When compiling a list of vintage horror books to read and review this month, my first and best source was Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. Invaluable was it in determining which novels I wanted to take a chance on it. In Danse King spends three or four pages dissecting this — Anne Siddons’s 1978 release, The House Next Door, one of the smartest and most atmospheric haunted house tales I’ve read yet.
Told from the point of view of Colquitt Kennedy, an upper-middle class woman living in an upscale Atlanta suburb with her husband, Walter, this unfolding of the mysterious and macabre does not happen quickly; this author deals in dread, letting her readers squirm. I love that quality in horror from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and it’s something that seems to have been lost sometime in the ‘80s. Quiet terror with a focus on the psychological is much more effective, to me, than buckets of guts and blood and dismembered bodies.
Not only does The House Next Door work as a horror show, but is also works — at times — as a satire. Siddons gleefully mocks the foibles of suburban life: the block parties, the whispering neighbors, the hypocrisy — all unfolding in houses with freshly manicured lawns and evenly painted shutters. Because of that, this story feels authentically American. The author’s sense of setting, locale, is impeccable.
This is one of the finest haunted house stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading. While not as explosive as The Shining or as iconic as The Haunting of Hill House, this very much deserves to get a look from horror fans.