The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
Finished on 10/24/06
Rating: A (9/10 Terrific!)
The year was 1983 and I was in the second trimester of my pregnancy. My husband had left for work and I was still in bed, in that misty, murky area halfway between wakefulness and sleep.
But I wasn’t asleep. I truly believe this.
As I lay in bed, I heard the front door open and someone walk inside. I thought it was my husband returning for some forgotten item. I was surprised to hear the bedroom door open and the sound of light footsteps on the carpet, softly walking toward my side of the bed. For some reason, I knew this was not my husband. But who could it be? And what did they want? And how in the hell did they get in my house?! I felt my pulse quicken and it was all I could do to remain still, feigning sleep, hoping and praying that whomever was at the side of my bed would have a change of heart and leave me unharmed.
My prayers were answered. I heard the soft tread of feet leave the side of my bed and walk toward the door. Soft footsteps fell on the hallway floor and the front door opened once and gently closed. My heart was in my throat, racing as if I’d run a marathon. I leapt from the bed, stealthfully creeping down the hallway toward the front door.
Nobody was there. There was nobody in the yard and no cars in the driveway. Everything was still and silent. We lived in the country and I knew if someone had been quick enough to leave without my notice, I’d at least see the trail of dust on the dirt road. But the air was calm, and there were no signs of any travelers having been down the long gravel road. When I glanced down at the door, I noticed the lock was still engaged.
Who ever had entered had not unlocked the door!
I know what I heard and no, I am not crazy. It’s completely inexplicable yet I believe with all my being that it truly happened and that I wasn’t dreaming.
Do I believe in ghosts and haunted houses? I don’t know. I do know that anything is possible and for whatever reason, something or someone visited me that day in my home and it scared the crap out of me!
So why would I read a novel centered around a haunted house? Curiosity, I suppose.
I’ve read a few of Anne Rivers Siddons’ books (Colony is my favorite so far) and since I was still in the mood for a creepy read after du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now, I grabbed The House Next Door off my shelf and dove in. Quite a departure from her usual “women’s fiction,” this gothic tale had me spellbound. I read for several days solid, stopping only in the early evening hours, since I’d already experienced a disturbing nightmare after reading late the first night. I love Siddons’ descriptive style and fell easily into the narrative, eager to read at every free moment.
What is it about a house with an evil force that causes the hairs to stand on end on the back of one’s neck? The Amityville Horror had the same effect on me. So did The Shining. Shudder. I just went to the official site for the Amityville Horror to double-check the spelling and couldn’t keep the page open for more than a second as it had a picture of THAT house! Creepy! Just like The Shining, I read The Amityville Horror in broad daylight on the beach, surrounded by chattering tourists reeking of Bain de Soleil and coconut oil. I couldn't even watch the movie, and walked out before it was halfway over. I was terrified! So why in the world would I read a book about a haunted house?? (Yes, Heidi, I know our next door neighbors' house looks just like the one in the movie. Thank you very much!)
Curiosity, I guess.
Good thing I’m not a cat.
Anne Rivers Siddons is a writer of literary fiction whose one foray into the horror genre is this remarkable 1978 novel, The House Next Door. The setting is a wealthy suburb in Atlanta where an ambitious young architect is building a dramatically contemporary house. The novel uses a frame device to put three short stories under a single cover: as each of three families moves into the house in succession, we watch the bad things that happen to them and eventually force them to leave. But the frame itself--the observations of an urbane and sophisticated couple who live next door and become close friends with the architect--is the most deeply involving story in the book.
Stephen King was so impressed by The House Next Door that when he wrote Danse Macabre, his personal tour of the horror genre, he sought out Siddons for an interview. She told him, "The haunted house has always spoken specially and directly to me as the emblem of particular horror. Maybe it's because, to a woman, her house is so much more than that: it is kingdom, responsibility, comfort, total world to her.... It is an extension of ourselves; it tolls in answer to one of the most basic chords mankind will ever hear.... So basic is it that the desecration of it, the corruption, as it were, by something alien takes on a peculiar and bone-deep horror and disgust."
Siddons was also fascinated by how the supernatural has the power to disturb the complacent rich and their comfortable little world: "What has the unspeakable and the unbelievable got to do with second homes and tax shelters and private schools for the kids and a pâté in every terrine and a BMW in every garage? Primitive man might howl before his returning dead and point; his neighbor would see, and howl along with him.... The resident of Fox Run Chase who meets a ghoulie out by the hot tub is going to be frozen dead in his or her Nikes on the tennis courts the next day if he or she persists in gabbling about it. And there he is, alone with the horror and ostracized on all sides. It's a double turn of the screw."Reading Group Guide from Bookreporter.com