Fiction, What Shannon Read

The House Next Door

HouseNextDoorAs I’ve mentioned before, I’m constantly on the lookout for good ghost stories and The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons has been on my list for a while. I finally got a copy from the library and read it on my recent trip to Seattle, which was kind of a weird location in which to read something by one of the doyennes of Southern lit.

The story centers on Colquitt (yep) and Walter Kennedy who live in an upper-middle class neighborhood among a group of neighbors with whom they’re very close. A little too close, frankly. Everybody in this book is an introvert’s worst nightmare. But even extroverted Colquitt, who narrates the story, begins to feel shy about the people living in the house next door, especially around the time the third couple moves in. At that point, anyone would be gun-shy.

The first couple, Pie (lol) and Buddy Harralson, actually build the house next door with money from Pie’s father. They’re newlyweds who bring by everyone in their sphere to meet the Kennedy’s, including the home’s architect, Kim Dougherty, who becomes a good friend.

Turns out Kim and the Harralsons are building a contemporary-style home in an old, established neighborhood, which ends up working out beautifully because of the way the light-filled home works within its forest-y surroundings. Unfortunately, the Harralsons don’t live in it long as things start to go wrong while the house is being built.

Haunted house fans will recognize the telltale signs:

  • Small animals wind up dead (like, their remains are viciously decimated) including the Harralsons’ obnoxious new puppy.  😦
  • Pie, who’s pregnant, falls on the site and loses the baby.
  • The architect becomes more and more consumed with the house, which takes up all his time and energy, to the detriment of his talent and general architect mojo (obsession is a key element in haunted house stories).

Things go terribly and irreparably wrong at the Harralsons’ housewarming party. And in the end, things go totally wrong for all three families that live in the house. It turns out, the house preys on the families’ weaknesses to wreak havoc on their minds and in their relationships. It even starts to work on the closest neighbors, including the Kennedys and anyone who spends too much time there.

That said, none of the scenes gave me that particular don’t-wanna-get-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-to-pee thrill I’m always looking for. Nothing in the story was downright scary. Also, there was no explanation for why the house, a brand new build, ruined the lives of all its owners.

But, honestly, I didn’t mind. I liked Colquitt enough as a narrator and enjoyed the interactions between all the neighbors. Siddons brings you right into the world of their “set” and part of the fun was living that upper-middle-class life right along with them. An island vacation house? Where do I sign?

All in all, I’d rate the haunting a 3/5 and the book overall a 4/5 because it really suited my tastes.

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Fiction, What Shannon Read

The Grip of It

Cover of The Grip of It by Jac JemcSo I just finished The Grip of It by Jac Jemc. I picked it up because I am always in the market for a haunted house book. Always. And this one was recommended in a Facebook group I’m in.

My big conclusion: this book should have ended about 60-80 pages before it did.

The story is about Julie and James who exchange life in the big city for a rambling Victorian house in a small town. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the set-up for almost every haunted house story ever. Even the first season of American Horror Story was based on that traditional narrative.

Usually, one of the couple has misbehaved and that spurs the couple’s move, and that was the case for Julie and James. James has a bit of a gambling problem and managed to fritter away his personal savings (though not the couple’s combined savings, so we can still kind of like him) on lunch hours at the track.

By the way, I’m not complaining about the narrative set-up. I quite enjoyed stepping into familiar territory.

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The unhappy Murder House family

It’s not long before things start to go wrong in the new house. There’s a constant humming noise in the house, first of all. Then the couple learns of a creepy story involving the family that lived next door, one of whom still lives there, Rolf. He refuses the couple’s neighborly overtures and always seems to be looking out one of his windows at them.

The couple become increasingly affected by the houses antics, including weird dreams, bruises all over Julie’s body, and from time to time “coming to” inside Rolf’s house not knowing how they got there.

Why is all this happening? Well, because Jemc wanted to explore the psychological effects of living in a crazy situation like this. And we get about 60-80 pages near the end where she does this. Back and forth between James and Julie. And on and on. The climax, if it can even be called that, seems to be Julie entering the hospital with some kind of temporal lobe issue.

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Two haunted house books I enjoyed much more than this one

I kept thinking, this can’t be the climax. This can’t be the end. There’s literally no explanation or resolution to either the haunting or James and Julie. In the end, they’re selling the house. It’s very mundane.

My overall opinion is that the book is around 60-80 pages too long. There are a few too many scenes and I was hoping for things to come to a head long before they (sort of) did. I think the author was trying to build the action but, honestly, the time had come and gone and I was already thinking about my next book.

And, seriously, I’m looking for haunted house books, so if you’ve read or heard of any good ones, I’d love some recommendations!

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