If this book had a title like Coming Home Again, I’d probably be starting this review by saying something like, after her parents die in a car accident, Louise reluctantly returns to her South Carolina hometown to sell her parents’ house and must face the childhood memories that have haunted her for years and some she’s forgotten about… till now. But since the title is How To Sell A Haunted House, what haunts Louise aren’t just her memories, but real entities that aren’t too pleased with how she’s handling her parents’ estate. And they’re gonna let her know it.
A quarter of the way into Grady Hendrix’s new novel and you might forget that there’s a supernatural element to this story because it focuses mainly on Louise’s struggles and grief. Not only is the 37-year-old single mom grieving the sudden loss of her parents, but she feels guilt over having to leave her 5-year-old daughter behind with her ex in California while she settles her family’s affairs across the country. There’s also her dread in having to deal with her underachieving, estranged brother, Mark, their mother’s obvious “favorite,” who isn’t on the same wavelength as her on anything. Then there’s the gang of eccentric extended family members and their Southern traditions, as well as a funeral to plan. And let’s not forget the moment we’ve all been waiting for: The reading of the Will. Seriously, this is some Terms Of Endearment-level drama right here.
But then it’s like, hey… why is the ceiling attic door crudely boarded up like someone did it in a real hurry?
Umm… it sounds like the TV just went on, but wasn’t it unplugged?
Uhhh… did those Nativity-scene taxidermied squirrels just move?
Oh, hey, look, there’s a massive collection of homemade puppets filling up the entire house.
“Louise, don’t leave us.”
In haunted house lingo, that’s right up there with “Get out!” At one point, Louise is like, “I’m done, I’m outta here” and even plans her trip home. I felt such relief. “Please go, leave, run now!” I said to myself, thankful that this character had come to her senses. But then I saw there was around 300 pages left. Oh no…
You might go into a book called How To Sell A Haunted House eager to learn how to cleanse and stage a haunted house for selling purposes – like how much sage are we talking here? But you’re gonna come out knowing a lot about puppets. Sure, other stuff too, but mostly puppets and what they’re capable of, which is a lot. Oh, and trauma, too.
Much like the author’s previous offerings, which dealt with a best friend’s exorcism, a haunted furniture store, and a male vampire infiltrating a Southern ladies’ book club, How To Sell A Haunted House artfully blends horror with humor. But unlike in the other books, these new characters aren’t quippy, sarcastic, or self-depreciatingly humorous. There’s no “You might be wondering how I got here?” type of ponderings. Also, the story isn’t loaded with ’80s and ’90s pop culture references and doesn’t lean heavily on nostalgia to keep the reader engaged.
The clever title alone hooks you in, but once he has you, Hendrix is going to take you through the five stages of grief in ways that you’d never imagine. It gets real heavy at times, delving into repressed memories, sibling rivalries, and real physical and psychological dangers. This is more in line with The Final Girl Support Group, his 2021 debut with a new publisher, Berkley (after years with Quirk Books), which saw victims of violence struggling with PTSD, addiction, denial, and other psychological disorders.
But then it’s like, remember the puppets? (There’s creepy dolls too, by the way.) Just imagine how that reads when the action gets started. You’ll be laughing and shivering at the same time! Plus, there’s a lengthy flashback of Mark’s wacky college days that’s so absurd you have to laugh, yet it’s terrifying too. “Where the hell is this going?,” you’ll wonder in several places throughout the story. Just wait. Trust me when I tell you, I haven’t even scratched the surface here.
If you get freaked out by creepy dolls and puppets, you might feel squeamish about this tale. I know I did at times. (Why did it have to be puppets?!) But, if you can get beyond that, you’ll find that How To Sell A Haunted House offers up an equally emotional and terrify tale with shocking twists and absurd circumstances that will have you keeping an eye on those stuff animals on the shelf for a while.
New York Times bestselling author Grady Hendrix takes on the haunted house in a thrilling new novel that explores the way your past—and your family—can haunt you like nothing else.
When Louise finds out her parents have died, she dreads going home. She doesn’t want to leave her daughter with her ex and fly to Charleston. She doesn’t want to deal with her family home, stuffed to the rafters with the remnants of her father’s academic career and her mother’s lifelong obsession with puppets and dolls. She doesn’t want to learn how to live without the two people who knew and loved her best in the world.
Most of all, she doesn’t want to deal with her brother, Mark, who never left their hometown, gets fired from one job after another, and resents her success. Unfortunately, she’ll need his help to get the house ready for sale because it’ll take more than some new paint on the walls and clearing out a lifetime of memories to get this place on the market.
But some houses don’t want to be sold, and their home has other plans for both of them…
Like his novels The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires and The Final Girl Support Group, How to Sell a Haunted House is classic Hendrix: equal parts heartfelt and terrifying—a gripping new read from “the horror master” (USA Today).
Book Dimensions: 6.39 x 1.44 x 9.3 inches; 432 pages