Melanie Wallace skillfully blends a chilling landscape with the innocence of a kindly act, as The Housekeeper’s young protagonist, Jamie Hall, releases a boy tied to a tree, a boy others have passed by as though he wasn’t there. Unfortunately, this singular act unleashes a series of events that will dramatically affect Jamie’s security, although she is oblivious. Indeed, Jamie hasn’t the energy to expend on imagining the consequences of her act.
Self-described as “someone things just happen to,” Jamie sets off on foot after the death of her mother as an orphan with only her dog for a companion. With naught but her family history as a guide, Jamie heads for Dyers Corner, the only other place she has ever been, trekking across the frozen miles to the place her grandparents were forced to leave by the government when it flooded their land with a reservoir.
A growing menace lurks in this vast isolation, a battle of innocence versus evil in 1976, an era of hippies and hitchhikers crossing the country, Jamie only one of many anonymous faces. The silent, icy surface of the reservoir belies the fact that people’s histories are submerged in its watery depths; only one man, an ancient postmaster notices Jamie’s similarity to her grandmother, whom he loved, piquing a vague interest that never comes to fruition under the weight of the past.
Jamie takes up little space and asks for nothing she can’t pay for, a few bills tucked in her pocket, daily poverty familiar, but her youthful beauty and her aloneness save the dog at her side draw unwarranted attention along the way - the covetous glances of men who are both curious and resentful.
Confronted with the barrenness of this terrain, Jamie accepts shelter against the elements from a married man who drinks too much and will leave her soon, and temporary employment with Margaret, a photographer who has recorded the history of this place in pictures that line the walls of her home, traveling now, secure in the knowledge that Jamie is caring for her things. Jamie’s only solace in this bitter land is Galen, a trapper who lives in isolation, content to avoid the past until Jamie needs his protection.
Pushing through the days with a creativity born of necessity, Jamie hardly considers the ramifications of her act in freeing the boy, an almost feral child, unaware that she has unleashed a dormant but powerful malevolence, aggravating the somnolent men who are content to rage in private until one of them is interfered with. The pristine landscape lies in silent counterpoint to the seething menace of the boy’s father and a local poacher, the innocents, Jamie, the boy, and a local trapper soon to feel their wrath.
Opposing forces converge - innocent and guilty, crazed and calm - in stark relief against an unforgiving wilderness, where kindness has no place and violence thrives while indifferent nature looks on. Wallace delivers a taut and seductive vision of poverty, loneliness and the cruelty bred of ignorance, a courageous girl walking through the heart of darkness with the devil snapping at her heels.