After finishing A House with Good Bones, I am reminded yet again that I am missing out by not having read T. Kingfisher’s entire catalog. In terms of content and genre, this southern gothic mystery is worlds apart from my first experience with a Kingfisher book (Nettle & Bone), but the fabulous storytelling, fun characters, and quirky humor are present once again, and it guarantees a fun time.
The latest archeological excavation has come to a halt, so Sam decides to take her extended time off in North Carolina to hang out with mom, drink boxed wine, and re-watch her favorite crime shows. Sam is optimistic about her visit despite the arduous drive from Arizona and the fact that an ominous black vulture welcomes her back to her childhood home. Sam scoots around the predatory bird and opens the front door to find that things have changed. The wild and fun color scheme on the walls has been replaced by bland, normal beige, and there seems to be an alarming absence of insects in Gran Mae’s garden. But what’s even weirder is that her mom is wearing rose-colored glasses. Grandma’s presence in Sam’s childhood is not remembered fondly, and her family has always acknowledged this fact. But now her mom is making excuses for the difficult woman, and Sam becomes alarmed by her anxious, people-pleasing behavior. As the strangeness mounts in the home, Sam’s logical brain is put to the test as she unravels her dark and dangerous family history.
Kingfisher has this wonderful power to incorporate humor into her stories, no matter the context or genre. It was an unexpected element in this spooky tale, and it quickly became one of the parts I enjoyed the most. Sam’s inner monologue was delightful. She’s incredibly weird, and I adore her for it. As someone who studies the history of bugs, Sam’s passion for creepy crawlies is infused into her very being. Her habit of naming a bug’s classification or background on its studied behavior could have easily been annoying. However, Kingfisher works in this characterization deftly so it comes off as endearing. Her scholarly mind is also fun to experience the horror through because she is so damn logical about everything. Sam doesn’t approach the situation from an “I’m a smart person with a doctorate and therefore better than you,” but more so with a hungering curiosity to find answers and with the gusto for research to make it happen.
A House with Good Bones has a pretty good setup. The fear builds nicely as Sam contends with the strangeness of her childhood home, but it gets unruly at the end. The family mystery pushing this story forward is delivered in teeny, tiny doses. Was it enough to stay step-for-step with the story? Sure. But I am left wanting more because it feels like the mystery was wound too tightly for the majority of the book only for it to explode at the end. The what-the-fuckery escalates too quickly after spending 200+ pages collecting little morsels. You can either walk away from this book happy for the instant gratification of reading a good, short tale or have whiplash from the rapid culmination. I experienced the latter. It didn’t ruin my time with the book, but I found myself wanting more from the secretive family.
Kingfisher plays around with the idea that our homes are safe, comfortable places and how quickly that security can be taken away. I enjoyed how Kingfisher reveals little by little how a familiar, beloved place can become something unknown and feared. Sam’s small discoveries upon returning to her childhood home immediately make her uneasy. It’s interesting that something as small as a new picture on the wall or a comment from your mom can immediately put you on guard. It’s that moment when the expected fails to happen, and you instinctively feel that something is wrong. The story’s subtle scare factors are the moments that have stayed with me the most. Even though it definitely gets weird and over the top at the end, most of the story is built with these small, unnerving moments that constantly keep Sam off-kilter while she tries her best to stay grounded.
I give kudos to Kingfisher for bringing the fear factor into this short tale. It’s not a knock-your-socks-off kind of scare, but I enjoyed many moments of dread and anxiousness. This low-level creepiness played off Sam’s demeanor incredibly well. As someone who would have run from the house screaming, it was fun to be forced to stew in the strangeness with this logical woman. If you’re looking to have your hackles raised, A House with Good Bones will certainly make you uncomfortable in your own home.
Rating: A House with Good Bones – 7.5/10
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.