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The Residence


The Residence

Great speculative historical fiction fills in gaps and answers questions that remain a mystery. In some cases, the fictional suggestions may end up being closer to the truth than readers might ever have expected. In recent years, Dan Simmons has done this to perfection with DROOD --- which explained how Charles Dickens’ final novel was completed --- and THE TERROR, which provided a supernatural and horrific reason for the disappearance of the ill-fated Franklin expedition.

With THE RESIDENCE, award-winning author Andrew Pyper provides us with speculative fiction on a subject that you probably were not aware ever took place. President Franklin Pierce served only one term in office and was noted for his inability to quell the fires of slavery that would eventually consume Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and cause the Civil War. Pierce’s vice president died only one month into his term, and no one wanted to step into the role. His cabinet ironically included Jefferson Davis, who would play a huge part in the upcoming war.

This is what we know about Pierce, which can be found in any history book or online reference site. It is what we don’t know about his presidency and the secrets that he and his wife, Jane Pierce, took to their graves that is the focus of THE RESIDENCE. Grief is a terrible thing: it can divide and destroy individuals and families, eating at you from the inside out without relenting. The Pierces already had been grieving the loss of their first son to illness, but this would not prepare them for the most horrific tragedy of their lives. Not long after Pierce wins the presidency, they travel from their home in New Hampshire to visit their next residence in Washington, D.C. The train they are on derails violently, causing numerous injuries and one fatality. Regrettably, the latter is their 11-year-old son Bennie, who is nearly decapitated in the accident.

"I was not prepared for the nonstop terror that Andrew Pyper has penned, making for one of the most haunting and disturbing reads that I have experienced in quite some time."

This new shadow of grief will forever haunt Franklin and Jane. It is no way to begin a presidency, and Jane becomes a figure of permanent gloom, barely seen without her black veil. The day of the inauguration is one of wet snow and dark skies, appropriate for the mood felt by Franklin, who does not have his wife by his side. In fact, Jane is not even sure she wants to move into the White House, and it takes much cajoling by her husband to get her to reconsider. As the president becomes acquainted with the White House staff, he learns from some of the veterans that the place is haunted and there are stories of ghosts in the furnace room.

Not wishing to participate in duties usually relegated to a first lady, Jane has her cousin Abby step in and represent her. Jane would do anything to bring Bennie back, and she learns of two famous siblings --- the Fox Sisters --- who have been touring the states performing paranormal feats such as contacting the dead. She invites them to the White House, unbeknownst to Franklin, in order to perform a séance that would allow her to reconnect with her son. Even though many consider them to be charlatans, what occurs during the séance is completely unexpected and drives the Foxes from the White House as quickly as they arrived.

For Jane, the meeting does two things. It reawakens a sinister spirit from her youth that she merely refers to as “Sir” and that Kate Fox calls “Splitfoot” during the séance. It also produces the physical appearance in the White House of a young spirit that she believes to be Bennie reborn. It begins its new existence as an infant that even suckles from Jane and then, in a matter of days, has grown to an adolescent boy. This spirit will occupy the room that Jane has made up for their dead son, which she and Franklin call the Grief Room. Believe me, there will be things far darker than grief happening within the walls of this eerie room.

Many sleepless nights will impact both the president and first lady with various sounds coming from the Grief Room and surrounding hallways. Franklin invites his lifelong friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who is now a world-famous author following the releases of THE SCARLET LETTER and THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES. Hawthorne’s only evening in the White House will be quite restless; he allegedly gets up in the middle of the night and ends up exploring the source of his unrest. The next morning at breakfast, he announces that he will be leaving immediately. He never gives a full explanation to Franklin and just indicates that as long as Franklin remains president, he will never visit him in the White House again. Whatever he saw that night, Hawthorne will take it to his grave.

Jane is not the only one troubled by supernatural hauntings. Franklin has a strange visitation from his late father in which he tries to warn his son about the evil in the new residence and what might happen if things do not change. Jane remains tormented by the entity calling itself Bennie, a spirit she sees as the mind’s sculpture of darkness. She makes a decision to write to Kate and ask if she would return to the White House in an attempt to cleanse the place of the darkness that has overtaken it. This follows one of the most terrifying moments in the book (and there are plenty of them) when a meeting between the president and his staff is interrupted by the young entity, which completely unsettles everyone in the room. Kate will return, and the results play out like a cross between THE EXORCIST and POLTERGEIST.

I expected THE RESIDENCE to be a slow-burn of a ghost story with some supernatural elements making their presence known during Pierce’s presidency. I was not prepared for the nonstop terror that Andrew Pyper has penned, making for one of the most haunting and disturbing reads that I have experienced in quite some time. What really has stuck with me is the author’s note, which points out some key elements of Pierce’s time at the White House that are unexplained, in addition to a long and storied history of future presidents and the personal experiences they had with the unknown presences that may still exist within its corridors.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 18, 2020

The Residence
by Andrew Pyper

  • Publication Date: September 28, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Horror
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Skybound Books
  • ISBN-10: 198214906X
  • ISBN-13: 9781982149062