House of Echoes by Brendan Duffy

house-of-echoesAfter the major success of his first novel, Ben Tierney’s publisher expects great things from his new book-in-process; unfortunately, it is a stalled venture.  This is bad news, as Ben’s wife Caroline has just lost her high-profile job and they’ve got two young boys – and New York City isn’t cheap.

Ben inherits property in rural upstate New York, and while they are there inspecting things he and Caroline decide to buy a huge decrepit country house with the intent of turning it into an inn.  The price is right, and they also figure it will be a fresh start for their older son Charlie, who has been traumatized by events at his school.

The Crofts, as the house is known in the local community, at first is a refuge to the family.  Charlie is in thrall of its vast grounds and the forest that surrounds it.  Caroline, despite the stress of bipolar disorder, throws herself wholeheartedly into making the old house habitable as a bed and breakfast.  And Ben is getting new ideas for his second novel.

There’s too many uncanny things happening for their stay to be an idyllic retreat.  Some of the locals are welcoming enough; others are not.  Certain behaviors of the community are downright antiquated.  There’s a quiet menace that grows in the surrounding area, and Charlie, an introverted kid, becomes even more withdrawn.

The harshest winter storm of the season tests the Tierney family in more ways than one, and trust is no longer something they have with the natives.  If only they could leave The Crofts…

House of Echoes is a decent page turner that has enough spooky elements and jump moments to make it work.  The book follows in the tradition of The Shining and other books where the house and land themselves become personified and terrifying.

If you like this one, try The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian or A Sudden Light by Garth Stein.

(William Hicks, Information Services)





A Permanent Member of the Family by Russell Banks

permanentIt has been years since I have read anything by Russell Banks.  I like his work, but he doesn’t write feel good material.  The last book I read by him was Rule of the Bone, and he’s also known for The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction, none of which set a cheerful mood.  But is Banks worth reading?  Yes, because he writes in an engaging and brisk style, and it’s easy to get into his worlds.

Novels are Banks’ mainstay.  It’s been awhile since his last batch of short stories (The Angel on the Roof), so this new collection was highly welcome.

Here, Banks focuses on your ordinaries – people who are not exceptional, rich, or glamorous, but who find themselves in windows of strangeness.  Sometimes their actions are self-destructive – witness the main character in “Former Marine”, a retiree who wishes to maintain a facade with his three sons by breaking the law, or the installation artist in “Big Dog”, flush with excitement over a major award, who manages to alienate wife and friends over the short course of a dinner party.

Other characters are more sympathetic – the lady caught overnight in a car lot with an unwelcome canine companion in “Blue” comes to mind.  Others commit adulteries (or would-be adulteries), atrocities, and occasional unintended kindnesses.  It’s a mixed bag of sad and violent tales that compel you on to the last page – not for cozy lovers.

Tthose who have read James McBride’s most recent The Good Lord Bird might be interested in Banks’ Cloudsplitter, another fictional take about John Brown and his times.

(William Hicks, Information Services)