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Just Like Home


Just Like Home

Sarah Gailey, the acclaimed author of THE ECHO WIFE and MAGIC FOR LIARS, returns with JUST LIKE HOME, a gothic thriller about the dangers lurking under our beds, in our homes and, perhaps most insidiously, in our closest relationships.

Vera Crowder has not been home in a dozen years, not since her mother banished her at 17½, shortly after her father died in prison. Daphne is dying, and although they have not spoken in more than a decade, she has summoned Vera home to see her through her final days and prepare the house for whatever comes next. But the Crowder house is no ordinary home. For one, it was built lovingly, piece by piece, by Vera’s father, Francis, tailored to her mother’s specifications. For another, it was the scene where Francis tortured and murdered several men until he was arrested when Vera was 13.

It’s easy to see why Vera would not want to return to her childhood home, which is now a grief-porn museum for true-crime fans and artists looking to exploit the haunted and haunting history. But what’s less easy to understand is the innate pull she feels toward the house, and to her father’s memory.

"JUST LIKE HOME is both unlike anything [Gailey has] done before and the culmination of everything they have done before, all at once. They draw on very real, existential and traumatic fears to animate and propel their characters."

When Vera arrives, she immediately notices two things. First, the porch steps, where she watched her father get pushed into a police car and later hid his journal, have been totally remodeled. Second, the shed behind the house has been seriously upgraded and now houses James Duvall, an artist with blond hair, a crooked smile and an ever-present cigarillo. Like many others before him, he has descended upon the Crowder house to immerse himself in its history and pull inspiration from its bloodied walls.

But Duvall has a particular interest in all of this: his father, Hammett, wrote the original true-crime book that put the house on the map, detailing Francis’ depravities and getting his own daughter to reveal his most private connections. The remodeled porch and the new inhabitant seem unrelated, but Francis’ journal is nowhere to be found, and Duvall has a sneaky air about him --- the air of someone who has come to sniff out all of the Crowder family’s secrets and exploit them. Over the course of Vera’s first few days home, Duvall explains to her that he considers himself a collaborator rather than a solo artist. His latest work deals with the ghost that allegedly haunts the Crowder house: the father Vera has not spoken to since the day he was arrested.

As Vera reunites with her cold, discerning mother and avoids the parasitic Duvall, always lurking around a corner prompting her for memories of her father, the real trauma of her return home unfolds: Francis loved his daughter beyond measure, but he also had a strong hold on her that ultimately informed her view of the world. His attention to her and her devotion to him often put them at odds with Daphne, resulting in their estrangement until now. In between tending to her mother and packing up the home, Vera thinks back to the summer when she was 12, when her father’s serial killings took on a new fervor, simultaneously recalling the sounds, sights and smells that the house held, hid and absorbed.

Despite her mother’s coldness and the absence of her father, the house starts to feel just like home, but decidedly not in a good way, especially as strange dreams, moved objects and torn passages from Francis' journal begin to appear. While Vera is hesitant to let go of her childhood home, the father who loved her and the mother whose love she craves, it seems that something in the house is equally reluctant to let go of her. And it lives under her bed, where the floorboards part just enough to expose her father’s basement of horrors.

I have read and loved every single one of Sarah Gailey’s books, from their alternative history RIVER OF TEETH to the sci-fi thriller THE ECHO WIFE and now their gothic horror novel. So I feel I can safely say that JUST LIKE HOME is both unlike anything they have done before and the culmination of everything they have done before, all at once. They draw on very real, existential and traumatic fears to animate and propel their characters. However, in playing with the haunted house trope, they make these fears not only all the more supernatural and horrifying, but also grittier and more real. While the book is ostensibly about the serial-killer monsters who populate our headlines and the under-the-bed monsters who star in our nightmares, Gailey somehow manages to combine the two without glamorizing the serial killers or undercutting the monsters.

In using a horror house setting to expose the traumas of Vera’s relationships with her parents, Gailey poses some poignant, thought-provoking and downright chilling questions about the monsters we fear, the monsters we cling to, and the monsters we love…who often, as they prove, reside within the same bodies. At the same time, they draw attention to our cultural obsession with murder, and although they allow Francis to be both the doting father and the serial killer, they aim her discomforting, skewering gaze not at him, but at Vera, our prickly, damaged heroine (or antiheroine, as the case may be). The result is eerily uncomfortable but utterly riveting, like the first steps into a haunted house and anticipation mixed with dread at what you might find there.

Because Gailey has yet to do the same thing twice, I can easily recommend JUST LIKE HOME to any reader who has loved their previous works or has never heard of them. Like THE ECHO WIFE, this is a literary and thematic triumph, but be warned that it is not for the faint of heart. Gailey is not afraid to push the narrative envelope or expose their readers to serious depravity and gore. But as they prove, the real horrors don’t always bleed out of us, but rather live inside of us.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 19, 2022

Just Like Home
by Sarah Gailey

  • Publication Date: July 19, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Gothic, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250174724
  • ISBN-13: 9781250174727