Short Take: Like reading someone else’s acid trip.
I’m pretty sure I may have mentioned it once or twice, but I love haunted house stories. I really do. I’ve read horror for decades, and can laugh off most frights, but once in awhile, there’s a book that keeps me up at night, and it’s almost always a haunted house story. So needless to say, when I came across The Grip of It, by Jac Jemc, it looked to be right up my alley.
Grip is the story of James and Julie Khoury, who buy their house and move under less than ideal circumstances. James, you see, has been struggling with a gambling addiction that is threatening to wipe them out financially. They decide to take a chance on buying a fixer-upper that is within their budget, and moving to a small town where temptation is a lot harder to find.
The weirdness begins before they even move in, when they notice a strange, deep humming noise with no apparent source, and a creepy neighbor watching every move they make. Once they are actually settled, the strangeness becomes overwhelming. Julie is covered in mysterious bruises, the neighbor who might know something disappears, and then the whole thing dissolves into incoherence.
On the surface, this book should have had all my neurons buzzing in delight, but it just didn’t. It was nearly impossible to follow. For one thing, the story is told by Julie and James, in alternating chapters. The problem is that the chapters aren’t labeled as such, so it’s not always apparent who is talking. There was one section where a character explores a cave, and I thought for sure it was one of them, but it turned out to be the other one. Then later on, somehow, they had both been in the cave? No idea.
Telling the entire story in the first person (or first people, as the case may be) also made it harder to understand what was happening. See, as the house takes hold of Julie and James, their thinking changes, and everything that is going on is now some kind of normal to them. So when Julie wakes up seemingly trapped inside a wall, or the events follow them to a friend’s house, their reaction is along the lines of “That was a thing that happened. Oh well.”
It’s hard to be drawn into a character’s predicament when they don’t seem overly concerned with it themselves.
Another recurring problem is the extreme sentence structures. I get that the author was going for a feeling of dreaming surreality, but when a single sentence goes on for half a page, or when a character spouts page after page of short choppy sentences unrelated to anything else in the book, my mind tends to drift. There are lengthy passages noting mundane details, and the discovery of a gooey body part is an afterthought, barely mentioned.
I would have to say that In The Grip Of It is a series of interesting vignettes, but not really much of a story. The ending felt like a cop-out (especially after one shockingly brutal act that, were there actual consequences, could’ve redeemed the whole thing). There is no resolution, no true explanation of anything, no lingering ill effects.
So in conclusion, I will echo the sentiment of the main characters, with regard to this book: That was a thing that happened. Oh well.
The Nerd’s Rating: TWO HAPPY NEURONS (and maybe a new faucet for my bathroom. I hear you can really make an old place look new again with new hardware!)