I love ghost stories; I love haunted house stories. Add in the magical combo of The Uninvited meets Rebecca, and I’m sold.
This was a spellbinding and delicious story that I believe fans of romantic and psychological suspense will thoroughly enjoy. The story begins when Jess and Clare Martin sell most of their belongings and leave Brooklyn to move to the Hudson Valley, they both hope it will jump start Jess’ writing career, which has faltered after one high profile novel. The area they choose is familiar to them because it is Clare’s home town and is near Bailey College which they both attended. In fact, the professor they admired, Alden Montague, needs a caretaker for his property, Riven House, so they move into his gate house. Soon Jess is writing again and drinking with Montague, and while Clare is relieved to see him in a good mood, her own spirits have suffered after hearing a disturbing story about Montague’s father and a young woman he betrayed. Clare’s parents are gone but even as she tries to reconnect with old friends, including her high school boyfriend, the atmosphere around the house becomes so disturbing she begins to wish she had never returned. .
In some ways, it’s easy to see where the story is going; the pleasure is anticipating how the characters will react to the revelations about Monty's ne'er-do-well ancestor as well as the increasingly ghostly presence at the home. But as the story progresses, small fragments start to fleck off, leading the reader to wonder just what is really happening -- what is imagined and what is fact. Additionally, what’s impressive is Goodman is writing this book about three writers, all with distinctive voices. She pulled it off brilliantly and managed to keep mystery enthusiasts (raising my hand high) turning the pages.
What I found to be the most unique thing about The Widow’s House is that Clare turns out to be a somewhat unreliable narrator. This makes it fun for the reader as the challenge in deciphering what is reality from what may be just fantasy or a deluded mind will have you re-evaluating all you have read. Goodman is a master storyteller, and Riven House is practically another character in the story --- one that threatens to take over the entire tale.
Over a three-night period of being curled up in bed and unable to sleep, I inhaled this stuffed-full-of-ghostly-sightings, creepy-goings-on-in-a-massive-old-house read, enraptured by Goodman's evocation of place and the shivery atmosphere she conjured. Even more so was the dreadful sense of oh-my-gosh-is-this-real-or-not, which made me wonder if I was going mad myself. Additionally, I loved Goodman’s vivid descriptions of upstate New York during the fall harvest and the small college town in which the protagonists moved to. It provided me with a delightful mental escape and made me want to visit this adorable little community.
The end wrapped up neatly with all the major and minor plot points being sufficiently addressed. I was really hooked by Clare and her story (I'm being purposefully vague to avoid any accidental spoiling) and this made a wonderfully diverting midnight read. Fun, moody, with a what-what?! sort of kicker that had me doubting the entire story (in the best way!), this book reminded me of good, classic gothic films and insidious haunted houses. I really appreciate the afterword section that Goodman includes called “A Field Guide to Haunted Houses.” She mentions haunted house/ghost stories that inspired her which I found really fascinating. Most of her work is grounded in classic literary references and historical events, and both are used as the foundation for this spooky novel.
There is no author out there who captures the spellbinding mystery of the Hudson Valley like Carol Goodman. All of her novels are stellar, but those placed in this unique setting seem to shine brightest. The Widow’s House is a terrific place for those new to her work to begin. Then you can enjoy the pleasure of jumping back to The Lake of Dead Languages and read your way through her bibliography. Bottom line, if you like a good and creepy ghost story or visiting haunted houses, add this book to your “must read” pile.