” I think . . . what Kim did. I think that there’s . . . something . . . in that house that is destroying everybody who lives in it. I think it’s something that can somehow isolate what’s the essence of you, the things you absolutely need most to keep on existing, the you-ness of you. I think it takes your life force, your vitality, and sucks it out of you. I think it needs the core of your life in order to live itself. ” (Ch.17, p.211)
Written in 1978, The House Next Door is an atmospheric horror story set in the suburb of Atlanta, where Walter and Colquitt Kennedy live a modest, quiet life. The young couple enjoys their jobs and spends their time drinking martinis on the porch, sometimes in the company of their well-adjusted neighbors. Then, to their shock, construction begins on the vacant lot next door, a wooded hillside they believed would always remains undeveloped. Disappointed by their diminished privacy, the Kennedys soon realize something is inexplicably wrong with the house next door.
I think we ought to try and forget it. All of it. Okay, just for the sake of the argument, say you’re right and something supernatural is going on over there, there’s something feeding on people—maybe, if its empty long enough, if it doesn’t get the . . . the nourishment it needs, then whatever it is will just die. I don’t know what’s the matter with the damned house. (Ch.17, p.217)
Obviously Siddons has made an evil organism out of this new house, which, over the course of two years, destroys three separate families moving into it. The Harralsons, an ambitious young couple from well-heeled families, loses their child in a miscarriage. Their marriage later dissolves after a scandal literally unfolds in front of their neighbors at the house-warming. The wife of the Sheehans has barely recovered from a nervous breakdown. Traumatized by the loss of her son, who perished in Vietnam, Anita Sheehans has been hospitalized for a long time. What seems to be a calming convalescence takes a horrific turn. As if the house knows she, already fragile, is clinging onto the little sanity left in her, her marriage to a protective husband is also compromised. The horror of the book peaks at the revelation of the secret of the third family, the Greenes.
The House Next Door is not a generic horror novel. Siddons writes with assurance, as tension builds up over small sinister occurrences, with an escalating feeling of eerieness. The actual events and their outcomes are not scary, as some reviewers have complained—but that is not the point of the book. It isn’t so much about the final act that breaks the families as everything that leads up to it. The book is a creepy story that doesn’t contain the in-your-face shock value that defines the genre these days. It simply allows the characters and the atmosphere to tell the story—and this is what makes The House Next Door so disturbing.
356 pp. Pocket Books. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]