Ah, Halloween. Time for the spooky, the unnatural, the weirdly disturbing.
For me, it’s just another Wednesday.
So I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would do the 30 Day Book Challenge thing. Because I’m me, and I don’t do things in order, I’m starting with Day Two: A Book I’ve Read More Than Three Times.
First, some backstory.
Netflix recently leased its 10-episode take on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I’ll admit I watched the series with some misgivings. While it is truly frightening (seriously… I haven’t slept well since I binged), it’s not the same as the book. It’s more of an interpretation, I guess you could say.
Does it matter? Yes… no… I don’t know. Whatever. For what it’s really, really good. Watch it.
By the way, my favorite book I’ve read more than three times is NOT The Haunting of Hill House.
Anyhoo, I learned about The Haunting of Hill House many years ago, when I first read Stephen King’s Danse Macabre.
In Danse Macabre, Stephen said he thought the two scariest haunted house stories were The Haunting of Hill House and Anne Rivers Siddon’s The House Next Door. I immediately ran out and bought both.
I owe Mr. King many thanks. Shirley Jackson remains my favorite author. The Haunting of Hill House is amazing. If you haven’t read it, read it.
But The House Next Door is my favorite haunted house story.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about Stephen King’s praise for Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, and with it, his other “favorite” scary story, The Turn of the Screw.
For some reason, nobody has mentioned The House Next Door.
(BTW, what is so scary about The Turn of the Screw? I’ve read it, like, a million times, and I still don’t get it. Is it the spooky kids? Kids can be spooky. I used to babysit, for God’s sake.)
You want to know what is scary? The House Next Door. The House Next Door is scary AF.
It’s like this. The haunted house is new construction, built within a ritzy new subdivision outside of Atlanta. There is no Native American (or any other kind) of graveyard underneath… there’s no witchy coven… the land isn’t cursed… nobody’s gone out and brought home a demon… nobody’s carrying around a generational curse… there’s nary a Ouija board in sight… you get my point. There’s no external reason why this house is bad.
And this house is bad. It is very, very bad.
The narrator’s name is Colquitt Kennedy (Vanderbilt, class of 1970s), an affluent PR type who lives next door to the house in question (hence the title) and bears witness to the increasingly horrific going-ons. It’s difficult for her, you see. There’s all this publicity… and once upon a time in this country, publicity was a bad thing.
The house itself is brand new, state-of-the-art, and expressly built for a shiny, happy newly-wedded couple so stereotypically Southern that the girl’s name is Pie (because she’s as sweet as pie… ew… I know). It was designed by this super up-and-coming architect who may or may not be insane and the reason the house is bad, but that’s besides the point. Everyone’s rich. Everyone’s beautiful. Everyone’s living the life they’re supposed to live… except when the bad things start picking at everyone’s carefully cultivated facade until it shatters and reveals everyone’s darkest truth.
It’s a subtle kind of haunting that gets into your bones, like a smile on a pretty girl’s face that’s just a bit too wide.
Then you realize she isn’t smiling. She’s screaming.
It’s been years since I’ve read The House Next Door, so I can’t really give you the deets. What I can tell you is that it’s set in the 1970s. I don’t know if what was scary then would be scary now.
*Spoiler Alert*Spoiler Alert*Spoiler Alert
One scene I remember involves a grief-stricken mother mourning the loss of her son in Vietnam. Worried about the woman’s mental state, Colquitt visits and sees that the T.V. is tuned into a Vietnam documentary–or at least, that’s what it looks like–because there are soldiers, a jungle and the title at the bottom of the screen says Vietnam 1969. Something about it bugs her, though. Something about it isn’t right. Troubled, Colquitt returns home and checks the television schedule. No TV shows about Vietnam were on at that time.
Technology has taken the fear out of scenes like that. It still freaks me out, but that’s because I remember the world before DVRs and Hulu.
(For people who’ve read The Haunting of Hill House, I think of this scene the way I think of the one where Eleanor thinks she’s holding Theo’s hand. You know the one.)
On a side note, Anne Rivers Siddon is a romance writer. All of her other stories are angst-y stories about aging Southern women. To my knowledge, this is her only scary book, and I often wonder why she wrote it. It’s so much more interesting than her other books. It’s not that they are romances… it’s that the characters are whiny, privileged rich people. Whatev.
So, there you have it. A book I’ve read more than three times (but not recently, but I’m reading it again this weekend, so there.)
If you like your haunted house stories subtle, cerebral, with a touch of deeply disturbing, pick this one up. And Netflix… here’s your next haunted house series.
(Animal lovers, be warned… the house spares no one, not even cats and dogs.)