Author Jac Jemc has spliced together the classic haunted house story with psychological, domestic suspense. The Grip of It is tight, sparse and yet deeply disturbing.
The story is told in alternating (mostly) first-person narrative, each chapter building layers of domestic suspense. Julie and James are seeking a new start outside of the rat race of the city. James is a recovering gambler and they could use a change of scenery.
They find a Victorian house, in need of some TLC, but otherwise charming. They each get new jobs in the mid-size town and start to refocus their lives on their home and one another. But the dull, yawning rumble from somewhere in the house will not stop. It’s not just “settling” and it’s not woodland creature that’s taken up residence in the attic.
They try to ignore it and get on with their lives. And they try to ignore the strange apparitions and the moving walls and the odd neighbor and children’s laughter that comes from the forest. Then there are a meandering bruises that appear on Julie’s skin, markings of injuries she’s has no memory of.
The lights in the bedroom are off. In the soft shine of the moon through the window, I startle at what looks like a person opposite me, only to realize it’s a figure drawn on the wall. I flip my bedside light on, not sure if I hope to wake James or not. The outline droops with liquid, watery and pink, and I wonder, Paint? Blood? Those are all the answers I can think of.
I remember the drawings on the wall the lady at the grocery store told me about. I shiver at the form, crude — like a child’s sketch: a rough, wide oval for its head; limbs that stretch too long; features simple and too small for the face.
James and I are living in a Latin mass, memorizing ritual, reciting mysteries we’ve given up on deciphering, foreign syllables unrolling in order. ~Pg 101-2
Jemc tiptoes the fine line between creepy and absurd. There are enough truly frightening ideas to make the reader scared, and she plants plenty of everyday routine to keep the story grounded. At the same time, Jemc allows the narrators’ voices to grow increasingly manic as their lives become more and more stressful and confusing.
The result is unsettling. The reader can’t ever be entirely sure of what they have just witnessed and are left just as unmoored as the narrators themselves.
My thanks to Norma at FSG for the review copy.
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: FSG Originals (August 1, 2017)