Amity - Micol Ostow

(I got a copy courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

I watched the Amityville movie some 20 years ago, and never read the book, so I won't comment much on how faithful to the original story this novel is... or how it diverged from it. I remember some elements (the red room, characters always waking up at the same time, the door banging, the "healer" character being thwarted...), and I think they were used in ways both similar and different. Is it a good or a bad thing? I don't know. For me, it felt appropriate, at least. I tend to like cameos, winks at other works of literature, and so one.

I liked how both narrators' voices were clearly distinct, not only because of the fonts used, but simply because their tone, their ways of thinking, were different enough. Gwen is more fragile, while Connor's instability is expressed more violently. Gwen is more intuitive, and Connor "colder". In fact, his case was pretty easy to figure out, and his narrative reflected his problems fairly well.

This said, while I enjoyed the setting, the writing itself unfortunately got on my nerves to such an extent that it ruined my reading experience. Why? Too much hammering, too much repetitions (she was shot in the head, I mean, you know, go away crazy, I mean, she was shot in the head, she was shot IN THE HEAD). I get why they were here, emphasising Gwen's unstable mental state and Connor's sociopathic tendencies, but I have an aversion to heavy-handed writing styles, the ones that tell me what I should feel, instead of subtly hinting at it. Apart from the standard sentences (see above), often the story made a point of repeating the same event several times, as if to flash a huge neon sign above it, in case someone would have missed it. Example:

My mother stood in the doorway of the sewing room.
My mother stood, head cocked slightly, looking quizzical, in the doorway of the sewing room.
She wasn’t directly behind me[...]
She hadn’t been behind me at all.
She’d been standing in the doorway of the sewing room.
My mother had been standing, not behind me, but in the doorway of the sewing room.
She’d been standing in the doorway of the sewing room this whole time.

Frankly, this doesn't induce fear in me. This just makes me cringe and roll my eyes, thinking, "OK, I GET IT." I don't like being openly manipulated. Suspension of disbelief, for me, rests on a text's ability to make me forget the ropes, so that I end up realising that I've been led all the way without realising it. Conversely, I don't react well to techniques that poke me without subtlety in the right direction. It's like someone's grabbing my head, looking at me in the eyes and screaming: "Look, this is scary! I'm repeating it because you're meant to feel it! Are you scared yet, Huh? HUH?" As said, I get why such effects were used, Gwen and Connor being damaged characters. But the way they were handled just irked me. Sometimes, it happens. And it's too bad.

The novel also borrows from a few other works (notably "Carrie", for the stones), and I don't think that was a good idea. It came out of nowhere as far as Gwen was concerned, and though it had its use, it just felt like a cop-out to me. And not frightening either. Mostly, I didn't find this novel scary. It lacked subtlety to achieve that, and the last chapters were too muddled to give it a proper ending.

I had high hopes for this story, and I wish I had liked it, but alas, this didn't come to pass. 1.5 stars.