A Heady Blend Of Comedy & Horror Wrapped Up In Family Drama
Marrying comedy and horror together is not an easy feat. The later Child’s Play movies suffer from falling too far into the realm of humour. Meanwhile, Scream’s increasingly meta, satirical humour can only run so far before it dries up the well. What’s difficult to showcase on film is even harder in book format, but somehow Grady Hendrix’s latest novel does just that, gluing both genres together with a dose of family drama and tightly written characters.
In its simplest form, How To Sell A Haunted House is a book about grief. It’s about how we peel through the layers of anger and acceptance and everything in between, before eventually embracing acceptance and trying to find a new normal where a hole in our heart has opened up. And nowhere else is that exemplified more than in the format of this book, which is, infact, broken up into those five stages of grief in a neat touch.
That grief spirals out of Louise Joyner, our protagonist for the story, when her past comes calling in the most devastating way possible. She receives a call that catches her off-guard. Her parents have died. She’s left with picking up the shattered pieces of their life, and that means heading back home. Not only does she have to leave her 5 year old daughter Poppy behind, it also means facing her lay-about, golden boy brother, Mark.
The pair immediately fall out over the sale of their parents’ house, and how best to handle the funeral. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, it would appear that the family home is haunted too. How are they going to sell it now?!
To give much more away about the story would be a disservice but there’s a plot twist midway through this that will make or break the book for many people. You do need to suspend your disbelief a fair amount, but it does work poetically to showcase those aforementioned ideas of grief and loneliness, not to mention the destructive quality that grief can have on a person.
From a purely functional level, the book works really well to racket up the tension and suspense while also developing the relationship between Mark and Louise. There’s a solid curve of growing action and drama as the pages fly by, which works in tandem to the character journeys for our two siblings. While they start out butting heads with one another, as the story progresses that last layer of grief (acceptance) starts to come to the fold and the pair find common ground. That’s probably just as well because there’s a point during the third act where How To Sell a Haunted House starts to outstay its welcome.
While the plot develops well, the final 100 pages or so feel drawn out and you’ll find yourself compelled to press on to see how this one ends, more as a laborious task to finish rather than being fully, 100% invested in the story. Thankfully, all of this is helped by the concluding chapter which brings everything together in a beautiful way and rounds out the story in a satisfying manner. A bit more ruthless editing, chopping out around 50 pages or so, would have made this feel like a much more complete book though.
Despite those gripes, How To Sell A Haunted House does a wonderful job encapsulating the best elements of dark comedy and horror together. The writing style is captivating, and while the story does drag on a bit toward the final act, if you can make it through that and get to the end, Grady Hendrix’s latest book certainly delivers.
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Verdict - 8/10