I love a good haunted house story, and popular Southern novelist Anne Rivers Siddons offers up one truly haunting haunted house in The House Next Door. What makes this particular story so chilling and so different from the usual “things that go bump in the night” stories is the focus on an invisible force that affects the behavior of all who dare enter, and live in, the house. Throughout the book the mind wonders - is it the house itself that harbors this evil force, the wickedness of the people who live in it, or the strange and enigmatic architect who created it?
The narrator of the story, Colquitt Kennedy, introduces us first to the architect: Kim Dougherty, a young and ambitious man who puts his literal heart and soul into this modern creation that is built on the last remaining natural space of a lovely Southern neighborhood populated with upper-income white folks. Colquett and her devoted husband, Walter, watch as family after family moves into the house and pay a deadly and horrific price for their love of the stunning home.
First come the Harrelson’s, with the childish, spoiled Pie, her doting husband, Buddy, and all their family secrets. They barely survive the house’s negative vibes and move away with much less than they moved in with, including their sanity. Then come Buck and Anita Sheehan, themselves harboring secrets that soon come to full-blooded life after they, too, fall under the spell of the house next door. They are followed by the Greenes, with hints of abuse and horror to follow, and what happens to them is enough to send Colquitt and Walter on a mission to warn anyone who might even think of moving into the house to stay away. In fact, the Kennedy’s risk their own sanity and put their reputations on the line by going public to keep people out of the house next door.
Written with a beautifully descriptive and fluid style, this spellbinding story weaves the lives of numerous neighbors into a tapestry of interconnected horror, a horror that is nameless and faceless until the Kennedy’s discover a link between what happens in that house to the man who actually created it and brought it to life, so to speak. The house, it seems, is a living thing able to amplify the fears and weaknesses of all those who dare to live in it. And amplify it does, to the point of sheer, inescapable evil that even tries to destroy the Kennedys as they try to convince their friends of the house’s nasty side.
This page-turner will keep you up all night, as it did me, and you may never trust your own house again, thanks to the elegant writing and rich, suspenseful plotting of author Siddons, who boasts many a best-seller such as Islands, Fault Lines, and Low Country. Siddons writes with a grace and warmth typical of Southern writers, and her settings come to life with vivid description. Her characters are full-bodied and exhibit behaviors that totally reveal their inner landscape, flaws and all.
The House Next Door is scary as hell, not because there are ghosts and aliens and guys with ski masks and chainsaws stomping around, but because there is something so real and believable and palpable about the special kind of evil that lives there. Something that brings out the worst in human beings.
It is what you cannot put your finger on that often scares you the most, and Siddons presses that button and delivers the goods over and over again. Beware the house next door.