BOOK REVIEW: How To Sell A Haunted House

With his latest novel, Grady Hendrix has managed to unsettle me in more than one way.

How To Sell A Haunted House” follows the perspective of Louise as she and her estranged brother, Mark, try to settle their late parents’ estate after a freak accident. As they feebly try to dance around their past, unsettled arguments, and unspoken discomforts, Louise is struggling to be the rational adult in the situation.

On top of arguing about how they should go about clearing and selling the house, the siblings find themselves forced to acknowledge the unsettling feeling that their parents’ home isn’t truly empty. Although, the dolls and puppets lining every corner of the space may have something to do with that. As her aunts and cousins try to help to ease the tension, Louise constantly finds herself at her wit’s end.

For anyone with family drama, this story will provide some level of connection. They have secrets they’ve been sitting on for decades, events are suppressed or remembered differently, and misunderstandings create explosive arguments with little to no resolution. However, there are many areas where you may be grateful for your version of crazy in comparison to the Joyner family – namely, the obsession with puppets and dolls their mother has.

This obsession is immediately where readers pick up that something isn’t right with their childhood home. Hendrix is attentive to detail, raising the hairs on your neck with even the most basic descriptions of the toys stuffed into every corner of the house. What starts as dolls being moved around the house like a bad prank very quickly reveals itself to be something more sinister.

Not every issue has a supernatural answer, though. One of the most normal problems Louise confronts throughout the book is trying to be a better mother to her five-year-old daughter, navigating issues where she believes her mom fell short when raising them. For example, when she tells the young girl why she has to fly across the country, approaching the subject of death matter-of-factly inevitably backfires.

My favorite part of this book is likely also the main source of my frustration with the story: every time there’s a resolution, there are still more chapters to come. While I love a good page-turner, I was left exasperated more than once thinking, “This isn’t it?!” Every plot twist explanation comes with more consequences and questions rather than acting as a satisfying “gotcha” moment. In every instance where Hendrix could have decided to leave the story happily resolved, we turn the page to find that something has unearthed even more of the family’s secrets.

This is where it can be a make-or-break issue for a lot of readers. It could be exhilarating for some people to find out that there’s more conflict they didn’t expect; on the other hand, there are a few miscommunications that I feel are drawn out a little too far.

It’s very difficult to root for either of the siblings, even though it’s obvious they’re both struggling to come to terms with their grief, distrust, and trauma. Not only are they practically living out a nightmare akin to Child’s Play but they’re also wading through years of dysfunctional family mess that has never truly been discussed let alone resolved.

While the horror and suspense of the novel are expertly navigated, the true skill of the author is depicted through the frustrating interactions between a family that hasn’t felt connected in years.

It’s been a while since a book that aggravated me this much still landed on my Suggested List. If it frustrates you in the best way, let me know your thoughts!

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By Eleanor Mathers

Eleanor Mathers is a lead contributor to The Lancaster Herald. As a freelance writer with a special interest in the arts, Eleanor contributes stories about the arts and artists. Besides running her blog and services at EleanorTypes.com, they can be found behind bookshelves and at coffee tables around Lancaster.