Crooked Lane Books | 2020
Filed Under: Damien babies as birth control
I love gothic horror and I love haunted houses, so this book had all the balls in its court from the jump. Big balls, little balls. Balls of all sorts. We don’t discriminate around here.
But there was one serious downer that stood out for me: this is a wordy motherfucker.
When it comes to a genre novel that should be building suspense, dread and thrills because the story requires it, being too long or a maniac with purple prose can be a serious issue. The only time length isn’t an issue, is when the plot events are making up that length, like so much is happening it requires extra pages.
In this case, it wasn’t that there was so much story to tell, and certainly the page count isn’t very high, but rather that the author was far too interested in metaphors and purple prose and just couldn’t stop using them. Like, an intervention was needed. Without all that filler, this would probably be closer to being a novella.
The writing just isn’t very concise and so the suspense and chills kind of ebb and flow depending on where you are in the novel, making for an uneven reading experience. But there were a couple moments that gave me the creepy creeps, and all the pieces of the novel are captivating. It’s just the execution that falters.
Sam lives with her mother in their family’s decaying, ancestral mansion that all the locals are wary of. And that unease extends to the family who has lived in the house for generations. Sam and her family get treated like outcasts – everyone is curious, but the gossip and puritan attitudes lead to ostracising, stares and whispers. They’ve been labelled the “Wakefield Witches” and people keep their distance.
For Sam and her family, the fact that their home is haunted barely registers. They’ve been living with it for so long, it’s just part of the scenery. The haunting of the home isn’t by earthbound spirits who interact with the living, but rather residual energy. The memories of their movements play on repeat. The scenes play out, but it’s not an intelligent haunting. I think the Buzzfeed guys would have really liked it here.
The labyrinth home was built by an ancestor known as “Mad Catharine.” Catharine figured if she kept building bizarre additions to the house in the most complicated, maze-like way possible, the ghosts would become confused and unable to disturb those who live there. But like, that didn’t really work in practice? So now the house is just huge and weird and the upkeep is impossible.
Oh, and the house is located near a swamp where a swamp witch lives. So there’s that.
The vibe of the Wakefield home is tangible to the reader. The atmosphere is very much dark, gloomy and isolated. But the atmosphere isn’t backed up by anything consistently exciting or scary, so the pace can sometimes be painfully slow, watering down that perfect atmosphere by description and inner-monologuing.
When Sam’s 9-months pregnant sister, Elizabeth, runs away from her abusive husband and finds refuge at the Wakefield home, Sam starts seeing a disturbing new apparition who does interact. He’s a creepy little boy and all the scariest moments in this novel stem from his murderous, Damien-esque bullshit. Like knocking on your door with a knife whispering, “Auntie, let me in.”
Big problems start when Sam decides this horrible manifestation is Elizabeth’s unborn child. How can Sam ensure that this kid doesn’t become the monster she is presently being tormented by when he’s finally born? Well, if there’s anything we’ve learned about fucking with the future, it’s that the more you try to stop a premonition from coming to pass, the more likely you are to be causing it.
Here are your Twisted Totals:
One creepy kid killing animals
One agoraphobic mother
One locked room you can never enter
One tarot reading
One gross swamp
One gross swamp witch
Superfluous ghost memories
One dead dad and his journal of madness
One canoe accident
A dozen holes in the backyard from a body dig
One cigarette to the palm
One dude with Amityville vibes
One look at yourself in the mirror and crying breakdown
One isolating blizzard
One childbirth on acid
One highspeed baby chase
Throat Crushing, Mirror Smashing, Hand Stomping and Lip Glueing
Fucking Highlights include:
Elizabeth, when her alcoholic mother tells her to get a hobby, for, “Like drinking?”
Sam for “Terrible men, all around me. Something ought to be done about them.” And for, “How strange that it should hurt more to finally release a burden than it does to keep holding onto it.”
I liked this enough, but there was something off in the execution. It’s less than 300 pages but feels significantly longer. And the pacing and vibe of the plot are drowned in a witch’s swamp of purple prose. But the atmosphere is on point and the ending of this was quite clever. I just wish more time had been taken to flesh out the actual story and characters, instead of overstuffing it with filler. Maybe then the ending would have been more impactful, instead of feeling disjointed.
Still, these Damien babies are wonderful birth control.
Sam Wakefield’s ancestral home, a decaying mansion built on the edge of a swamp, isn’t a place for children. Its labyrinthine halls, built by her mad ancestors, are filled with echoes of the past: ghosts and memories knotted together as one. In the presence of phantoms, it’s all Sam can do to disentangle past from present in her daily life. But when her pregnant sister Elizabeth moves in after a fight with her husband, something in the house shifts. Already navigating her tumultuous relationship with Elizabeth, Sam is even more unsettled by the appearance of a new ghost: a faceless boy who commits disturbing acts—threatening animals, terrorizing other children, and following Sam into the depths of the house wielding a knife. When it becomes clear the boy is connected to a locked, forgotten room, one which is never entered, Sam realizes this ghost is not like the others. This boy brings doom. As Elizabeth’s due date approaches, Sam must unravel the mysteries of Wakefield before her sister brings new life into a house marked by death. But as the faceless boy grows stronger, Sam will learn that some doors should stay closed—and some secrets are safer locked away forever.