December 19, 2009

Rabid Reads: "Audrey's Door" by Sarah Langan

Title: Audrey's Door
Author: Sarah Langan
Published: Harper (October 2009)
Pages: 412
Genre: Paranormal Suspense; Horror
ISBN 978-0-06-162421-6

I do like me a story about a haunted house, and Sarah Langan manages to carve a twisted tale about a very unusual and very haunted building known as the Breviary. Langan cites Stephen King's The Shining and Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby as two classic novels that helped to inspire her and even influence her in the telling of this tale. It's a tall order to follow after two such classic horror novels, but she's no stranger to weaving her own horrific stories, as she's already met success with her two previous works, The Missing and The Keeper.

The key to a good haunted house tale isn't so much the house, but the characters residing within its walls. In Audrey's Door, the title character--Audrey Lucas--is as haunted as the Breviary, if not more so. A drifter and a loner with her mother through most of her formative years, Audrey is withdrawn and quiet and seemingly lost as an adult in a world she barely understands. Still, she perseveres and casts off the shackles of a tormented youth to become a successful architect and accept the marriage proposal of her New York City sweetheart, Saraub. But the relationship is fleeting because of her intimacy issues and the persistence of her OCD, so she ends up searching for an apartment of her own. And that's where the story begins--her discovery of an astoundingly affordable apartment 14B in the Breviary.

The previous tenants, a divorced mother of four and her children, died ... by the mother's hands no less. This serves as the pretext that allows Audrey to move into the apartment so quickly and so cheaply. As an architect, she's instantly drawn to the building's structure, Chaotic Naturalism, in which right angles and straight lines are a rarity. The building is the last remnant of an architectural movement long since forgotten, but she's found it. Or it's found her.

It takes no time at all for dark visions to haunt her, visions of her past, those close to her in the present, and those living under the watchful eyes of the Breviary. Dominating her visions and her mindset is a door. A door she is compelled to build, yet fears may be her final undoing.

And it's not like everything else in her life is coming up rose, either. Saraub is distraught over losing her, and becoming more drunk and violent the longer they're apart. Her coworkers are ill-equipped to keep up with her or cover for her when things don't go right. Her mother is rotting away in a psychiatric hospital in Nebraska, whom she hasn't seen since the day she deposited her there. And her neighbors in the Breviary range from quirky to downright irksome. And the Door, always calling out to be built.

I found this novel to be a bit like a very hot bath. It took me a while to get into it, the temperature just not suited to my tastes, but as time went on I adjusted and soon felt right at home flipping through its pages. Clumsy analogy? Sure, but I think you catch my drift. This isn't a suspense novel that builds on the suspense right away, as Audrey's character requires a bit of familiarity first. She's damaged goods in a lot of ways, and as her layers are brought to light, I found her faults were tempered by those of the Breviary. Almost like a symbiosis, though it was really a more parasitic relationship between she and the building. It's a tale where you are never quite sure just how much of the manifestations experienced by Audrey are those of the Breviary's making, or her own.

If I were to be flippant in describing this novel, I might call it "Ugly Betty Meets Hell House." That doesn't do this novel justice, however--though the description amuses me--since Sarah Langan has created a vibrantly disturbing novel. If I'm to gripe, it's to simply state that I found the chapters written through the point of view of secondary characters more distracting than complimenting.

If you enjoy paranormal suspense, haunted houses, or flawed characters put through an emotional wringer, you might want to check this title out.

Other reviews for this title can be found at: Dark Scribe Magazine; Fantasy Book Critic; FearZone

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