The House Next Door Book Cover

Brand New House, Evil House

Author: Anne Rivers Siddons

When I finally got Covid and was stuck isolating (and going stir crazy) in the bedroom, I picked up The House Next Door. I quickly forgot about my sick room with its twisted sheets and balls of Kleenex, and was instead transported into a normal, happy world that was slowly, insidiously turning inside out. The clatter of ice in drinks, the comforting days of sitting on a porch with a friend, the curiosity about the transformation of a vacant lot next door, all captured me with the lulling slowness of a good summer. But then it all turned, the tone morphed, the ice in the drinks turned into warning bells, the chats with friends left so many horrors unspoken, the vacant lot transformed into a beautiful house with a rotten heart.

The House Next Door is a slow burn, an unassuming book that just has atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. You come for the story, but you stay for the telling, for the simple play of ordinary language around something inexplicable and barbarous.

Colquitt and Walter Kennedy live in a fancy neighborhood, the kind where everyone has money for the necessities and for barbeques, luxury cars, and upscale get-togethers. They are a happy, self-contained couple, made happier by the wild lot next door. They, unlike everyone else, have one portion of their house sheathed in green and privacy. Because of this, they are less than happy when a new developer with an imagination comes to town and a strange, yet beautiful new house starts to take shape next door. Then, there are the bubbly new neighbors with their surprise visits. It’s all a bit intrusive, different than the quite life Colquitt and Walter prefer. But they make friends with the new neighbors and Colquitt develops a deep and lasting friendship with the brilliant architect who crafted the house. That’s when things start to slowly change, so

imperceptibly that it might be imagination. Three new couples later, it’s obvious that something is very wrong with the house. It is driving people to madness and worse. And it is only getting started.

A house built already haunted is certainly an intriguing concept, but what really sings here is subtly of the storytelling, of the morphing from normal to abnormal, of the slow creep of fear and suspicion. By the time what could just be a series of unfortunate events takes shape as something supernatural, readers are invested in both the beautiful, yet horrible house, and the people around it. It’s hard to describe, but this is just one of those books written in such an immersing way, with just the right play of light and dark, of characterization and story, that it becomes a legend. I couldn’t put it down, and every time I returned to the world, the heavy summer air and the suspicion fell over me again like I had never left, like I was sitting on the deck having drinks with Colquitt and her well-meaning, slowly unraveling architect friend.

For all the quite build, the ending is a bombshell, inevitable and shocking and sad. The peaceful world remains disturbed, the tendrils of evil reaching beyond the events of one neighborhood and all those shattered lives. In the end, what we have is a modern gothic masterpiece that leaves both characters and readers haunted and wanting, yet fearing, more.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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