Set in a mill town in Upstate New York, the novel captures the desolate feel of a mill town without a mill – because the mill poisoned the town, in more ways than one. The town, which was nestled under the Adirondack mountains was called Sumner’s Mills – and outsiders were in danger here.
1930s timeline – George Sumner, of the family that the town was named for, became engaged to a woman named Alice. He was praised for his forgiving nature, because Alice had a child out of wedlock, a real scandal at that time. Alice’s six year old daughter Grace did not like George… not even a little bit. In 1936 George built an octagon shaped house in the woods where he planned to live with Alice and little Grace. The house was quirky, with two stories and a third story addition at the top with 360 degree views. The trim was all wood, but the basement door came from the Metal Mill, and didn’t seem to ‘fit’ the house. It was larger than a normal door, and seemed to open and shut at will…
1960s timeline – Benjamin Fischer, along with his wife Natalie and two young daughters bought the Octagon House in 1965. Natalie didn’t feel comfortable in the house, and her daughter’s seemed drawn to the basement – which was strictly forbidden.
1998 – The year that Clare and her best friend Abby visited the Octagon House for the first time. A childish dare, turned into a life-changing trauma…
2018 – Clare, now a grown woman, returns to Sumner’s Mills when Abby’s mother gets in touch to tell her that Abby went back to the Octagon House and barely made it out alive. Abby is now in hospital on life support.
Told via multiple timelines, this novel was creepy and compelling. It was a haunted house story, a romantic suspense story, and a crime story all wrapped up into one.
The frightening cellar with its unusual metal door was very well described and easy to visualize. The characterization was well rendered, and it was easy to identify with the various people in the book. I really liked Clare, the protagonist of the modern day timeline, and I felt the deepest sympathy for the now elderly Ben, whose life was shattered by the Octagon House.
The book held my interest, but I thought it could have been a tad shorter as it seemed to drag and be repetitive in places. That being said, the story was mostly well wrought, and it was an impressive and very atmospheric debut novel.
A story of a psychopathic man, childhood friendship, and youthful bravado, all with an element of supernatural creepiness that would be perfect for a late autumn read. Well done Jennifer Fawcett. I’m eager to see what you will come up with next.
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Atria Books via NetGalley.
Published by Atria Books – February 22, 2022Jennifer Fawcett grew up in rural Eastern Ontario and spent many years in Canada making theatre before coming to the United States. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. Her work has been produced in theaters across the country and published in Third Coast Magazine, Reunion: The Dallas Review, Storybrink, and in the anthology Long Story Short. She teaches writing at Skidmore College and lives in upstate New York with her husband and son.
“Beneath The Stairs” is her debut novel.