The Night Strangers – Chris Bohjalian, Alison Fraser, Mark Bramhall

Lesson learned: don’t read reviews before reading the book. I know this; I just sort of forget sometimes. Don’t do that. There’s a lot of negativity out there about this book – and spoilers.

Totally pointless note to start: I’m a little disappointed; when I kept hearing “carriage bolts” I pictured flat door bolts. In fact, they’re just (“just”) basically screws on steroids.

I wish this had been purely and concentratedly the story of this little traumatized family and the big creepy house they relocated to, and the little door in the basement with the extraordinarily excessive thirty-nine carriage bolts securing it. The little door to, apparently, nowhere.

I wish this had been the story of the voices the family – some of them – hear, and the subtle effect the house has on them. Of the investigation into what happened there, and of the axe and the knife and the crowbar, and the twins who had lived there years ago.

I wish this had not been the story of the “herbalists” of the small Pennsylvania town. It felt in places like a 60’s horror movie, for some reason, with this exclusive, evil club plotting terrible things for a child. It was incredibly creepy that just about everyone in the little town the family has moved to simply know everything about them. Chip or Emily meet someone for the first time, and that person will very casually reveal some piece of information about the family which they not only should have no way of knowing but have no business knowing. It’s also deeply creepy that everyone – especially all of the flower-and-herb-named women – are so fixated on the twins. The prepubescent twin girls. It’s extremely unsettling for everyone to know everything about them, and to engage them the way they did. I do wish, however, that the author didn’t borrow a page from the mystery or fantasy novels that always annoy me by showing the villains’ point of view. Here it is the herbalists who get POV’s, pondering how useful prepubescent, traumatized twin girls would be in whatever creepy things they planned. Of course they don’t perceive themselves as evil; after all, that other child who died wasn’t supposed to die, and really if a child dies isn’t it a fair price for all the benefits so many people derive? If anything, for me it canceled out a lot of the creepiness. I felt it would have been much more effective if point of view had stuck firmly to the family.

And the ending – which I’m not going to talk about, don’t worry – was almost exactly what I would not have chosen to do had I written this.

The narrative used a typical omniscient third person past tense narration for the viewpoints of most of the characters, and a present-tense second person POV for Chip, the pilot. It worked well to emphasize his separation from his family and new neighbors in his grief and confusion and pain – and haunting. In the audiobook, everyone in the third person is read by Alison Fraser, who while not one of my very favorite narrators does a nice job; the little girls’ voices are managed without being annoying, which is a coup. And Chip is read by Mark Bramhall. I was ambivalent about his narration for a while, as his inflections felt off now and then … but as the story developed I appreciated him more and more, and now I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. The transition from affable Chip to the voice of the menacing ghost – a snarling growl that is quite possibly the very last thing I would ever want to hear in the dark – horrifying. Well done.

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