THE INVITED by Jennifer McMahon (Doubleday, 2019): A Small Review by Tom Lyford
From “Hattie Breckenridge, May 19th, 1924”:
Hattie lowered the ax.
“Where have you been, girl?” she asked her daughter. It was a school day, but Hattie had forbidden her daughter from going to school. And last she knew, Jane was gathering kindling in the woods.
Jane opened her mouth to speak, to say, but could not seem to make the words come. Instead, she burst into tears.
Hattie set down her ax, went to her, wrapped her arms around Jane’s trembling body. Then she smelled the smoke on Jane’s dress, in her tangled hair. Even the smoke spoke to her, spun an evil tale.
“Jane? What happened?”
Jane reached into the pocket of her dress, pulled out a box of matches. “I’ve done something wicked,” she said.
Thus, in this prologue chapter, is the groundwork laid for a story set much later in Vermont, in 2015, that (to cite an accurately promising quotation from one of the blurbs on the book’s back cover) explores “the themes of family, revenge, the tangled web of history, and the possibility of the preternatural.”
A little synopsis, sans spoilers, is in order:
Helen and Nate, crazy in love with each other, leave the comforts of their professional suburban lives as educators in Connecticut to fulfill Helen’s lifelong dream. They abruptly pull up stakes and move to the woods, taking up residence on forty-four acres of rural land in Vermont where they will begin building the house of their dreams. However, they soon discover that their beautiful new property has a dark past, leaving former history teacher Helen to become consumed (to the point of putting serious strains on her picture perfect marriage) by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, the woman who lived and died there a century ago. Having a passion for artifacts, Helen begins collecting special materials for the new house–a beam from an old schoolroom, bricks from a mill, a mantel from a farmhouse–objects which draw her deeper into the lore of three generations of the Breckenridge women, each of whom died suspiciously. As the building project progresses… (Oh, never mind).
If you like spooky (I like spooky), then this is a novel for you. If you like well-developed characters with whom you can’t help but honestly identify and sincerely care about (I myself insist upon well-crafted characterization), then this is a novel for you. If you find satisfaction in painstakingly architectured plots (I certainly do), then this is a novel for you. And if you like settling in for a good read that comfortably drops you down into a familiar, New England village setting with enough selling points to easily get you to sign on the realtor’s dotted line… but which turns out, a few chapters in, to… (oh, never mind).
Suffice it to say that I read the first 100 pages in one sitting late at night, and knocked off the final 253 the following day between 2:00 and 8:45 pm.
I enthusiastically recommend The Invited.