The story is all suspense here so I can't go much into it without spoilering: an airline pilot is forced to ditch his small commuter plane in Lake Champlain, killing most of the crew and passengers (39 dead, to be exact.) Months later still suffering from guilt and PTSD, he and his wife move their twin daughters to a fixer-upper in a small town in New Hampshire to do the proverbial get away from it all and a classic horror trope is set in motion. Their new house-caveat emptor-has an unhappy history they weren't fully informed of. There is an odd door in the basement with 39 bolts on it. And then there's the matter of all these creepy women in the town who are all named after plants and seem a little too interested in their young daughters.
I enjoyed this more than other reviewers for a few reasons. This was my first Chris Bohjalian book and he can unquestionably write, particularly when it comes to breathing life into a location. He made the prologue that described the unfinished basement of the house inexplicably riveting. He also clearly did a lot of research on subjects ranging from herbs to air dynamics that he places in the story very meticulously. I liked the way he kept toying with the reader too, the story twisting between totally explicable and supernatural denouements. The last 100 pages are a very tense read. Borderline too tense, for me.
Of course when you read or watch horror fiction, you have to go in knowing that the protagonists will make a certain number of questionable choices so I can accept that--to some extent. However, if I moved to a new town and some creepy old women decided to call me and my children by new names and hovered creepily and omnipresently around my children, I'd shut that malarkey down but fast. It made my alarm bells go into screeching overdrive and I'm not even a parent (and even then, I could accept it perfectly fine if the mother was incompetent or ambivalent but that wasn't the case presented here.) And while I'm making logical quibbles, here is another one that continues to bug: what wife has their employer (of a few months no less) sit in on a meeting between her and her husband's therapist? I could keep going but you get the idea. You start pulling at the loose threads of this story and you'll end up with a your hands tangled up in a ball of deconstructed plot threads. Despite that, the story had a spooky vibe that I'm finding difficult to shake.
And frankly, I hated the ending but I think I'm just pissed off that Bohjalian had the balls to end it that way. Nevertheless, this book didn't turn me off of Bohjalian at all. I'd like to read something else by him.