This is the only horror novel Anne Rivers Siddons ever wrote, and the only book of hers I’ve ever read, so I feel like we were on some sort of haunted parallel footing here. This is a very well done haunted house story written in a lyrical style, but with a lot of brutal, horrible scenes. The contrast between the nice, aesthetic portions of the book and the growing realization that a nasty little scene is right around the next page makes for a tension-filled reading experience, and one that I very much enjoyed. I also liked that the house was brand new, with no ancient burial grounds or forgotten murders to explain why terrible things start and then continue happening to the inhabitants and anyone else unlucky enough to spend slightly too much time in the house.
I think my only issue with the book is that I think it would have been more powerful if she hadn’t explained why the house was evil at the end — there’s something about a completely unexplained malice and events that can’t be stopped that I find much scarier, because then you can’t tell yourself you’re safe. I also found the little epilogue to be a bit too Stephen King twist-esque for me, which I didn’t find as scary as the bulk of the novel, where terrible things just keep on happening just because the house appears to enjoy tormenting people. And does it ever torment them! We are treated to a parade of awful events, each of which is the person’s worst nightmare brought to life. I think that the power of the novel is partially in that the house feeds off and encourages the worst to happen, and very specifically for that person, but also in a way that doesn’t appear like a traditional haunting to the outside world. The narrator spends the novel slowly and painfully trying to get her husband to back her up in her belief that the house next door even is evil, despite the fact he is seeing all the same things she is. The human desire to ignore and explain away things outside our window of belief is used to great effect here. I also really liked their supportive and loving marriage — a lovely exploration of a couple who doesn’t want children and is just enjoying being together and making a little world for themselves. I feel like you don’t often get to see a contented couple with no children in fiction, so I appreciated that.
This was a perfect book to read on an Amtrak train for several hours during a rainy day. Every time I would get too disturbed, I could just put the book down and stare out the window at the post-industrial waste of the Northeast Corridor. Which is scarier, a house that hates you for no discernible reason, or the shells of the factories that used to support a livable existence for someone who wasn’t in student debt. Either way, I was scared on multiple levels.
Recommended to any horror fans who like scary house books, but warnings for a lot of triggering material (child and animal death, miscarriage, visceral scenes of a sick child, people being driven insane).