I often find something to bitch about when reading short stories and novellas because usually something is missing or lacking or characterization gets shafted in exchange for less words. Or, perhaps the worst sin of short stories, the ending is rushed. Don’t you hate that? The Mourning House is an example of how to do the novella the right way. It has a very small cast of characters, doesn’t attempt more than it should, builds with a slow, creeping sense of dread that slowly leads up to the non-rushed ending and the author doesn’t waste any words on unimportant filler. And best of all? Its main character is a sympathetic guy you get to know pretty intimately.
Sam Hatch was once a happily married successful doctor with a beautiful baby daughter. Now he’s an unwashed drifter who is filled with regret and guilt and has walked away from everything that reminds him of his previous life. Something compels him to stop at a creepy run-down house and beckons him to enter.
Oh Sam you should’ve kept driving!
He doesn’t. He stops. He moves in. Strange things begin to happen. He has to face down his demons and we get to watch it all unfold and it’s gloriously unsettling. The reader sees Sam’s sanity start to slip the longer he resides in the house but he can’t leave for long because he needs to go back. It’s that compulsion again. Is it real or is it in his head? I loved not knowing and held my breathe throughout most of it. This story reminded me a wee bit of The Red Tree by Caitlin Kiernan which is one of my favorite books that examines madness, grief, pain and the haunted. If you haven’t read it you really should.
As I said, I felt for the main character. In a few short paragraphs I was easily able to understand his plight, even though many details were not yet revealed. The author also has a knack for evoking a scene and an emotion with only a few well-chosen words. “When he awoke, darkness had its face pressed against the windows.” How dreadful is that?
This is one of those stories that will likely haunt me for a good long while and is definitely worth seeking out and reading. I don’t give out fives easily (I’m stingy like that) but this one is deserving of my highest rating. It’s the kind of story that makes me glad I’m a reader and gives me hope that there are still gems out there after I’ve read one too many “meh” books in a row.
* I received a copy of this novella from the Publisher via NetGalley. The FTC made me say that.