This book had been pretty low on my 'to read' list. It had been suggested to me, but since I am not one who enjoys classic gothic horror, and because I assumed it to be a pretty tame horror, it just hadn't been a priority. BUT! It was chosen as a book club pick, so it quickly moved to the top of the pile.
I initially gave this book 3 stars - and I stand by that, but this book for me had some really high highs and some really low lows. The 3 stars comes from me trying to balance that out.
Basically the plot is this (without spoiling anything): Ruth is a 40something widowed woman who inherits an old house in Georgetown, Washington DC from her aunt. Ruth's college aged niece, Sara is boarding with her while she attends a nearby school. Sara introduces Ruth to her professor, Pat McDougal. Later, Ruth has a dream in which a black smoky shadow appears, and she hears someone call out "Come home, Sammie" and assumes it's a neighbor looking for their cat. Somewhere along the line, we meet Bruce who is Sara's sort-of boyfriend.
Anyway. Pat invites Ruth to his mother's society soiree - which is actually a seance! Although Ruth thinks it's all a sham, she invites the medium and Pat's mom to her house for her own dinner party. There, they do a seance, and spookiness abounds! Sara starts speaking in a voice that isn't her own and pretty much terrifies everyone at the party. Eventually, we find out that Sara is possessed, and the 4 main characters spend the brunt of the book arguing about and researching the history of the house, the family, and the spirits that haunt them until eventually they find the source of the terror. Also, it's not 'Sammie', we find out that the girls's name is 'Ammie'.
Okay, synopsis over.
So - everything I love and hate about this book is like opposites of a coin. Let's start with the romance. I really like that the young couple isn't really the focus of the romance. We don't even really hear whether or not Bruce and Sara are officially a couple. The romance instead, is between Ruth and Pat, and it's refreshing to see a romance between two older people. Of course, if you're reading this you probably know that I am not much for romance (both in my real life and in the fiction I read), so the trope of them not liking each other and then growing to love each other is sort of an eyeball
from me, but that's okay. However, on the opposite side of the coin is the general treatment, and talk about women. I know this book was written in the 60s, not a very progressive time for women, but even so, there were a few lines that I found really hard to swallow, even given the time period it was written in.
The next coin is the generational differences between Sara/Bruce and Ruth/Pat. I liked that there was some narrative around it. I liked that Ruth thought about Sara's way of dressing, and the differences in hairstyles and stuff like that. It seemed very natural to me. Older generations are always going to think the younger generation 'dresses funny' or 'wears their hair in such a weird way' - so I liked that, and it brought a type of genuine feeling (and humor) to the story. However, did Ruth HAVE to be such an old lady? She was only in her 40s! Sometimes she came off as a little boring and whiney. AND again, some of these generational things brought a lot of sexism/misogyny so that's a bummer.
(Also, I know a lot of reviews talk about how Ruth had never had pizza, but I don't think that's very strange. My dad, who was born in the late 40s, didn't have pizza for the first time until he was in high school, which would have been the 1960s.)
Lastly, and the whole reason this review is on this blog, is the fact that this is a horror novel and is a ghost story. I thought the scary parts were unnerving yet beautifully written, I think it is really a true representation of that classic gothic feel (even if it took place in the 1960s) and was generally spooky. The ghost story holds up. I like that it takes the possession story and turns it on its head a little bit. Although a priest makes a small visit to the story, this story isn't priests and holy water, and split pea soup. The only criticism I have isn't really a criticism - it's just that these classic gothic ghost stories aren't on the top of my favorite horror genre lists.
If you read this book, I'd love to know your thoughts!
Until next time,