My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jess and Clare Martin met at Bailey College, in the Hudson River valley, but have been living in New York for years. Jess wrote a successful first novel not long after graduation, but that money has long been spent. He's been working on his second book for ages; it's long overdue, and he needs a new muse. So the two decide to move back to the Hudson River area, where Jess can focus on the book without distractions. They take on duties as caretakers at Riven House, the home of their former college professor, Monty. They can live in a nearby cottage in exchange for helping the elderly Monty with chores. But the setup has its own issues: it's Monty, after all, who wrote a review of Jess' first book that torments him to this day. And as they settle in, Clare begins to hear a baby crying at night and see shadowy figures around the pond of Monty's property. As she investigates local history, she thinks what she sees may be tied to the house's tormented past. The locals say the place is haunted and destroys everyone who stays there. Are Clare and Jess next?
You know how sometimes you start a novel and immediately know, from the first page, that you'll enjoy it? THE WIDOW'S HOUSE was that way for me. It sucked me in immediately and kept me interested throughout; I read it in about 24 hours. The book is filled with complicated characters, starting with Clare. You start to realize she's the ultimate unreliable narrator, but are never able to tell exactly how much. She appears unhappy with her selfish author husband and her marriage. She had a rough childhood--growing up in the Hudson Valley not far from Monty's estate, which has clearly affected the way she sees the world. The entire story is told from her point of view, and we're stuck with all events being filtered through her lens. It's genius really, and it is a refreshing change from so many novels lately that change narrators and time periods. You find yourself working and guessing with Clare as she unravels local history and the events unfolding at Riven House.
The novel is certainly told in the Gothic tradition. I first fell for Goodman via her excellent novel, The Lake of Dead Languages, and this book reminded me of that one in some ways. Unlike some Gothic novels, you do not have to suspend much disbelief as the creepy events unfold around Clare and Jess. There are parts of this book that are incredibly spooky, and it's quite well-done. I loved that I was frantically flipping the pages, constantly second guessing everything and wondering what was happening. There are some great twists that shock you, even as you're still trying to figure things out in you're head (much like Clare). This novel will leave you guessing. It's crazy and confusing, but fascinating and incredibly hard to put down. It's completely enjoyable and stays with you after you've finished it, going over various plot points. Highly recommend.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss (thank you!) in return for an unbiased review; it is available everywhere as of 03/07/2017.
You can find my review of Goodman's novel, RIVER ROAD, here.
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