The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
To be published by Doubleday on April 30, 2019
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg: 3.93 (as of 2019-03-04)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. All quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.
A chilling ghost story with a twist: the New York Times best-selling author of THE WINTER PEOPLE, returns to the woods of Vermont to tell the story of a husband and wife who don’t simply move into a haunted house, they start building one from scratch, without knowing it, until it’s too late…
In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate abandon the comforts of suburbia and teaching jobs to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this charming property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago. As Helen starts carefully sourcing decorative building materials for her home – wooden beams, mantles, historic bricks — she starts to unearth, and literally conjure, the tragic lives of Hattie’s descendants, three generations of “Breckenridge women,” each of whom died amidst suspicion, and who seem to still be seeking something precious and elusive in the present day.
Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People became one of my favorites when I read it last year so of course Rachel let me know the second she saw it on Netgalley and I requested it immediately. McMahon’s books combine my love of horror with my love of all things Vermont (and New England) and I’ve been meaning to pick up more of her books for quite some time now. Rachel actually lent me a copy of The Night Sister, which I’ve got sitting in my physical TBR pile. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed The Invited, it just wasn’t as strong a book as I had hoped for.
What people don’t understand, they destroy.
As with The Winter People, McMahon sets up alternating perspectives. We have Helen, an outsider who is building a house with her husband Nate on supposedly haunted property. We also have Ollie, a girl in her early teens who is searching for a treasure that may or may not exist. I sympathized with Helen and while I found Ollie a bit irritating at first, I quickly warmed up to her as well. I also adored Ollie’s aunt, Riley, with her dyed hair and many tattoos and love of local lore. At one point I briefly hoped that Helen would leave her husband for Riley, but alas, that was wishful thinking.
Sometimes Olive got so caught up in her own grief that she forgot other people were grieving, too.
The plot itself is somewhat interesting: Ollie searches for the treasure and for traces of her mother who had left while Helen searches for more information about the spirit that may haunt her new home. McMahon puts her own unique twist on the classic ghost story, incorporating new elements and giving us just the right amount of red herrings. A lot of my nitpicks came less from issues with the story itself and more from inconsistencies in the writing and the difficulty I had getting invested until about a third in. Hopefully some of this gets pulled together better in the final copy.
“Sometimes a vivid imagination is a curse,” her mama used to tell her.
Overall The Invited was interesting and enjoyable, but it unfortunately lacked the oomph that would have given it a higher rating and put it on my favorites list. Still, Jennifer McMahon manages to explore the storied history of New England and its comparison to modern-day life. I definitely recommend this to anyone who has read and liked any of her other books, as well as to those who like the exploration of relationships between women in horror.