“Mom seems off.”
Kingfisher combines Lovecraftian horror with a charming sense of humor in A House with Good Bones, her new Southern Gothic novel about unearthing long-lost family secrets.
Kingfisher has crafted an irresistibly delightful narrator in Samantha Montgomery, a thirty-two-year-old post-doctoral scholar in archaeoentomology, a field at the intersection of archaeology and entomology. As the novel opens, Sam has returned to her family home in North Carolina. The bad omens start immediately, as Sam is greeted by a vulture perched on their mailbox, keeping a close eye on the house.
Sam is alarmed at the sight of her mother, who has lost substantial weight and seems unusually anxious. The house itself feels strange, with its brightly colored walls now painted a dull white and old decorations from her late grandmother on display throughout the home. Sam is understandably worried about her mother, determined to uncover what is driving her strange behavior.
Sam is an absolute joy as narrator of A House with Good Bones. Her droll and somewhat garrulous sense of humor kept me chuckling on almost every page. I especially enjoyed Sam’s nerdy digressions on insects and other arthropods, which acted as a lighthearted balance to the dark family secrets that she eventually unearths. Sam’s humor also serves as an effective vehicle to provide biting commentary on racism and generational conflict in the Old South.
The problem with A House with Good Bones is that the main plot twist is painfully obvious from early in the book, although Sam herself is oblivious to the clues. Nevertheless, it is a treat to read Sam’s thoughts as she employs her scientific training to attempt rationalization of the irrational. Kingfisher is especially adept at presenting the mind of a scientist at work.
The horror aspects of A House with Good Bones kick into overdrive in the last fifth of the book, causing the narrative style to shift accordingly. The humor is largely missing during these final climactic scenes, replaced with enough gory detail to make any reader squirm. The final conflict is resolved too abruptly, especially given the long buildup in the first eighty percent of the novel. Ultimately the various plot threads are tied up a little too easily for my taste. Still, I greatly enjoyed the journey.
Notwithstanding its shortcomings in the final part of the book, A House with Good Bones is a charming and highly entertaining read. Although I was underwhelmed by its rather predictable horror aspects, Kingfisher kept me smiling throughout most of the novel.