Micol Ostow’s Amity gave me goosebumps, and I read it on a hot summer day in broad daylight. Which is an EXCELLENT quality in a horror novel, and very much in keeping with the reaction my 12-year-old self had while reading Amity’s most obvious inspiration, Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror. But while many of the details come from the Anson book—the flies, the Red Room in the basement, the layout of the house and grounds*, the specifics of the paranormal phenomena—as a whole, the book echoes and celebrates a much more legendary source: Stephen King’s The Shining.
In Amity, Ostow creates the same sort of claustrophobic atmosphere that King did in The Shining, due both to the paranormal dangers and to the more everyday horrors of domestic abuse and mental illness: Even before the characters get to the house, they are trapped. Both narrators are nods to King as well, but in different ways: Amity facilitates Connor’s slide into madness in much the same way that the Overlook Hotel nudged Jack Torrance along, while the parentheticals that give voice to Gwen’s deepest fears and secret thoughts are pure Uncle Stevie:
It was only a house; built by human hands, inanimate, non-sentient. A structure, an object. Not a being. I was perfectly safe in here, tucked up in the shadowed eaves, nestled in the belly of this (beast) house, Amity.
There’s even a moment between Gwen and her aunt that almost replicates a conversation between Danny Torrance and Hallorann:
“You’ll let me know if you need anything. Just call for me, and I’ll come.” (Amity)
“If there is trouble...you give a call. A big loud holler like the one you gave a few minutes ago. I might hear you even way down in Florida. And if I do, I’ll come on the run.” (The Shining)
Really, the similarities are so striking that if Amity hadn’t opened with a quote from The Shining—This inhuman place makes human monsters.—I might have reacted negatively, rather than the way that I did, which is in a totally, over-the-moon, joyful and positive manner. Add to that the book’s other strengths—of voice and character, in that Gwen and Connor’s voices are distinct, yet still complement and mirror each other; and of form and structure, in that while their stories play out 10 years apart, and their perspectives and experiences are entirely different, it’s always very clearly all part of the same tragedy—and Ostow has an across-the-board win. It works as a horror story, as a psychological thriller, as a love letter to Stephen King, and I can’t wait to buy it for my library so I can just HAND it to people instead of TELLING them about it.
*Ostow also includes rumors of an Ancient Indian Burial Ground, which is a trope that should probably have been put out to pasture by now, but as it was an element that was included in the original, I gave it a pass.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.