Description (from Goodreads):
This is the true story of one couple’s descent into darkness. In 1981, Jon and Carlie Summers moved into an inherited home in rural Iowa, leaving behind their workaday lives as a lawyer and a professor in Chicago. Soon after moving in, Jon and Carlie’s lives begin a downward spiral as Carlie experiences violent dreams, possessions, hallucinations, and physical illness. Through old journals, nightmares, and personal encounters with evil, Carlie relives the history of the house, embodying its past of abuse, denial, obsession, broken lives, and death.
Anatomy of a Haunting is a terrifying true story that leaves Jon dead and pushes Carlie to the brink of insanity. Through interviews and exhaustive research into the 150-year-old McPherson house, author Lee Strong delves into the history of the haunting and paints a nightmarish picture of one couple’s descent into supernatural madness.
I’m pretty skeptical when I hear that a ghost story is based on a real life haunting. When I was a little kid, I lived in a haunted house, but not too much happened. We certainly weren’t chased out of the place. It was mostly footsteps that would happen on certain stairs at certain hours, which past tenants had also heard. That would make a terrible story, though. Way more happens in the horribly haunted house on Baxter Street in Anatomy of a Haunting. However, any scares I might have gained from this book were lost due to the poor storytelling and writing style. I found myself wishing the novel would make up its mind about what it wanted to be: a non-fiction retelling of a real-life haunting, or a fictional horror novel. It never found its stride nor defined where it stood, leaving me wanting something more.
In the tradition of other “based on a true story” haunted house books, this one begins with a young couple who moves into a home with a disturbing history. While lacking the hallmark demon possession, there are plenty of creepy dolls, revealing diaries, and bodies buried in the yard. The haunting begins almost immediately, and the neighbors all seem to know about the dark history of the home. In fact, the couple is warned on countless occasions that they should leave because the house will eventually kill them. They don’t listen, though. Why do people stay in bad situations? I wanted to scream at the main characters that they should have left after the initial ghostly attack. Don’t spend another night in that place, but no. They stay. While there would be no story if they left, I still found this incredibly frustrating. Even the people in The Amityville Horror left after about a month (I thought that was a poorly written book as well).
There are plenty of paths the book takes us down, but I never got a clear resolution to them. Ghosts plead with a main character that he’s the only person who can release them, but nothing more ever comes of this. Guess they won’t get released? Many parts of the narrative just didn’t make sense.
I felt deeply disappointed with Anatomy of a Haunting. I wanted to love this book. I am a big fan of horror fiction when it’s done well, but like horror films, it can be laughable when done badly. Inevitably, there will be those who read vociferously in this genre and will be able to forgive the flaws I saw in this book, and those people are the best audience for this kind of writing. If you’re a casual horror reader looking for something really good, I’d skip this one. If you’re anything like me, you won’t be scared, just disappointed.