Julie and James have moved into an old house, away from the city and its problems and temptations. Right away they begin to encounter strange things, but easily pass them off as forgetfulness and the stress of moving in. Then Julie becomes covered in unknown bruises and James begins dreaming he’s awake.
It’s a book that’s both hard and easy to spoil. Even if you already know what’s coming, it’s the journey there that sets the tone.
The Grip of It takes place in an old Victorian house and the surrounding woods, beach, and small town. It was, fairly, compared to House of Leaves and it manages to catch the same eeriness and unsettling quality of a house that doesn’t want its owners. But in some ways, I think the comparison is unfair to TGoI because the ending of it is much more closed than HoL, and, if keeping HoL in mind, comes off as jarring. Reading it as its own book, however, it’s as satisfying as the strange scrawls in the house and the self-healing walls of its basement.
I was lucky enough to get the annotated copy from Page Habit in their August Mystery box, and being able to read the author’s comments really helped in some ways. At one point, our heroes find an old journal that was kept by their next door neighbor when he was a boy. Originally, Jemc notes, neighbor Rolf was going to be the third narrator. However, after going through the book, she settled on putting his information into the journal. This makes sense from a readability standpoint, because already the switching first-person makes it odd to read. But there are still questions I’d love to know the answers to, ones I can’t quite help but think might’ve been answered with Rolf’s narration. (I won’t lie, I’d love to see the book solely from his side, as either a coinciding short story or a stand-alone book.)
The biggest problem I had with the book was the jumping narration between chapters, because the switch wasn’t always even. Usually, we’d have one chapter with Julie, followed by John, followed by Julie, etc. And then, every now and then, we’d have them double up on each other, and when everyone is speaking in “I”, it takes the reader several seconds to reorient themselves.
OK, I lied, my biggest problem was that nobody talked to each other and so were constantly suspicious of each other, but that’s a problem I have with 99% of books anyway.
Overall, though, I definitely recommend the book. The chapters are short and fast, making it easy to knock out over a couple of sessions, but just dense enough you’ll want to pay attention to every new revelation and surprise coming your way. Don’t expect it to be HoL, but do expect it to feel uncanny.