A peaceful Vermont village turns creepy in this tale of the dead returning to life.
Sara Harrison Shea’s precious daughter, Gertie, dies in 1908 during a harsh and unforgiving winter in which her mother and father, Martin, struggle to keep food on the table. Gertie isn’t the first child Sara has lost, but her death is the one she has the most difficult time accepting. When she refuses to believe that Gertie is gone forever and blames Martin for her loss, Sara sets in motion a tragic and horrifying chain of events that will forever change the lives of everyone around them. Flashing back and forth between Sara’s time period and the present, the author evokes a sense of suffering and hopelessness as she gathers a cast of characters who bring out the worst in one another: the mysterious, otherworldly Auntie who raised Sara and died before Gertie’s birth; the present-day sisters, Ruthie and lemur-eyed, feverish Fawn, who live with their mother, Alice, known in the town as the Egg Lady; and Katherine, newly arrived, a recent widow and artist who is also mourning her lost son. Alice and her late husband were careful to shield their daughters from the outside world, forbidding them access to the Internet, television and other technology, and home-schooling Ruthie. So when Alice vanishes, Ruthie’s search for her causes her to cross paths with people and things she doesn’t understand. McMahon, a masterful storyteller who understands how to build suspense, creates an ocean of tension that self-implodes in the last two-thirds of the book. That’s when her characters make implausible decisions that cause them to behave like teens in low-budget horror films who know there’s a mad killer on the loose, yet when they hear noises in the basement, they go down alone to investigate anyway.
Although she writes flawless prose, McMahon’s characters’ improbable choices derail her story.