Clare and Jess are struggling writers. They choose to move from their trendy digs in New York to a small town in upstate New York where they first met at college, an elite private school. It’s also Clare’s hometown. Jess has taken a job as caretaker of the house of their former English professor, “Monty” Montague. They both begin writing again, but strange things begin to happen. A freak storm floods the caretaker’s cottage and forces them to move into Monty’s big house, the widow’s house of the title. Clare begins to see ghosts. She rationalizes these away as figments of her imagination or flukes of vision induced by fog or rain. The house has a history of murder and lunacy. A baby crying in the dumbwaiter. The plot line turns spookier.
I liked the book, but I think the fourth star is mostly a guilt star. By that I mean I feel like should have enjoyed the book more than I did. The author writes with the intelligence and even elegance you might expect from a university writing teacher, but with an “insider” quality to it. One almost feels like without being part of the effete intellectual New York scene one isn’t entitled to be reading the book. Stylistically the book is on a high tone, but there always seemed to be a falsity about it. For one thing, plausibility leaves the plot line early on and stays away to the end. More than that, the author seems to be play-acting at being scary like a grown-up dressed up as a cute witch to trick-or-treat with her kids. She just doesn’t have the authenticity of a Stephen King. Reading this, I’m reminded of Sedgwick, the rich kid in the Monty comic strip whose butler Jarvis helps him emulate a normal kid. Another drawback is that it’s a writer writing about writing. This is mainly interesting to writers. The public is more interested in product than process. I just tried to watch the boring documentary Score, in which a number of movie composers talk about the creative process. Their music is great; a bunch of talking heads bragging, not so much. Despite these criticisms, I was drawn into the plot of this book and found the tension rise enough to make me engrossed up to the end. It’s no Rebecca, but it will serve as a summer read.