Book: The House Next Door
I’ve seen this book listed on many “best horror” or “best haunted house” booklists — it was kind of difficult to track down (I had to have it brought up from deep storage at the Oakland Library — that in itself made me love this book already! Deep storage at the library! I want to go down there!) So, so worth it!
You may recall I read an Anne Rivers Siddons book earlier this year and liked it quite a bit. Rather typical Southern suburbanite storytelling, but a good solid novel and very likable. This book was nothing like that book, except that it’s set in a wealthy Southern suburb.
Colquitte and Walter are a very self-satisfied couple in a moderately wealthy neighborhood. They love their house, they have good friends on the block, they have nice careers and play tennis at the club on weekends. They have no children by choice, because they like their peaceful happy lives just the way they are, thankyouverymuch. They love their view of the wooded lot next door, and are devastated when they hear that it’s been purchased and a house is to go in soon.
At first, everything seems okay. They end up admiring the house very much — the way it is described reminds me of Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright — a remarkably beautiful modern home over a stream, which seems to just grow out of the natural setting. They like the architect, Kim, and become friends with him. They are not so sure about the buyers, a chipper yuppie couple named Pie and Buddy, but they seem harmless and friendly, and so everyone goes about settling in the little couple into their beautiful new home.
But then the bad things start. First it starts with small animals found dead on the lot, brutally murdered by an unknown predator. Then Pie loses her baby. Then the puppy. Then the housewarming party — and the Big Bad Thing That Happened. (side note: the big bad thing was pretty bad, but also a classic example of a humiliation very much of the time. Sure, it would be humiliating anytime, the thing that happened, but people’s reactions to it were very ’70s, which was amusing). Pie and Buddy depart in haste, their lives completely ruined. However, they survive relatively unharmed, compared to what happens to the next couple who move in.
At this point, everyone just thinks how unfortunate Pie and Buddy were. So sad! So they welcome the new couple, Buck and Anita, with open arms. However, something is not quite right with this couple. Nice people, both of them, but something isn’t right with Anita. Soon we find out what it is, and it’s pretty sad. And then the house starts messing with her. Ghostly phone calls, a TV movie that plays only in her house. And then worse things, things that happen to neighbors who try to help them. The destruction begins to grow, until it destroys Anita utterly.
By this point, Colquitte and Walter (and the reader) are starting to get unnerved. They start to wonder if they should warn the next buyers that something isn’t right with that house. But it’s such a lovely house, and the neighborhood is so nice… so the next family moves in, and you just know it’s going to be bad, bad bad. And it is. The house turns deadly.
So what is it about the house? Is it haunted? Not exactly. It’s a brand new house. What then? Could it be that the charming architect has somehow passed a curse along into his creation? Could it be the land itself, so previously enchanting? Could it be Colquitte and Walter are drawing conclusions that are maybe a tad bit hysterical?
The miasma of destruction infects the neighbors — anyone connected to the house at all. Previously happy, sunny lives are systematically dismantled and destroyed, friendships crumble, litter starts to pile up in the streets. Yes, litter! This part cracked me up too. Part of the reason this book is so effective is that it pokes into the shiny happy lives of privileged self-satisfied people who have no idea what an unhappy life even looks like, until this house is built. It’s almost as if the house is set upon destroying the cloying smugness of the neighborhood (which is sort of satisfying, I have to say).
This book reminded me of old Stephen King — full of a building dread, the small meannesses of people, the way people interact and suspicions grow. Is the house evil? Probably. But it draws out the worst in people — the seeds of evil that are always there. Quite scary in this book, and a nice mixture of dread, horror, social commentary (at least to modern eyes) and satisfaction of seeing smug rich people get theirs.
I liked this book a lot and it was PERFECT for RIP. It’s worth looking up if you like haunted house books like I do!