one is a lot better in terms of that bleakness. It’s a weird cross between say, Burnt Offerings and maybe a little All the King’s Men mixed in.
So the plot here begins with a strange, closed-off family funeral at the end of which the surviving grandson of the dead woman stabs her through the heart. We are then told through a conversation between the man’s brother and his daughter, who have long ago left the backroads of Alabama for New York City that this strange ritual became family lore after a long ago ancestor was buried alive.
From there we are taken to the family vacation homes, three severe Vatican mansions on a Gulf island. When we arrive there, one of the houses (referred to as the “Third House”) is being reclaimed by the sand. We spend a lot of the story through the close point of view of the young daughter of the somewhat estranged New York son. She investigates the third house and believes the sandy house is also a grave when she thinks she sees a corpse formed out of the sand.
The novel then dives deeper into the family history, plays out the political campaign on the patriarch of the family, and revisits the horrors of violent history of the family. It’s a small novel in a lot of ways, but it’s solid throughout.