How do you feel about Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca? You love it, right? I mean, to read it is to love it*.
Read Bookshelves of Doom on Joshua C. Cohen's Leverage.
When I picked up Marianna Baer’s Frost, I knew it was a modern Gothic—after all, the great Lois Duncan blurbed it—but I hadn’t seen anything anywhere about its parallels to Rebecca. So discovering them was a real treat. (Turn of the Screw and Rebecca in one Cybils season! Pure joy!)
From the first moment that Leena Thompson sees Frost House, she knows she has to live there. Something in it calls to her. Though she’s usually hesitant to call in favors, this time, she pulls every string at her disposal. Suddenly, everything seems to be on track for her senior year at Barcroft Academy to be as perfect as perfect can be. She and her best friends will have Frost House completely to themselves—as long as they steer clear of the dorm mother—and they’ll live together as a cozy little family.
Enter stage left: Mercurial artist Celeste Lazar, Leena’s surprise roommate!
Celeste’s reaction to Frost House is the polar opposite of Leena’s—she hates it from minute one. She claims that there’s someone watching her; that she feels cold, unfriendly breezes and that the house smells rotten; she has an irrational fear of her own closet; and she regularly accuses her new roommates of destroying her property.
Enter stage right: Handsome David Lazar, Celeste’s extremely protective brother!
It doesn’t take long for David and Leena to admit their attraction to each other—but is it possible to have a romantic relationship with someone who puts his concern for his sister before everything else? A guy who brings every conversational topic around to her; who does her laundry and perfectly folds her silky underwear; who seems not just concerned, but inappropriately jealous of Celeste’s romantic relationships?
Leena isn’t sure.
So, parallels to Rebecca:
The major one, of course, is the Leena-David-Celeste triangle. Leena’s mounting paranoia about their relationship is so tangible that it’s contagious—so much so that when she began to suspect that there might be a sexual relationship between the siblings, I was right with her, with nary a “OH, PLEASE!” in sight.
Celeste’s sort-of boyfriend, the obnoxious and offensive Whip Windham, is a dead-ringer for a 21st-century Jack Favell.
Celeste and David’s mother’s name is Phillipa. I’ve heard it argued that Rebecca’s unnamed narrator could be named Phillipa.
The parallel to Mrs. Danvers...well, that would be too big of a spoiler.
The kicker came close to the end, just when I was starting to wonder if I was imagining things:
“Joan Fontaine,” a white-haired man I’d met earlier said as I pushed by. He tapped my shoulder repeatedly. “That’s is. You look like a young Joan Fontaine. I’m sure someone’s told you that.”
Joan Fontaine, as you probably already know, played the second Mrs. de Winter in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca.
References to du Maurier aside—I wouldn’t even label it a retelling—Frost is a slow-building, atmospheric, spooktastic read. While the claustrophobic feel doesn’t affect Leena in the slightest, I found it almost physically oppressive at times—so much so that it was sometimes easier to identify with Celeste, even though, in the eyes of our narrator, she’s often the antagonist. Which is a really cool twist, and speaks to the quality of the voice and the storytelling.
Highly recommended to any fan of the modern Gothic.
*In case you haven’t read it, I should mention: regardless of the spin that Bella Swan would likely put on it**, it’s totally not a romance. But that’s a whole different column.
**Judging by her interpretation of Wuthering Heights.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably maniacally organizing all of her music into far-too-specific Spotify playlists.