Wow, what a creepy story.
It’s nearly Halloween, and much to my own chagrin, I’ve almost completely ignored that fact for most of October.
We’ll have reviews of spooky books, and we’ll have them now!!
While horror isn’t my go-to genre, I’m not completely new to it either. In my youth (or really this blog’s youth), I had a ravenous hunger for zombie stories and I gorged myself on the likes of Appalachian Undead, the O.Z. (original zombie?) W.B. Seabrook’s Dead Men Working in the Cane Fields, and World War Z.
Since I tried to write my own haunted house story last year (check out a preview of Boutilier House, and get a glimpse into my revision process) I’ve been focused in that area (side trips into whatever genre you’d put Ring Shout into notwithstanding). Last week, I was somewhat unimpressed by Haunting of Hillhouse.
But this week, I was blown away by Sarah Gailey’s Just Like Home.
In terms of “genre”, Gailey seems to be able to do whatever the fuck they want, whenever the fuck they want it. My introduction to their writing came from Magic for Liars (sadly not reviewed on this blog) which completely thrilled me with its combination of a Harry Potter-esque wizard school setting, and a Jessica Jones style protagonist. Plus it contains one of my favorite surprises of who-dunnit in a mystery so far.
Then I read Upright Women Wanted (again woefully unreviewed on this blog), a different kind of western, filled with librarians (always a plus for me) who ride around on horseback like cowboys, nontraditional gender rolls and pronouns, and a genuinely heart swelling romance.
Just Like Home shows Gailey’s ability to write horror is nothing to scoff at either. The premise alone — daughter of a serial killer, who’s tried to forget and repress her past must come home to close up her mother’s estate while Mom is still alive, but literally on her death bead — does not even need the supernatural or fantastic element to draw a reader in, but apparently more is also more, so let’s add a skeevy artist and make the house haunted too. Why not?
Despite so many elements to juggle, the story feels tightly written and is both scary and psychologically thrilling. Vera’s arc is perhaps not a traditional hero’s journey, but it felt perfect for her circumstance, the family in which she was raised and her lived experience as every character in this book is a boat load of walking contradictions. Vera’s father is a serial killer, and yet seemingly not a psycho or sociopath, as he is able to feel and show an intense love for Vera (and assumedly at one point her mother Daphne).
I still don’t know what to make of Vera’s mother. Does she hate Vera? Did she love her? She was clearly jealous of Francis Crowder’s (Vera’s father) affection for Vera, but could her behavior also have been rational in the situation given the type of person Vera might become under her father’s care? Also the house . . .
There is so much in this book that feels like it should not go together, and yet it does.
My only difficulty in reading this gripping tale was unfortunately its use of misandry. I’m not opposed to characters who hate men (lord knows there’s enough misogynists in fiction we could use a few misandrists if only for variety), but it felt somehow awkward in this story. Gailey’s other works are steeped in themes of identity politics, so when a main character says she ‘doesn’t date men’ it’s natural to assume that perhaps she’s a lesbian and this is something that adds meaning to her interactions with other characters of any gender. When that character is admiring the physique of a male bartender, or the overtly sexual artist James Duval, and trying to push away urges, it might be natural to think the MC is bi, and this too changes our interpretation of the character.
When that character is being told as a child, “Boys are just like girls, in almost every way. But men … men are demons, Vee.”, it becomes harder to reconcile what is going on. Is she just deeply repressed? Or are the urges she’s combating even sexual? Maybe a bit sexual and a bit something else? (I’ve been watching the Jeffery Dahmer Netflix special which has taught me those things are apparently not mutually exclusive lol).
In most pieces of fiction, I’m not opposed to, and often enjoy ambiguity. The author should present a story and it is up to us as readers to interpret the meaning behind those words. But I think I could have used a little help with this one.
So It Was Good?
Oh, it was great. Scary, thrilling, and (to me) an unexpected and satisfying resolution. Sarah Gailey again shows themselves to be an extraordinary storyteller, no matter the genre. The story of this family alone is enough to be a great story, but Gailey gives the reader more, adding in the haunted house element and some puzzling issues of identity which will have you pondering long after you’ve finished reading.
If you haven’t already, go give this one a read!
Has anyone already had the pleasure? What did you think? What was the scariest part? Who was your favorite character? Please let me know in the comments, I’m really looking forward to discussing this one!
Until next time!!
Now here is one I have also read more recently! It was my first read by Gailey and I enjoyed it a lot. I thought the ending/reveal was fumbled a bit, though, or at least not to my taste. I could say the house was /not/ my favourite character, though I wanted it to be. I would’ve liked more about Francis, though I understand the story isn’t really about him. Vera’s mother is definitely a character! (Not to be facetious lol, I mean that in the way people say “Oh, she’s such a character”, y’know??)
Right? Daphne was . . . a lot lol. And yea, more Francis would have been great. Honestly there was so much going on here that there were a lot of ways it could go. I get what you mean about the house reveal. Honestly, as mentioned above, the supernatural element didn’t even need to be a part of this story. Just the family dynamics were dramatic enough. Oof lol.
I feel like I have maybe recommended you WHITE IS FOR WITCHING by Helen Oyeyemi in the past?? I don’t usually recommend it to folks cos it’s one of my favourite reads but I realize it’s very love or hate. The reason I’m thinking of it now is cos I think it does the supernatural house element (which is also house as antagonist) very well.