By: Sarah Gailey
Release Date: July 19, 2022
Publisher: Tor Books
Gothic literature seems to be having something of a renaissance recently, with many new additions to the genre being released in the last few years. Author Sarah Gailey has tossed their hat into the ring as well with their latest novel Just Like Home.
The novel contains the traditional gothic aspects of returning to a large home later in life that holds secrets as well as the ghosts of one’s past…and perhaps a real ghost or two as well… Other familiar gothic trappings are present as well, such as a small town, buried secrets, old friends who are now more like strangers, and newer interlopers whose motives are unclear.
Main character Vera Crowder has returned to Crowder House at her mother’s behest. Even on her deathbed, her mother’s request seems odd and is certainly out of character. Then again, Vera is an only child. On top of that, she’s in need of a new home and workplace after her latest employer realized who her father was.
The large house where Vera spent her childhood is both familiar and strange, filled with secrets and memories that would rather be left buried and untouched. Something seems to be moving through the house at night, though whether that is just the lingering memories Vera has tried so hard to run from or something of a much different nature remains to be seen. Though very common to the genre, Crowder House’s barely hidden secrets don’t quite feel eerie, secretive, or unknowable. Everyone aside from the reader already knows the answer to most, if not all, of the questions posed, let alone the Crowder family’s secrets.
Though this makes for a rather unconvincing gothic tale, it does lend itself well to a deep character study of Vera. The story weaves between Vera’s childhood and her recent return to Crowder House, providing insight into times and subjects that Vera mentally skirts around, refusing to dwell too deeply on her own past.
This is where the story shines the brightest. The slow, languid days of trying to care for a terminally ill family member who refuses the care they supposedly requested feels very real. The tension between mother and daughter is palpable and extremely powerful. The tedious, neverending work of clearing a long-lived-in house is compounded by the fact that it’s still occupied, though for how much longer, no one can say.
The book’s tone and pacing change dramatically toward the end of the tale. The slow, languid introspection ceases completely. A villain arises, and while their true nature is well hinted at, how the tale concludes is not. The gothic gives way to outright horror, and the pacing plunges forward at breakneck speed until the very last page, upon which many readers will most likely be left scratching their heads.
Much of what happens towards the end of the book feels rather out of left field, not at all matching what came before it. This leaves events feeling unearned, and those who are fans of the pacing, structure, and tone of the first three-quarters of the book may feel baffled and betrayed at just how sharply and quickly things take a turn. At the same time, fans of fast pacing, outright horror as opposed to the slow creep of a gothic tale, and paranormal may simply not read far enough into the tale to get to the section they will enjoy the most.
In all, the ending is a baffling choice in comparison to the rest of the book. Despite the author using both storytelling styles well, they simply didn’t meld, leaving the end of the tale feeling rather unsatisfying.