I’ll admit first off that it was the stunning cover that first attracted me to this novel. Then, when I realized I had already read a book by this author that I really enjoyed (“The drowning tree“), the deal was sealed.
Set in the Hudson River Valley of Upper New York State, “The Widow’s House” features a literary married couple, Clare and Jess Martin. They have left their Brooklyn life after experiencing financial problems and are now looking to ‘escape to the country’ and a new start. Their marriage has hit a rough patch and they sorely need a change. It seemed only natural that they would gravitate toward the Hudson River Valley, as that is where Clare grew up, where they had both gone to college, and where Jess had written his first novel.
They find that the newer houses are not to their taste and they cannot afford an older home with character. So it is that they finally agree to be caretakers at a gothic mansion called River House. The locals have altered its name to Riven House due to its murky history. Some call it “The Widow’s House” because of the purported ghost. The house just so happens to belong to Jess and Clare’s college mentor, Montague (Monty). Now elderly and unwell, his huge, octagon-shaped, gothic mansion has become too much for him to handle on his own.
Upon arriving at the house, Clare begins to hear a baby crying at night. She sees a woman on the grounds – a woman she suspects is the ghost of Riven House. But of course, her logical side says that must be impossible…
“Riven House had the feel of a place that was encumbered
with more than just financial losses.”
Jess begins to write again. He has become ‘chummy’ with Monty who is also writing a novel. They share a nightly drink and literary discussion. Meanwhile, Clare has met up with Dunstan, her first love, now a local police detective. She begins to research her genealogy. She knows that she was adopted and that her birth mother resided in a psychiatric hospital. Her research and with the support of Monty, Clare herself begins to write again. She had given up on her writing when she married Jess. Now she is inspired by her old notebooks (which Monty has kept) and the atmospheric Riven House. She writes the house’s story of Mary Foley, the local Apple Blossom Queen who was seduced by one of Monty’s forebears and made pregnant.
“Fifty acres, one hundred apple trees bearing,
deeded to John Foley on May 12, 1929, by Birdsill Montague
in exchange for the maidenhood of one Mary Foley.”
Researching the story of Mary Foley brings many family secrets to light. Secrets that can be dangerous for Clare – and for Monty.
Atmospheric, with well developed characters, this novel was an enjoyable read. I’ll give you a hint…. the plot reminded me a bit of the old Ingrid Bergman novel “Gaslight”. The end third of the book, dripping with tension, was much faster paced than the first two thirds, bringing the book to a suspense-filled ending that brought the book to a very satisfactory close.
Carol Goodman is the critically acclaimed author of fourteen novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family, and teaches writing and literature at the New School and SUNY New Paltz.