Saturday, October 7, 2017

Book Review: 'All Things Cease to Appear' by Elizabeth Brundage

All Things Cease to Appear

Elizabeth Brundage

Published: Mar 08, 2016
Category: Fiction
STEPHEN KING“Ghosts, murder, a terrifying psychotic who seems normal, and beautiful writing. Loved it.”
Where do books come from? Unlikely places. For Elizabeth Brundage, “All Things Cease to Appear” came from a weekend in a small town 130 miles from Manhattan. Like this:
It was the late 90’s and my husband had just joined a medical practice in Troy, New York. For Mother’s Day the year before, he took me to a beautiful inn in Columbia County – the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company – and over the course of that weekend I decided that Old Chatham, New York was one of the most beautiful places on earth and I wanted to live there. We decided to rent a house in nearby Malden Bridge, a historic hamlet that had been settled in the late eighteenth century. One afternoon, with my girls in the car (our son was just a twinkle in my eye back then) we drove past this old house with a For Rent sign hanging from a tree. It was a lovely white clapboard cape with a small front porch. I pulled over and we got out. There was nobody around; the place looked empty. We roamed around to the back yard, smelling sage and wild onion, and discovered a Dutch door. On impulse I tried the knob, but of course the door was locked. And then the strangest thing happened. The bottom half of the door eased open all on its own.
We ended up signing a lease and moving in. Shortly thereafter, we discovered that we were not alone. Every morning on the way to school the girls told me stories about the ghosts, three little girls who had died in a fire and whose mother and father were up in heaven. They knew details that seemed beyond their ability to fabricate, including the names of the ghosts, and historic details about an old mill down the road with tainted water…
And now we have the novel, a 400-page “literary thriller.” As someone has noted, “Literary thrillers are books that people have heard of, but haven’t read.” Are you that reader? Then be warned: If you’re expecting ghosts and squeaky floorboards and a killer in the shadows, this is not your book. But if you have patience — or are willing to skip over chapters that take you away from the thriller into a back story you can do without — this is a devastatingly good book. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
The story, stripped down, is simple. George Clare pretends to be a genius, but as a scholar he’s a fraud, which is why the best teaching job he can get is at a small college in Chosen, a small town in upstate New York. He and his wife Catherine buy the 200-acre Hale farm for a bargain price — no one tells them that Mr. and Mrs. Hale committed suicide here. And then Catherine’s exile begins.
George Clare is the kind of bastard who humiliates his wife for not ironing his shirts correctly and then goes off to sleep with impressionable women. The kind of bastard who, when it all gets too much for his wife, tells her she can go but the child stays with him. The kind of bastard who splits his wife’s head open while she sleeps and then goes off to work, leaving the child alone with her bloody body until someone finds her in the afternoon. The kind of bastard who is the obvious and only suspect but who has an impregnable alibi.
We don’t see George kill Catherine. After a one page opening that’s written, it seems, by the farm — readers who like literary thrillers will cheer, readers who don’t will scratch their heads — the action plot begins. Here’s an excerpt: the start of that chapter. It’s George and the child, bringing horrible news. The child is confused. George is shaking.
George will display the right emotions, and then he won’t. No difference; everything he does is fraudulent. I hated him from the moment he stepped onstage, and I grew to hate him more, if possible, along the way. That is the book’s greatest achievement: a character so appalling that you read on, waiting for him to slip up, or, better, for someone to split his head open with an axe.

Does that happen? Sorry, my lips are sealed. This is why you read thrillers.

Editor's note: This review was written by Jesse Kornbluth and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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