I'm hosting book club this week, and the title I selected is Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. I've wanted to read this book ever since Stephen King praised it to the heavens. Well, I read it, and it's a good story, just not that scary. In fact, Hill House is funny--some of the characters are sketched purely for humor, I think. It's hard to be frightened when you're laughing.
So, today I'm posting about a really scary haunted house book by Southern author Anne Rivers Siddons: The House Next Door, published in 1978. Siddons is better known for women's fiction; Peachtree Road and Colony are two of her best sellers. The House Next Door is set and character-ed similarly: a prosperous Atlanta neighborhood, populated with well-heeled Yuppies who unexpectedly encounter life-changing conflict. But this conflict is not racial or societal (as in Siddons' other books). It's purely supernatural.
Walter and Colquitt Kennedy happily reside in a peaceful suburb with a glorious, leafy empty lot next door. Their quiet routine is disrupted when a young couple buys the lot and begins constructing their dream house. The house soon rises sleek and uber modern, disturbingly lovely to Colquitt, who spends more time at home than her husband. The neighborhood chorus takes note of the house's unusual style, but when bad things start happening to its residents, Colquitt is the only one who doesn't dismiss the events as coincidence.
Siddons' novels frequently feature houses as primary settings. As in life, a character's home is an expression of style and personal history. Almost without exception, home is a haven, a comfortable touchstone, reminding the protagonist of her history and strength. The House Next Door offers up an antagonistic setting: home as evil and so modern as to repel any history from sticking to it. The house is stylish, true, but like a killer stiletto heel that stabs.
Unlike chuckling occasionally at Hill House, I shivered all through House Next Door. How could a newly constructed house be haunted? It sounds counter-intuitive, but Siddons makes it work. The reader ponders how the roots of evil--greed, jealousy, laziness, for instance--don't need time to settle into a foundation. A house borne of same could start striking with the paint barely dry.