A smoky and realistic ghost story that subverts cliché.
This first adult novel from Oliver (Panic, 2013, etc.), a best-selling writer for teens, has two standard horror tales at its foundation. First, a ghost story in which the ghosts can’t leave the house but don’t know why. Second, an estranged family story in which the ex-husband dies, leaving his alcoholic ex-wife, angry daughter and disaffected teen son to clean out their former home, not knowing that it's haunted. When the stories collide, they make a novel that's greater than the sum of its parts. The ghosts and people here have a surprising amount in common—on both sides of the veil, there is pain, regret and a lot of irritation with one’s counterparts. That the book succeeds is due in large part to Oliver’s characters. Though some are flat in internal monologue, most come to life when interacting with each other, as Oliver’s ear for dialogue is finely tuned. She's able to take the tropes of the traditional ghost story and give them new energy by creating ghosts who are realistic but still terrifyingly paranormal. The story is well-served by Oliver’s sense of drama, though she seems unable to resist ending each chapter with some sort of meaningful cliffhanger, like “I pretended not to notice his wedding ring the whole time.” These touches aren’t necessary, thanks to her careful unfolding of each character’s secret, and weaken an otherwise compelling set of stories. Nevertheless, the book is a page-turner.
This satisfying novel will be enjoyed by Oliver’s fans and bring new ones to the fold.