The Halloran family has gathered in their crumbling ancestral mansion for a funeral. One morning Aunt Fanny has a vision wherein her long-dead father gives her the exact date of the end of the world. If the Hallorans stay in their family manse, they will be the sole survivors and inheritors of a bright clean world.
As you read, you wonder why these people deserve it.
Given the subject, it seems odd to say that The Sundial is one of Shirley Jackson’s funnier novels. It’s like You Can’t Take It With You with the apocalypse instead of the IRS. Also, this family is full of rather mean people who hate one another rather than a kooky assortment of loving individuals. Oh, and there’s also the probable murder and unsettling open ending. But really, it’s funny, in a character-based screwball comedy kind of way.
I had my pick of fantastically weird cover art for this one, and I chose my favorite because I think it reflects the core of the story: a dysfunctional family trapped together in an old house, bouncing off one another, and waiting for doomsday. Jackson always did oppressive atmosphere very well, and it’s approaching Hill House levels at the Halloran mansion. But, as I said, with some levity. There is a note of discord about this one, where it maybe doesn’t quite know what it wants to be–but somehow all the pieces make a delightfully odd whole.
The Sundial reflects a lot of Shirley Jackson’s interest in the occult, from divination to doomsday to symbols. And, as ever, her fascination with the intricacies of small-town life, from the villagers to the odd old family on the hill in their suffocating Gothic home.
Weird fiction fans, give this one a look!
Quick one for today, post-gorgeous holiday weekend. It’s a blend of suspense, mystery, ghost story, and family story told with rich prose and a haunting tone–All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage.
At the beginning of the story, George Clare finds his wife murdered in their old farmhouse in upstate New York. He’s the immediate suspect, but his parents manage to bail him out, and the police can’t get enough evidence to bring a case against him.
From there, the story goes back in time to show the backstory of the Clares and the story of their marriage, and how the murder is just the latest crime in a string of them. We also learn the story of the Hales, who owned the farm before the Clares moved in. Soon the story shifts to more of a “how-dunnit” than a “who-dunnit,” blending with the story of a poor small town and the people who try to survive there. There’s also just a hint of the supernatural, but just enough to add another dimension to the story and characters.
The sense of place and the atmosphere is wonderfully evocative–the whole book feels cold, a little desperate, a little bleak. The intense moments sneak up on you. This is a very rich, well-crafted story, with strong characters and a good dose of atmosphere. The pace is slow, but the characters and the mystery keep the story going.
If you enjoy the Dublin Murder Squad books by Tana French, or the slightly-otherworldly intricate suspense of Jennifer McMahon, give this one a try!
I love thrillers. I love the suspense, the just-this-side-of-credible motivations and reveals, the mystery element, the cliffhangers, the insanity, the secrets.
(Reading over that list just now I realize I’m also describing why I love Gothic fiction, too–just throw in some heavy atmosphere and deep sense of the uncanny to the above, and you’ve got Gothic!)
Anyway, Don’t You Cry is a great choice if you’re a fan of books like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins or Her by Harriet Lane. It’s got a fast pace, a great puzzle, and a really good reveal at the end. It’s very cinematic, too–the writing is very scene- and plot-focused, almost like a crime show. Actually, that describes the overall tone and feel of this novel pretty well: it’s like a TV drama. There’s a very good dose of Crime Fiction in this particular book.
The story is told in two alternating voices. There’s Quinn, who awakes one day to find that her reliable, kind roommate Esther has disappeared. Quinn finds some mysterious letters among Esther’s possessions, and begins to try to unravel why Esther has gone missing. The other story is told by Alex, a recent high school graduate who feels he’s wasting his young life in his small town taking care of his alcoholic father. Then all of a sudden a mysterious young woman shows up in town, and Alex is immediately smitten.
For both Quinn and Alex events turn dark and sinister very quickly. Only at the end do we see the connection between these storylines. All the way through, though, there are themes that tie everything together beyond just the plot–Kubica puts a lot of emotional focus on the relationships between parents and children, and the theme of abandonment. There’s a nice emotional buildup right alongside the intensifying plot buildup, which makes the ending more satisfying.
If you’re after a fast, compelling, and twisty thriller, give this one a try.
Hi All! Sorry for the delay in getting this up. I couldn’t think of a way to tie in a Simply Books! update with Horror Month. We’re not all that scary.
So here we are with another great list of books to share. It’s as varied as ever, and we had some great conversations about this month’s reads. I always like to share these books in our members’ words whenever I can (read: whenever I take good enough notes), so I’ve done that here.
I read one of Reynolds’ other books, A Gracious Plenty, a few months ago, and was immediately hooked on her writing style and characters. Fans of the Southern Gothic tradition should definitely give her books a try. Continue reading →