Today we welcome Madeline Irish back to share her thoughts on Carol Goodman’s WIDOW’S HOUSE. Madeline is a reader, writer, lover, and dirty fighter. By day, she is a YA librarian in a town near Salem, Massachusetts; by night, she splits her hours between reading fabulous horror, suspense, and psychological fiction, deconstructing horror movies and wondering why she didn’t major in film criticism. She enjoys cooking things she will always add more salt to once they are on the table.
Thanks for joining us again, Madeline!
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This chilling novel from the bestselling, award-winning author of The Lake of Dead Languages blends the gothic allure of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca and the crazed undertones of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper with the twisty, contemporary edge of A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife—a harrowing tale of psychological suspense set in New York’s Hudson Valley.
When Jess and Clare Martin move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to their former college town in the Hudson River valley, they are hoping for rejuvenation—of their marriage, their savings, and Jess’s writing career.
They take a caretaker’s job at Riven House, a crumbling estate and the home of their old college writing professor. While Clare once had dreams of being a writer, those plans fell by the wayside when Jess made a big, splashy literary debut in their twenties. It’s been years, now, since his first novel. The advance has long been spent. Clare’s hope is that the pastoral beauty and nostalgia of the Hudson Valley will offer some inspiration.
But their new life isn’t all quaint town libraries and fragrant apple orchards. There is a haunting pall that hangs over Riven House like a funeral veil. Something is just not right. Soon, Clare begins to hear babies crying at night, and sees strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Diving into the history of the area, she realizes that Riven House has a dark and anguished past. And whatever this thing is—this menacing force that destroys the inhabitants of the estate—it seems to be after Clare next…
Any freshman American Lit class worth its salt includes the pinnacle of psychological horror short fiction, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” on its syllabus. Gilman’s chilling classic is told from the main character’s point of view in a series of letters to an unknown recipient as the narrator is confined to bed rest in a room with walls papered in a wall covering that appears to imprison a doppelgänger of the protagonist. Similarly, in Carol Goodman’s Widow’s House, the narrator, Claire Martin, moves into an old gothic mansion that appears to be hiding its own ghostly secrets, and one looks an awful lot like Claire. In both Gilman’s and Goodman’s story, the question of whether the narrator is a reliable one takes center stage. Is Claire, once hospitalized for a mental breakdown, suffering from growing paranoia and delusion, or is the house’s most infamous resident, a wronged paramour who committed suicide in the most chilling of ways, truly haunting her? Is the faint bell she hears ringing at night a figment of her imagination? And from where is that baby’s cry coming?
Reminiscent of creepy powerhouses like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Scott Thomas’ Kill Creek, Widow’s House is a classic gothic ghost story with some original plot twists, and yet Goodman’s overuse of motifs and some overly close coincidences sometimes put a damper on the fun. Claire and her odious husband Jess move to upstate New York from Brooklyn in search of a new start both for their marriage and for Jess’ waning writing career, and Goodman reminds the reader once too often that the town is best known for its apple crop. Furthermore, there are a few gruesome deaths crammed near the climax that seem a bit too convenient for a reader to believe. However, Goodman’s detailed description of the intricacies of Riven House—its hidden dumb waiter, its octagonal design mirrored in much of its furniture, its layers of wallpaper a casual nod to Gilman’s classic–cement the novel firmly alongside other well-written “haunted house” tales.
About The Author
Carol Goodman is the author of The Lake of Dead Languages, The Seduction of Water, which won the Hammett Prize, and The Widow’s House, which won the Mary Higgins Clark Award. She is also the co-author, with her husband Lee Slonimsky, of the Watchtower fantasy trilogy. Her work has appeared in such journals as The Greensboro Review, Literal Latte, The Midwest Quarterly, and Other Voices. After graduation from Vassar College, where she majored in Latin, she taught Latin for several years in Austin, Texas. She then received an M.F.A. in fiction from the New School University. Goodman currently teaches literature and writing at The New School and SUNY New Paltz and lives with her family in the Hudson Valley.
I started writing at age nine, when my teacher introduced the topic ‘Creative Writing’ and I wrote a ninety-page, crayon-illustrated collection entitled The Adventures of the Magical Herd in which a girl named Carol lives with a herd of magical horses. I knew from that moment I wanted to be a writer and that I’d always find a way to rewrite my own life.
During my teens I wrote poetry and was awarded the Young Poet of Long Island award. I took a break from writing to major in Latin at Vassar College, where I fell in love with language and the Hudson Valley, two themes that would reappear in my first published novel, the bestselling and critically acclaimed novel, The Lake of Dead Languages (Ballantine, 2001). The novel is about a Latin teacher who returns to a girls’ school in the Adirondacks and was inspired by a year I spent living in the Adirondacks and also family trips to the Mohonk Mountain House.
In the next decade, while living on Long Island and raising my daughter, Maggie, I wrote five more literary mysteries, was nominated for the IMPAC award twice and the Simon & Schuster/Mary Higgins Clark Award, and won the Hammett Prize for Literary Excellence in Crime Writing for my second novel, The Seduction of Water. I have tried in these novels to explore themes of artistic inspiration, family conflict, and gender issues, using the landscape and history of New York’s Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks as setting and motif.
I departed from mystery fiction for a few years by writing fantasy and young adult fiction but I stayed close to (my creative) home geographically. My husband, poet Lee Slonimsky, and I wrote an urban fantasy trilogy set in New York City. Under the pseudonym Juliet Dark, I wrote The Demon Lover(Ballantine 2011), which Booklist named a top ten fantasy/science fiction book of 2012, and two more paranormal fantasy books in the same series set in a fictitious college town in the Catskills. My young adult novel, Blythewood (Viking Children’s 2013), was named a best young adult novel by the American Library Association. The Blythewood series is set at the eponymous girls’ school on the Hudson River.
When I finally moved to the Hudson Valley in 2010 I found that I hadn’t run out of things to say about the area. I was inspired by the Hudson River mansions and the scenic and perilous River Road, which I drove on daily, to return to suspense fiction with River Road (Touchstone, 2016).
I continue to enjoy exploring geography, folklore, and history as sources of inspiration for my writing. My two latest books, The Metropolitans, a middle-grade historical novel, and the ghostly suspense The Widow’s House, are set in New York City and the Hudson Valley respectively. When I’m not writing and taking long walks near the river, I teach writing and literature at SUNY New Paltz and The New School.
Visit Carol at her website: