The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

The House That Horror Built (Review: Amity by Mical Ostow)

Micol Ostow
Egmont USA 2014

Amity? As in Amityville Horror? Seriously?! Holy son of a nutcraker am I pumped for this.  What's not to love right?  This ol' house is a cornerstone of modern horror, it is the quintessential haunted house tale, everyone in the English speaking world knows the story. And maybe that is part of the problem...

In fairness, this isn't exactly the Amityville tale that we are all so familiar with.  Ostow treats us to a dual-narrative between Connor and Gwen which transcends 10 years and a whole lot of bad house history. Connor moves to Amity with his family, headed by an abusive patriarch who is looking to escape some poor business decisions and financial demons.  Connor has plenty demons of his own - namely some serious anger management issues coupled with a fondness for playing surgeon with the neighbourhood cats.  Gwen's family arrive at Amity in the hope that the idyllic country life will help bring their daughter out of a telekinetic funk (yes telekinetic) which has left a former neighbour slightly worse for wear.  I wouldn't say that either of our narrators are particularly likeable but that in itself isn't an issue for horror audiences - if we are honest, did we really like Danny Torrence in The Shining?  Ben Mears in Salem's Lot? Not really so much.  As we would expect, the old Amityville favourites don't take long to make their presence felt and, within a few days of their respective arrivals, both Connor and Gwen are being hit with the 3:15 wake up calls, the red room nightmares and the feeling that some of the men in their lives are beginning to act pretty strangely.

And this is great!  This is exactly what we want from haunted house horror - deterioration to out and out bloody anarchy should be the order of the day.  One of the problems being that we just don't know either Connor or Gwen well enough to feel uneasy about the changes in their behaviour.  Whilst minimal back story can be an absolutely legitimate writing choice, here it left me feeling slightly on the back-foot - is Connor an ass because of the undeniably evil house his family inhabit or just because he has always been an ass?  The severity of the change in both families is lost because we are given no discernible start point. Frustrating.  And I think it is undeniable that more could have been made of both Connor and Gwen.  For a dual narrative to work well both voices have to be strong and identifiable in their own right for the contrast desired to really come across and sadly this wasn't the case.  At points I lost track of which of our narrators was speaking which is never a good sign.          

The pacing is erratic, the supporting characters essentially non existent and the writing style, in part at least, is clunky and repetitive.  But is this the worst book I have ever read? Absolutely not.  I think my biggest problem with Amity as a whole was the feeling of frustration that more wasn't made of what is an already loved premise.  My feelings would likely have been different if the tie-in to a monolith of modern horror hadn't been there.  When there is so much love for a concept, it will always be difficult to do it justice in everyone's eyes.

But remember that we at MOI are only one voice.  Amity has been getting some serious love online and we would be interested to hear your thoughts so drop us a line.   

Amity is published by EgmontUSA in August. This review was brought to you by Polka-Dot Steph. In tune with Steph, Splendibird really wishes she'd re-read the above-mentioned Stephen King rather than attempted Amity. Such potential, so much disappointment. Nevertheless, thank you to the publisher, via Edelweiss, for providing us with a copy to review.

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