Maggie has grown up in the shadow of her father’s book, the one that claims that – true story! – their family lived in a haunted house for three weeks when she was five. The book is utter nonsense, she knows. At very least, she’d have some memory of the insane things that happened to her if they were true. What she doesn’t know is why her parents stuck to these lies for her entire life, or why they insist she not return to the house, or that she’s about to inherit the haunted ruin that her father has apparently never sold…
Why oh why aren’t there more books like this one? Mystery with a touch of paranormal, or even potential paranormal – it’s just perfect, and it’s what I’ve been craving for months and months. Please, if anyone has recommendations of books similar to this one or the two Simone St. James books I read in May, send them my way. I adore this sort of thing!! I’ve been personally looking forward to this book since I first heard about it in February-ish, and I joined that Book of the Month club purely to get my hands on this book before it was available elsewhere. It’s been ages since I took the risk of buying an unread book that wasn’t written by a handful of long-time-trusted favorite authors, and it was totally worth that risk.
Home Before Dark is written with alternating chapters between Maggie’s story – an adult overshadowed by her father’s supposedly-true-story fiction – and her father’s book. Both are told in first person, and Sager does a great job of making the voices completely different. He does a brilliant job at making the Book’s chapters a bit cheesy and written in a way that shows its author (Maggie’s father, not Sager) is not an experienced fiction writer. It hits all the classic first-time-novelist not-quite-edited-enough buttons. At the same time, the story told in that cheesy writing is disturbing and thrilling and creepy. It’s very much a paranormal ghost story that builds to some horrific climaxes. (Oh, the snakes, the snakes!!)
On Maggie’s side, the story is more nuanced. She’s trying to sort out truth from fiction. So much of her scant memory of the house is colored and influenced by what’s in her father’s book. She balances between anger at her father for never telling her the truth, and constant love for him and the need to not disappoint him, even after his death. The psychological balance is excellent. And once she’s at the house, she struggles to sort out true memory from what she’s read. This becomes even more difficult once the same ghostly phenomena from her father’s story begins. Maggie’s thoughts circle with increasing paranoia as her sleep is interrupted, as objects from the house disappear, as she sees shadowy figures at the edge of the trees outside her window. She doesn’t know if she’s being gaslit, going crazy, or if her father’s assertions that this was all a true story weren’t lies after all.
I’m not going to discuss what plays out in either Maggie’s story or her father’s book. Everything I’ve said so far is from early on in the book, so no spoilers. What I AM going to say is that this book did a fantastic job of mixing a whole bunch of interplaying stories with a great twist of paranormal (the Book), the potentially-paranormal (return to the house), and psychology (Maggie’s relationship with the house, Book, and her parents). I loved the ending, and all the little conclusions and discoveries along the way.