Regardless, nobody wants to linger on the details when it’s easier to move forward as if they’re rumors instead of memories. That’s how it’s always been here, I guess. So ever since I found Walter dead, I’ve been acting as if nothing happened, even though on the inside I’m beginning to unravel, slowly, like a thread being pulled painstakingly from its spool.
Something isn’t right in this house.
—The Women in the Walls, by Amy Lukavics
Lucy Acosta lives in a luxurious manor house with her father, her cousin, and her maternal aunt, who moved in after Lucy’s mother died of a brain aneurysm. Lucy adores her aunt Penelope—she loves her more than she loves her own father—and she and her cousin Margaret are so inseparable that they have no interest in spending time with anyone else their own age.
Life as an Acosta has its responsibilities—you or I would probably say ‘drawbacks’ rather than ‘responsibilities’—in that members of the family, at all times, must maintain an outward calm. They are meant to be poised, they are meant to be pleasant, they are meant to be mild. Margaret doesn’t give a fig about the unspoken rules and breaks them often; Lucy maintains her perfect Acosta veneer through self-harm.
The Women in the Walls opens with a death—Walter the cook killed himself in his little bedroom downstairs, just a few hours after saying good-night—which is rapidly followed up by the disappearance of Penelope, who walks into the woods and doesn’t come back out again. And then Margaret claims that she knows for sure that Penelope is dead… and she knows this because Penelope has been talking to her.
Amy Lukavics is the author of Daughters Unto Devils, which was easily my favorite horror novel of 2015, and one of my favorite novels of the year, period. The Women in the Walls isn’t quite as strong—it’s repetitive at times, and while slow-build tension is the BEST kind of tension, there are passages here that are more dead space than slow-build. The self-harm thread feels almost like an afterthought, too, though it’s possible that my feelings on that were affected by reading Kathleen Glasgow’s Girl in Pieces—another book that deals with self-harm, but with piercing emotional honesty and depth, as well as an entirely different tone—immediately prior to reading this book.
Beyond those issues—which really didn’t detract much from my overall enjoyment—The Women in the Walls has a great Gothic atmosphere, overbearing and heavy. Unlike most Gothics, interestingly, there aren’t any sexual overtones in regards to the teen characters—but those overtones are clearly there in regards to the adults. The familial and social dynamics are wonderfully fraught, and Lucy’s narration is appropriately overwrought, at times teetering on the brink of channeling V.C. Andrews:
The girl lives in a beautiful dollhouse made of stone, I wrote one time in my diary when I was young, my handwriting shaky but sure. But underneath her shining plastic smile, there are only screams.
And in terms of pure gross-out factor, Lukavics gives Stephen King a real run for the money—there is some fantastically grody imagery here, and she has really upped the gore factor from her first book. Which is saying something, considering all of the wonderful hideousness that the characters in Daughters Unto Devils endured.
Perfect? No. Effective in creating and sustaining the creepy-crawlies? Absolutely.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.