“I worry he’ll think I’ve been keeping secrets. And then, because I don’t want to keep secrets, I keep more secrets.”
The Grip Of It is an eery novel about one couple’s struggle to live in a haunted house. Of course, they didn’t know it was haunted when they first moved in, but with each passing day, their grip on reality slips further and further from their grasp.
James and Julie decide that a move into a nice small town, away from their city problems and city life is the perfect solution to their most recent marital woes. Well, Julie decides this. And James goes along with her, because maybe it really will help. It can’t hurt to take his gambling problems far away from their constant allure. It can’t hurt to settle down somewhere with a slower pace to find their bearings once more. It can’t hurt.
“The span between hurt and help is not a span at all: a fine dotted line,”
When they are shown the older house, complete with hidden rooms and secret passages, they thrill at the idea of living somewhere so unique. When their offer for lower than the already low asking is accepted, they rejoice at their new start.
But almost right away, things begin to feel off. The neighbor stares through his window at them almost constantly, never acknowledging them, never talking to them. The house makes noises, at first vague and odd, but increasing in intensity and frequency. Items move without them moving it. But the time bruises begin to appear on Julie’s body and they question if they should move, it appears the house already has them firmly in it’s grasp.
“James and I are living in a Latin mass, memorizing ritual, reciting mysteries we’ve given up on deciphering, foreign syllables unrolling in order.”
This book had me on the edge of my seat until the end, when, well, things sort of took a confusing turn. Ending a horror story is a daunting task. Do you let them escape unharmed, the house waiting for the next victim? Do they become part of the haunting? Is it all a dream or a descent into madness? And how do you tie it up to the ending you want without making it feel predictable or cliche? Jac Jemc manages to write her ending so that it isn’t cliche, or predictable, but I also wonder if it was an ending at all.
The thing with supernatural subject matter is that often they leave us with a bit of a vague answer. The reader is required to form some opinions and the author drops them at a crossroads of paths. Usually, it is only a few paths, but they are there, ready to allow our imaginations to continue the journey and to follow our subconscious to our own conclusions. I really enjoy these types of books because they stay with me long after the pages have ended. These are the characters you think of like old friends you lose touch with. They exists, somewhere, because their endings were never written.
That said, this ending had more than a few crossroads at the end, and I’m not entirely sure it felt even close to wrapped up for me. We were being led down a path, but then at the last minute, Jemc turned on the light in the room and revealed that maybe there had been multiple paths happening all at once without our knowing. This is a trick we see sometimes in horror or suspense. M. Night Shyamalan does this trick exceedingly well in his movies. Except in his movies, we want to rewatch the story to revel in all the details we missed. The experience is added to, not changed.
With The Grip Of It, I felt like I needed to reread the entire book from the beginning to even try and figure it out. It wasn’t to add to my experience, but rather a need to understand it. Options and paths were added at the end, that felt at odds with what we were initially presented with in the beginning. In all, I felt somewhat confused.
There are vague endings full of uncertainty, and then there are vague endings that are entirely uncertain. The Grip Of It was the latter for me. Perhaps I didn’t pick up enough clues, or the right clues along the way. Maybe it was meant to be as ambiguous and unsettling as the characters felt. If so, then that part was well done. Like Julie and James, I have no idea what was real and what wasn’t. The house was haunted but there are so many loose ends, details that were presented but never answered. It’s difficult to not feel as if I reached the end only to find pieces missing.
But maybe that’s the point. Maybe this was less about the haunting and more about experiencing the haunting with them. We feel the unease, and the creepiness building in intensity until we are dying with curiosity to know what’s happening. We have to know, we want to know, but maybe some things aren’t knowable. Perhaps the greatest horror of all is never knowing.
Thank you FSG Originals for sending me a copy to read and review!