Ostow’s first venture into horror is her contribution to the significant and distinct quasi-mythos that is the Amityville Horror house. The subject of both good and bad films and a true crime novel about a family murder that happened in the eponymous house, the story of the evil house of Amity is one that combines both the well-received tropes of innate, unexplained evil and haunted houses, and the chilling component of being a part of a real life incident. What Ostow adds to this is both original and repeated, and she creates a story with two narratives that focuses much more on the inexplicable side of evil, a story that has both strong and mediocre elements. The novel is told between alternating storylines, one set in the present, the other set 10 years earlier. It is bookended by mysterious letters that seem to take place in the present, but it isn’t until the end that the reader knows why.
The storyline in the present follows Gwen Hall, a young introvert who moves to Amity with her parents and brother Luke following her release from a psychiatric hospital for hysteria and schizophrenia (though it is left up to the reader to debate whether or not she did actually suffer from the disorder or if she was truly was experiencing supernatural phenomenon that no one else around her understood. This was something that I enjoyed greatly, for it caused me to continue thinking about the book even after I put it down.) The storyline in the past follows Connor Webb, a 17-year-old boy who slowly begins showing signs of budding sociopathy. He lives in Amity with his twin sister Julianne, a frighteningly abusive father, and a timid, worn down mother.
"I especially recommend [AMITY] to people who want a taste of the horror genre because that taste is going to be rich and pack a punch."
Readers watch Gwen slowly succumb to the curse of the house as Connor’s thoughts grow darker and darker and a terrible violence blossoms within him. For Gwen, it is unclear whether her suffering is because of her mental condition or because she is subject to the paranormal powers affecting her own special gifts. Really, I do love how subtle it is --- you have to really stop and think about whether or not she is mentally ill or gifted. Or both. The argument is subtextual but it’s there, and it’s an element of the book I really liked because of its evocative nature. For Connor, the reader watches as a boy who they thought was normal, quiet and kind, slowly reveals what horror surges through his veins. In two different times, Amity seeks to claim them both for specific reasons, and it quickly becomes clear that not every character in this story is going to make it out alive.
I thought the focus on the nature of evil was one of the strongest parts of the story, though I did feel that Micol was a bit too sensationalistic, which sometimes lessened the effect and credibility of what she was saying, as well as Connor’s storyline. Connor’s voice was powerful and clear, and I whipped through the pages of his chapters. Also, everything that happened to him was interesting and different, and I always wanted to know what happened next. Ostow did a masterful job crafting this burgeoning sociopath, which was why I was left confused and disappointed with the fact that Gwens’ character wasn’t as strong.
There were times where her hysteria seemed a little over-the-top, a little bit theatrical and ultimately quite stereotypical. I found it honestly unbelievable that in basically every chapter, Gwen defaulted to questioning her own sanity, and it made it very hard for me to connect to her. Also Gwen’s voice, seemed odd --- a little too forced. The complex sentences and advanced words seemed out of place and forced at times. Unfortunately, I just had difficulty connecting to and rooting for Gwen, but I admit that near the end, I became engrossed in both characters’ stories, so I definitely commend Micol for delivering a fast-paced, enthralling conclusion to the book.
Also, Amity’s voice, which was delivered in interspersed poetic prose sections, was absolutely fantastic and one of my favorite parts of the book.
This is a great book to expose people who don’t normally read horror to the genre, and they will definitely enjoy it. More experienced horror readers, however --- especially those that may have seen the films about Amity and/or have read the actual true crime novel --- might be left feeling a sliver of disappointment, because while overall the book was a good, entertaining read, it wasn’t too groundbreaking or original, and it didn’t add anything to the story of Amity/Amityville Horror that hasn’t already been done (there was more focus on innate evil than there usually is, but not enough to be revolutionary). Nevertheless, I did enjoy reading this book, and I especially recommend it to people who want a taste of the horror genre because that taste is going to be rich and pack a punch. This book definitely has the chance of hooking readers, and making them want to dive in and see what else there is in the world of horror.
Reviewed by Corinne Fox on August 20, 2014