Monday, August 7, 2017

The House Next Door (1978) by Anne Rivers Siddons

The House Next Door (1978) by Anne Rivers Siddons: Colquitt and Walter Kennedy are upper-middle-class semi-twits (demi-twits?) in a posh suburb of Atlanta. On the lot next to them, a young architect plans and builds his first house. A couple moves in. And then things start to go horribly wrong for anyone living in the house and, occasionally, for anyone even remotely connected to anyone living in the house.

But as the Kennedys (make of that last name what you will) joke at one point relatively early in the novel, there's no record of the new house being built on an Indian burial ground or any other such stereotype of ghostly house haunting. It's a new house. And the things that happen could, for the most part, just be a string of increasingly dire coincidences.

Well, up to a point.

Stephen King praised The House Next Door in his early 1980's non-fiction book on horror, Danse Macabre. And it is excellent. Siddons has not, so far as I can tell, ever ventured again into the realm of horror. Pity. Just in terms of the horror elements, she's very good here, avoiding pitfalls that plague many a gifted, committed horror writer.

And as King observed, this is a horror story involving reputation -- the house strikes again and again at the social standing of its inhabitants and their friends. It's a monster devoted to embarrassment, at least initially. But it gets hungrier and more dangerous as the narrative progresses. 

Siddons creates a fascinating world of privilege and gossip and extremely reluctant 'heroes.' Just the act of trying to save people from the house brings down embarrassment, loss of social standing, and loss of work on the heads of the Kennedys. In trying to defeat the house, they feed it. And where does the colossal enmity and growing danger of the house come from?

Well, Siddons will answer that last question, sort of, by the end of the novel, in a manner that satisfies while also preserving the mystery of Evil in the world of The House Next Door. This is a deeply satisfying horror novel with finely observed sections of social commentary and satire. Really, a remarkable work, and one of the four or five finest 'Haunted House' novels I've ever had the pleasure to read. Highly recommended.

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