102 – Amity by Micol Ostow

amity Here is a house of ruin and rage, of death and deliverance.
Here is where I live, not living.
Here is always mine.

When Connor’s family moves to Amity, a secluded house on the peaceful banks of New England’s Concord River, his nights are plagued with gore-filled dreams of demons. destruction, and revenge. Dreams he kind of likes. Dreams he could make real, with Amity’s help.

Ten years later, Gwen’s family moves to Amity for a fresh start. Instead, she’s haunted by lurid visions, disturbing voices, and questions about her own sanity. But with her history, who would ever believe her? And what could be done if they did?

Because Amity isn’t just a house. She is a living force, bent on manipulating her inhabitants to her twisted will. She will use Connor and Gwen to bring about a violent end as she’s done before. As she’ll do again. And again. And again.

Inspired by a true-crime story, Amity spans generations to weave an overlapping, interconnected tale of terror, insanity. danger, and death.
So when I put together my list of things that I was going to read this Halloween season, Amity is the book I expected the least from – hence why it’s the last. And yet somehow it’s actually ended up being the one I enjoyed the most. GO FIGURE.

I don’t even think this is going to take very long, because it’s hard to figure out what to say about Amity besides “I liked it.” It’s a simple story, very by-the-book, and if you’ve seen either of The Amityville Horrors, it’ll be familiar: family moves in to a creepy new house, things go downhill, fast. It’s not a straight-up novelization of the film, nor is it a re-telling of the original crime – it’s more like OC fanfiction, taking new characters and placing them in essentially the same situation and setting. Ostow uses many of the Lutz’s reported experiences, like the Red Room and the boathouse and the flies, and the backstory and ultimate results are essentially the same in both.

So it doesn’t have a super-original story, BUT, but, what Amity does have is more than enough to make up for that, I think. And what it does have is some strong-ass writing, specifically in three different but synergistic aspects: presentation, characterization, and atmosphere.

Amity uses some clever, unique formatting tricks to more effectively communicate its narrators’ states of mind and build tension, the first and most obvious being that it’s told from the perspectives of two separate characters, with events unfolding simultaneously across a ten-year gap. For example, the first few chapters chronicle Day One in the new house from the perspective of Connor, our ten-years-prior narrator. But when night falls and his first day is over, it switches to Gwen, our present-day narrator, and we experience her family’s first day settling in to Amity. The book continues in the same pattern, Connor to Gwen and back again, which was a narrative decision I honestly kinda loved.

I mean, I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a unique storytelling structure, and I love the even just the novelty of the whole thing, but I think that it really works for Amity in terms of the tone it sets and the way it builds tension. I’ve seen it criticized as being boring and repetitive, which I understand, but never really felt. Yes, the events that both characters are experiencing are very similar, but the characters experiencing and reacting to them are not, and that part, tracking how the characters responded to everything Amity threw at them, was the part worth reading.

The second thing you notice is that, Amity is not afraid to play fast and loose with page breaks, mostly to add dramatic weight or set the reader off-kilter. We start with one or two normal-sized chapters, but pretty quickly we get to one and two-pagers, and by the end of the book we’re starting a new chapter every paragraph, covering minutes instead of days, switching between characters each page. It basically becomes split-screen reading and it’s weird and chaotic and awesome.

Third thing is the asides strewn throughout the characters’ narrations, like so. Amity screenshot They’re mantras that they repeat to themselves, uninvited thoughts or gut reactions that break in to the narrative flow, and I thought it was an effective way of placing us in these characters’ heads, and helping us to experience both their mental state and Amity’s effect on them. Both narrators are meant to be of shaky mental stability, and the cumulative affect of the asides, the shorter chapters, and the switching perspective help to emphasize that.

There are also a couple of neat epistolary elements, medical reports that give us our only outside look at the main characters smack dab in the middle of the book after we’ve already become familiar with them and their version of events. It was a clever idea, well-placed and well-executed.

Even putting the nifty formatting stuff aside, the characterization here is solid. Amity is very much a character-driven novel, so rather than putting an emphasis on whatever horrifying trick the house is doing in an effort to be creepy, Amity focuses more of its pagetime on the characters’ increasingly strong reactions to the haunting.

I’m totally ok with this, a) because a character’s reaction to freaky shit will more effectively communicate the freakiness of said shit to me than a straight-up description, and b) because even if I DON’T find the scary book scary – which I’ll be honest, I really didn’t here – at least that’s not the only thing the story is hanging its hat on.

Anyway, our two MCs, Connor in the past and Gwen in the present, are well-defined, with distinctive voices, which is a welcome relief in a book with two narrators. No samevoice here, thank you very much. And as in Audrey’s Door, the characters’ motivations and make-ups were solid enough that I never had to wonder why they were reacting to things they way they did, and that’s a pretty important sell for a haunted house book. But it all…made sense. There was no hand-waving, no TSTL behavior or willful ignorance, no “because the plot said so” – the book was all ABOUT engaging with why the characters reacted the way they did, where their reactions were taking them, and I’ll take well-developed characters who have to slowly come to terms with themselves over boo-gotcha grossout slasher plots any day, kthnx.

…aka the result of the presentation and the characterization. Amity had a great mood: tense, ominous, full of dread. Totally engrossing from page one.

I kind of…don’t actually have that many? I found the whole thing pretty satisfying. It’s a slow burn for sure, and there were moments I got a little bored, but it wasn’t too much of a problem to push through. There is some animal death, which was…hard to read, but it’s all aftermath, and it’s over quickly. The story is a big ball of cliches, of course, I mean Amityville Horror is one the original haunted house movies, y’know? And some of the more genre-y plot twists are over the top (for example, Amity wasn’t just built on a Native American burial ground, it was also a hiding spot for vengeful witches, an abandoned mental asylum, AND the site of a previous murder), but honestly the characterization and writing worked well enough for me that I didn’t care.

There is also some potential for ableism? Both narrating characters have/have had mental issues, which ties in to a lot of their development, thought process, and motivation. I actually thought Gwen’s story was reasonably critical of both the stigma surrounding mental health issues and its effects, but Connor…well, I hear “that word doesn’t mean what you think it means” a lot when it comes to “sociopaths”, so there might be issues there. I honestly have no frame of reference for this.

So yeah, all in all, I thought it was a good end to a kind of lackluster run of horror reads. If you guys want a decent slow-burn horror novel with an emphasis on characterization, I would definitely recommend this one.

three stars

So that’s the end of Halloween Spooktacular 2014! I had a lot of fun, read some books I probably never would have otherwise, got creeped out a bit. Good times were had. I hope you guys enjoyed it too, found at least one book to check out, maybe? and that you’ll have/had a happy Halloween!

I think that’s gonna be it for the weekly review posting for me though, at least until work lightens up. In fact, I’ll likely take November off from book reviewing, given the impending Poke-pocalypse, BUT, Papercuts is on the comeback trail, baby, and we’ve got several good episodes in the can. So hopefully you’ll stick with me for that, and I’ll probably be back with review-reviews sometime in December.

Enjoy the holidays you celebrate, motherfuckers!


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