by Orson Scott Card

A living and dying house

July 2001

This book is standard Orson Scott Card fare -- people with very concrete, contemporary problems, people with mysterious pasts, a protagonist a little too good, and a little bit of folk magic thrown in. I wasn't surprised to find that the "house come alive" (a horror subgenre, perhaps born of authors building homes and realizing the way these things suck up time, money, and spirit) wasn't exactly malevolent, but it wasn't benevolent either. Above all, there's a consistent atmosphere of haunting throughout this book - Don Lark, the main character, is haunted by the death of his daughter in a car accident caused by his ex-wife, haunted by a situation which he had tried everything he legally could and yet still unable to prevent. The trio of elderly neighbors next door (one unseen upstairs, consuming an unbelievable amount of food) are haunted by the house, trying to get Don to at the very least let the house decay instead of renovating it.

The harking on the past of the house, repeatedly back to the Bellamy's - the original builders and happy owners of this now seemingly ominous decaying hulk, back to the impotent choices or horrible compulsions of various characters - made me feel like this was a ghost story without an actual ghost. I found I was wrong. However, when the ghost did finally show, it was barely a surprise; this house =had= to have a ghost.

An interesting characteristic of all Card novels is that he does give peeks of truly evil people, but he never exposes the reader to them for long. That's a good idea on his part, for when an oily, insinuating character appears, my blood pressure shoots up as I wish to throttle the nonexistent person. Card prefers to linger on those who are essentially good, but who have gone through extremely harrowing trials and who are left in mental and emotional confusion in the wake of evil results.

So, no, this isn't a horror novel, and not exactly a fantasy book, for all the animistic forces at work in this novel. It's a story of people trying to escape their pasts, but unable to for many years, and then coming together to, as a group, conquer the spirits holding them prisoners. It's a quick read (I finished it in one evening) and it has a satisfying ending. I would recommend this book for a rainy summer Sunday, a book for one of those days in which one would otherwise be living in one's own mind.

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Mary Pat Campbell, last updated July 2001