In Dennis Lehane’s creepy and suspenseful Shutter Island, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck arrive on Shutter Island to find a missing inmate from Ashecliffe Asylum. What seems like a routine investigation is swiftly put off the rails by the uneasy atmosphere at Ashecliffe, and all of the secrets the people in charge seem to be keeping. Teddy has his own demons to work though at the same time, having recently lost his wife.
I can’t believe I’m only getting to this novel now. I never saw the movie, either, so the ending remained unspoiled for me. I enjoyed the dark, film noir feel of this, with the tortured war veteran and his dark past, his solitary nature, his desire for revenge. He’s a great character, flawed yet remaining sympathetic.
The plotting of this novel is so intricate and so well-constructed. I can’t out-do the Kirkus reviewer on this one: it’s a “lollapalooza of a corkscrew thriller.” You start questioning your own sanity by midway through, and I mean that in the best possible way. The twist is revealed in one of the best scenes I’ve read lately, where the stakes are high for everyone involved and the emotion of it all seems very real.
The setting is fantastic, both gritty and Gothic, perfect for the story. Ashecliffe is depicted as a brutal relic from another century, and its maximum security isolation on an island is perfect.
Lots of diverse readalikes present themselves for this one, depending on what you enjoyed the most. Noir and crime fiction from the 1950’s might really appeal to you, if you liked that aspect of the story. The grittier the better. There’s also something very Gothic about the creepy atmosphere and sense of danger at the asylum. You might enjoy John Harwood’s The Asylum (I talked about it here). I also thought of The Boy Who Could See Demons while reading this, which you can read more about at this post.
If you want just a smidge more of the Nazi subplot, some aliens, and a ton of Sarah Paulsen, you might want to check out the second season of American Horror Story, which took place at an insane asylum in Massachusetts. Here, I can show this clip on a family-friendly blog (trust me, the entire season is just as nuts as this, but in different ways).
Hildy Good is one of the top real estate brokers in her small town in Massachusetts. She’s a respected businesswoman, and her family has lived in town for generations. She’s even descended from one of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, a fact she plays up when showing new folks around town hoping to sell a house.
Hildy is also an alcoholic in recovery, though lately the definition of “recovery” has begun to slip for her. Though she’ll be the first to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some wine of an evening. The story of Ann Leary’s The Good House involves Hildy becoming friends with a new woman in town, Rebecca, at the same time that she rekindles a relationship with a man she’s known for years.
The Good House is a dark piece of domestic character-centered fiction. And it’s not a leisurely story. There’s lots of drama and it’s very quick-paced. But Hildy is just so compelling it’s hard to break away. The descriptive, evocative writing helps to make you feel a connection to Hildy. The first-person narration helps the connection as well, creating a character that feels real and truthful and sometimes pitiable and unlikable.
At its core this is a story of a woman working through alcoholism, her own angry, private struggle. She’s lugging around a lot of baggage, and we’re witness to all of her cringe-worthy drunken episodes. At least, those she can remember. It’s due to Hildy’s alcoholism that the story takes its dark turn toward the end.
The Good House is also a story of a small New England town, and the way they are changing. Many people in this area will recognize the gentrification of a beautiful coastal community, and the way townies whose families have lived somewhere for hundreds of years can no longer afford to live in their hometowns. Hildy’s being a real estate agent was a good choice, in that it lends this extra dimension to the story. Even though she’s a bred townie, she still cheerfully and competitively sells houses to rich people from away. There’s a wonderful sense of place and community (both good and bad) in this novel.
Readalike possibilities: Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh, though darker and with more of a mystery element, might still appeal to those who enjoyed the darker side of The Good House. It also shares the small-town New England setting. Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs might be a good choice, both for the narrator’s anger, unreliability, and the high drama. Last, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train could also work, particularly Rachel’s storyline. There’s more violence and thriller aspects in that one, but it’s still very character- and relationship-centered.
This year I’m reading Horns (which I’ll talk about later), and in the meantime I’ve been devouring the comic series Locke and Key. It’s six volumes of FANTASTIC. The plot is layered, the characters are fun, there’s terror and gore with sweetness to temper it. Most of all, it’s a story about a grieving family, and how they work to repair their lives and relationships with each other.
When the story opens, we learn that siblings Ty, Kinsey, and Bode Locke have lost their father in a violent way, at the hands of a former student. Their mother was also attacked, but survived. The grieving family moves to Massachusetts to live in the Locke family home. Soon enough, ghosts come to the surface along with memories and old grudges.
The Locke house is home to several magical keys, forged during the days of the American Revolution. Bode, the youngest of the kids, begins to find them and experiment with their powers. We come to find out that someone (or something) wants those keys and will stop at nothing to get them, and it’s up to the Locke children to save the day. If they can.
I confess, I’m only halfway through. I’m on volume three of a six-volume run. As I said, I’m devouring them. I love the story and the characters, and I always like plots where secrets are uncovered bit by bit with little clues along the way. And Rodriquez’s art is amazing, depicting the fantastic and the mundane with equal skill and deftness. I can’t wait to see how the story comes together.
Horror, for me, is largely a visual genre. I’m scared more by images than I am by text (I think my imagination won’t let me go some places that horror novels describe, so I need an artist or director to go there for me), so graphic novels are a surefire bet when I’m after a Halloween fright.
If you like Joe Hill’s other work, definitely give this a try!
ETA: I finished the series. I cried at the end. Thanks, Messrs. Hill and Rodriguez, it was a great ride.