Tananarive Due’s The Good House – Book Spotlight

Hey, Readers! Welcome back to our monthly literary deep-dive!

This month I’m upping the ante as we head towards spooky season. Yes, October is months away but I’m not a creature of the summer sun, ladies and gents. I’m more at home… well. At home with a good book and I love all things spooky, so, we’re probably getting more horror novels between now and Halloween. I hope that works for you.

And boy, do I have a great one for you this month!

I love a good possession and haunting story. I believe this started when my Mom let me watch The Exorcist at age 7… sure, I had nightmares for years after and jumped at every creak and groan of our old house for months but it’s now one of my favorite movies. (I’m actually listening to the audiobook right now – let me know in the comments if you want me to spotlight a book from 1971.) The Good House is both a story of possession and haunting, but with a very interesting hook.

A couple of trigger warnings up front, though! This is a horror novel and it’s not shy about being a little shocking. There’s underage sexual activity and sexual assault, suicide, racist language and racially motivated violence in this story. If any of these things are a hard No for you, this may not be your kind of story. (If you read and enjoyed the Stephen King classic, IT, you’ll be fine. Reading some of the Amazon reviews for The Good House, you’d think some of these people have never picked up a horror novel before in their lives.)

So, head out into the sunshine, if you must, and grab your reading device of choice because we’re on our way to Sacajawea, Washington, to pay a visit to the Good House.

Book Stats

Basic Premise

We open on a somewhat harrowing scene. Imagine a grand old home, beautiful and regal atop a hill. The front door is a beautiful, hand-made affair that bears the scars of buckshot, as if someone in the not to terribly distant past had tried to blast it open with a gun. That is what happened, actually. And now, that same person who inflicted these wounds is at the door for a very different reason…

We’re in the late 1920s and the home’s owner is Marie Toussaint. As a black woman in the 1920s, the fact that she owns this home has been a sore point for the town of Sacajawea, hence the attempted forced entry. Her common-law husband, a Native American man called Red John by the townspeople, is home also. He submits (Reasonably, I think.) that they ignore the people at the door. Marie, a Mambo in the Voudun religion, refuses her husband’s wishes and allows the assembled people inside her home despite the persecution she’s suffered at their hands. They carry with them a young girl who has fallen suddenly, inexplicably ill. Marie has a reputation for being able to heal the sick… but this girl isn’t sick. There’s something else going on, and it’s much darker than a mere fever.

Boom. We jump forward. It’s now the new millennium. (In fact, Willennium is blasting on Corey’s stereo.) Angela Toussant, Marie’s granddaughter, now owns The Good House as it came to be called. It’s the 4th of July and there is a party to be hosted. Corey, Angela’s son, is sent into the cellar to bring up sodas and fireworks. Angela’s estranged husband and Corey’s father, Tyric, is here also. In fact, things have been mending themselves between the two, in a way. Actually, things are going kind of well, all things considered…

…until a gunshot is heard from the cellar.

That’s the point where Angela’s life falls apart. Corey has seemingly committed suicide with a gun Tyric told her he’d gotten rid of years ago.

Some years later, we catch up with Angela. She’s a talent agent in Los Angeles, now. Her life is finally back on track but it was a hard road getting there. A stay in a psychiatric facility, therapy, a new-found focus on career and an absolute avoidance of anything that takes her back to Washington or the 4th of July. These things have saved her life. She hasn’t even opened letters sent to her by old friends from Sacajawea.

That is until she’s contacted by the caretaker she had hired to look after The Good House. The topic of maybe selling it comes up and she’s convinced by her friend (And client.) Naomi that they need to take a trip there and get the place in order.

Things start going wrong by degrees, starting with Naomi’s dog, Onyx. How does a miniature poodle escape a locked bedroom and house to be found outside? Near Tyric’s abandoned V.W. Van, no less? Not to mention the man who lived next to Marie’s old house just walked out into the street in front of a big rig. He’s the father of Corey’s best friend… could there be a connection, there?

It’s a mystery, alright. Elements from the early 1900s influence and direct events in the 2000s and it turns out that Grandma Marie had a lot more to teach than just how to heal the sick. She has ties to a realm of spirituality that’s not often explored or understood and she may just have done something back in the old days to doom Angela and the rest of her line now.

A recommended read from me!

My Take

As mentioned in the preamble, I love a good possession narrative. So often this comes with a healthily sized side order of Catholicism. And there’s nothing wrong with that! The mold was set by William Peter Blatty, author of the aforementioned The Exorcist, back in the 70s and pop-culture has been trying to re-bottle that lightning for 50 years, now. I get it.

But this book takes us to a completely different place with its use of Caribbean, Louisiana and African religion and mysticism. And I’ll admit, it’s not something I’ve ever been introduced to so I was really excited to see so many new aspects to haunting and possession explored in this book. Papa Legba, the Baka (Pronounced Bah-KA, and not to be confused with the Japanese word baka, which roughly translates to idiot or fool. This Baka is neither of those things.) and the ritual magic used to deal with each of these figures is so interesting and breathes new life into the genre. (New for me, anyway – for all I know, there’s a lot of books with these influences out there and I just don’t know about them. If you have recommendations, I’m all ears!) My point is, I spent a lot of time on Google after reading this book and man, I LOVE that about reading. New ideas, new perspectives! I love it!

This book is definitely a slow burn kind of deal. Things are hectic at the start and then fall into a more sedate pace and that lasts for a fair portion of the book. Things get worse by degrees. Tananarive Due creates not only an interesting story, but distinct, interesting, flawed characters. She also gives all of them a lot to do and deal with. Their thoughts are explored in-depth and their motivations are thoroughly explored. (We get to spend some time with poor Corey and I definitely empathized with him a lot. Poor kid.) This may not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s something I particularly enjoy; it’s my favorite thing about Stephen King’s works as well as those of Bentley Little. If you’re familiar with either of them and enjoy their stuff? This will be right up your alley.

For the audio book version, our narrator is Robin Miles. She does a fantastic job differentiating each character with their own voice and attitude. You’re never in any doubt as to who is talking and how they’re feeling. I realized I’d heard her voice before and looked it up – she also does the reading for Octavia E. Butler’s Wild Seed! I’m looking forward to hearing more of her work.

All in all, this is a great horror novel. If you’re looking for something to get you jumping at shadows or rustling leaves? I can’t recommend this enough.

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