★★★★★ out of ★★★★★
“It takes the best of you.”
Written by Anne Rivers Siddons
The haunted house in Anne Rivers Siddons’ chiller “The House Next Door” isn’t your usual haunted house of rattling chains and ghosts. Perhaps it is more a haunted house for adults (although children are harmed there, too), one that reminds you that the life you have carefully built can shatter at any time. The control that you have over your life is really just an illusion.
The house is designed by Kim, an up and coming architect prodigy who “drank steadily and silently, and regarded his new clients with both faint amusement and a sort of unwilling tolerance. It was obvious that he was a good architect.” And create, he does: “The house lay in a pool of radiance, as if spotlit. I drew in my breath, it was magnificent. It grew out of the penciled earth like an elemental spirit that had lain, locked and yearning for the light, through endless deeps of time, waiting to be released.” These words are spoken by Colquitt, the narrator, who lives next door with her husband Walter.
Toward the midpoint of the book the couple knows with utter certainty that something is terribly wrong with the house but don’t yet understand or know what to do. Kim, despite his architect ego, is the first to attempt to verbalize the grave dangers of his creation after he has a disturbing scene there that nearly destroys three lives in one shot. “I know what happened, I understand now,” he says to Walter and Colquitt one dark night over a cocktail (as in one of the seminal and unique movies about white suburbanites “The Swimmer,” everyone seems to always be drinking their disillusionments away). He continues: “It is damned, that house. It’s a greedy house. It takes. You said once Colquitt, that it would bring out the best in whoever lived there. You were wrong. It takes the best.”
“Don’t you just love it?” The newly married and hopeful Mrs. Harralson chirps about her new house. But that sentiment isn’t to last long. The chapters/parts in the book are simply titled: The Harralsons, The Sheehans, The Greenes. Colquitt and Walter watch in horror what befalls the three different families who move into the house next door.
If you’re looking for an answer as to why, this book won’t tell you (although a possible line of thinking to follow is suggested, and no, it hasn’t been built on an Indian burial ground). True, before the house was built the “lot” was ”an oasis of wild, dark greenness, luminous in the Spring with dogwood and honeysuckle, giving one the feeling of being cloistered on a mountain. I loved the sturdy chuckle of the creek, the nearness of the woods,” muses Colquitt as she desolately watches the tractors destroy in order to build. Other than lamenting a nature that has been plowed over, she has no idea what lies in store for anyone who comes to be associated with the house, or tries to stop it from the souls that it wants.
Written in 1978, this excellent book fits into a golden time in the arts and American cinema. The 1970’s produced some of the most compelling, character driven gems that are still lauded today. Horror also had matured out of the 1960’s into a similar vibe, there was a spate of intelligent, eerie television movies, and this decade produced some of the best supernatural and mysterious horror (“Let’s Scare Jessica To Death” and “Don’t Look Now” are two great examples).
“If we find that all efforts have failed and someone buys the house, we shall set fire to it and burn it down. We will do this at night, before it is occupied. In another time they would have plowed the charred ground and sowed it with salt. If it should come to that, I do not think we will be punished. I do not think we will be alive long enough.” Colquitt tells the reader this in the prologue, and a concern that you are meeting an unreliable narrator is planted. As the book continues, and the facts presented, one’s sense of reality, and core beliefs about what is possible and what isn’t, are brought into question.
What really scares you? Anne Rivers Siddons’ brilliant book forces the reader to confront this question. Is it an apparition or a miscarriage? A poltergeist or your marriage falling apart? Maybe it’s your sanity. Or losing your talent. Your whole future crumbling. As adults we vaguely are aware that these horrors are often lying in wait, with life’s randomness and sporadic doses of tragedy. If we want to remain calm – happy – we push these fears below the surface of our consciousness. We definitely don’t indulge them. But if you live long enough, life, like this house, does take, and ultimately everything. We will all lose our friends, our family, our health, and perhaps our minds. Anne Rivers Siddons’ house reminds us that everything is transient. And we must never forget how precious.
- Softcover: 286 pages
- Publisher: Simon and Schuster (July 3, 2007)
- ISBN-10: 1416553444