After tragedy strikes a young family, the survivors move to a new, creepy apartment, and they’re haunted by more than just their grief.
This absorbing novel begins like a well-written but not otherwise unusual story of a disintegrating marriage following the death of a young child, but it soon takes a spooky turn. Alison and Brian Graham are still in acute mourning when Brian impulsively sells their house and buys the plain and ugly Apartment 5F. With too much time on his hands thanks to a lucrative textbook contract, Brian drinks heavily, takes pills, tries to write his novel and pays sporadic attention to Emma, their young daughter. Alison, already a troubled, unhappy person (she cuts herself), sees her therapist to little avail and returns to work, but she moons over an old boyfriend. As the novel continues, strange, unsettling elements begin creeping in, at first subtly and then overtly. Comforting Emma after a nightmare, Brian makes out the face of a man in the darkness with expressionless black eyes, inches away. The vision disappears, but before Brian can dismiss it as a booze-and-pills hallucination, Emma confirms it: “You saw him, too…right, daddy?” In his debut novel, Bisig expertly builds tension, ratcheting up the horror as Brian—an unreliable narrator, but in what way?—spirals into what might be drugs, might be insanity, might be the supernatural. Bisig gets inside his characters’ heads brilliantly, making them understandable even when they are unsympathetic. His portrait of addictive thinking is spot-on: “[E]ven though he completely understood Dr. Shah’s advice to not drink and drug, the way Brian looked at it, that was intended for people who couldn’t handle their liquor.” Original, powerful images add to the novel’s impact—“their marriage was dangerous and unstable, like uranium or November ice”; “the drink cart demanded subtle attention, like a blinking cursor.”
This intelligent, psychologically acute and truly spooky ghost story is an entertaining, impressive debut.