Reed's Recommendation Corner: How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix


A two story house with an attic is in the center, with red siding and white window shutters. A light shines through the open door.
How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix

Grady Hendrix has a knack for writing characters that you both hate and want to survive, mostly out of spite. He is the author of at least fifteen books of fiction and nonfiction and numerous short stories published in magazines and on podcasts. He is also what the New York Times called "the gateway drug to the [horror] genre". The reviewer is absolutely correct - Hendrix takes the mundane and takes a turn to the left into horror. 

This novel, for example, takes the loss of parents and dealing with their estate, and turns it into a haunted house of hell with puppets. This book takes a single mother who flies across the country to help her estranged, fuck-up brother deal with her parents' estate by helping him put the house up for sale. When she goes inside, though, something seems particularly off. 

You see, her mother collected dolls and made puppets her entire life. One whole room of the house is stuffed full of the mother's manic creative detritus, enough so that Louise, the main character, can barely push into the room. One puppet seems to lead the pack - Pupkin, the first and most dearest of the puppet collection. Pupkin was the one who read to Louise and her brother Mark at night. Pupkin was the one who soothed their hurts and tried to make them smile. 

But Pupkin, quite literally, has a mind of his own. 

Louise and Mark have issues of their own - there is a dark secret between them that only Pupkin really knows. They both struggle with their father's indifference and their mother's frantic efforts at connecting with them. 

The best thing about Hendrix's books is how he writes everyday people responding into extraordinary circumstances. Often, a part of the story is the denial about what is happening, and he writes it SO WELL. You can feel Louise slowly breaking down and turning into a determined protector of her brother and her child. But you also see her arrogance and sense of shame, her guilt and betrayal at everything that is happening around her. You see the friction between two siblings who have lived vastly different lives and have spun their own narrative about the other that assuages their guilt over their estrangement. Over leaving their parents alone in a house full of puppets and dolls, with a mother who is not handling having children or their growing up.

And Pupkin. Pupkin is the stuff of nightmares. He's not Chucky - not a soul or demon trapped into a puppet. He's not a deal done at the crossroads for companionship. Pupkin is more like Pennywise - the embodiment of child-like terror. 

I recommend this book for people who enjoy the kind of horror with humor that makes you want to laugh hysterically, in a way where you can see the whites of your eyes and the stretch of your lips shows far more teeth than they should.