Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A fun, shivery read - overall

I sift through a lot of book recommendations, wherever they come from, so when several recommended Christopher Ransom’s The Birthing House, I paid attention. It’s a horror story, and the concept sounded interesting, so I bought and read it.

The gist of the story is this: Jo and Conrad Harrison have a troubled marriage. When Conrad’s dad dies and Conrad comes into a substantial inheritance, he buys – on a whim – a 140-year-old Victorian birthing house in Wisconsin. He believes that leaving LA and moving to the rural Midwest will save his marriage.

The birthing house – as you might have guessed from the title – is at the center of the story. For decades, it served as a place for women to have their children under a doctor’s care. I kind of see it as a “midwife clinic,” except that it’s a doctor instead of a midwife.

You learn early on that the house has secrets and probably ghosts. You also learn that even though we tend to think of birth as a happy time, a time of celebration, that isn’t always the case. The house is stained – figuratively and literally.

When Jo gets a job offer that she can’t refuse, she leaves Conrad and the new home for an eight-week training session in Michigan. In her absence, Conrad has to deal with the house and its secrets alone, which isn’t the best for him – physically or mentally.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the book as a whole. I like a good scary story, and there are definitely parts in the novel where I was truly creeped out. I like to read at night, when the house is quiet and dark, and there were times when I’d find myself double-checking a shadow in my room or listening twice to the creak of the house. I like it when a book can do that to me. Would it have done that if I’d read it on my wooden bench in the back yard in the middle of the afternoon? I don’t know. Regardless, I have to give Ransom high marks for the creepy factor. I also really liked the idea behind the story. I’d never read about a birthing house before (although the author lives in one, so I guess they existed), so that was a unique concept for me.

Until I got to the last twenty or thirty pages, I really liked the book. The end got weird. I think I understand what happened in most of those pages, but I truly don’t get the ending. I don’t really know what happened to him, and I don’t think it’s one of those books that is supposed to leave you guessing. I got the feeling I was supposed to understand, and I just didn’t, and I blame that on his writing. It read as though he knew what he meant, but he didn’t get it down on paper to make it as clear to everyone else. I might be off on that, and would welcome other opinions.

Overall, I’d recommend this one if you like to read at night and feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It’s fun and it’s interesting through most of the story. And if you know what happens to Conrad at the end, please, share that with the rest of the class.

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