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The Invited


The Invited

When a ghost story is done well, the experience of reading it mirrors that of its characters. Readers ask themselves: What is real? Is there a rational explanation for what’s happening, or are there supernatural forces at work? Are the forces at play human or otherworldly? That’s exactly what reading Jennifer McMahon’s excellent new novel is like. On one level, THE INVITED is a straightforward mystery, but ghosts and spirits still haunt its edges in a truly unsettling way.

The book opens in rural Vermont in the 1920s, with a dramatic scene leading up to the hanging of Hattie, a young mother who has long been both admired and mistrusted because of her supposed ability to predict the future. On this particular day, Hattie’s premonitions lead her to keep her young daughter, Jane, home from school --- so Jane escapes the fate of several of her classmates when the school building burns to the ground. Hellbent on revenge, the townspeople string Hattie up to the nearest tree, and the rest is history. Or is it?

"On one level, THE INVITED is a straightforward mystery, but ghosts and spirits still haunt its edges in a truly unsettling way."

Fast forward to the present day. Helen and Nate are a young couple who are tired of their suburban Connecticut existence. They decide to use their small nest egg to start over in northern Vermont, constructing their own home using the most building skills both of them possess. But almost as soon as they arrive on their new property, they start to encounter unexplained noises, lights and shadowy figures --- not to mention cold shoulders from the long-time residents of the nearest town.

One of those residents is a teenager named Olive, who has spent her childhood searching for Hattie’s supposed buried treasure on the land that now belongs to Helen and Nate. Olive’s mother disappeared months earlier, and Olive is convinced that if she can find the treasure, her mom will return home, her dad will stop acting so weird, and they can be a family again.

Soon Olive’s paths cross with Helen’s, but her trespassing can’t explain all the mysterious phenomena that Helen and Nate have witnessed since their arrival. Nate, a science teacher who loves observing the natural environment, sees an albino deer and becomes obsessed with tracking its movements. Helen, a history teacher, becomes convinced that Hattie is trying to tell her something, to provide guidance or maybe a warning. These spooky phenomena intersect with Olive’s investigation into her mother’s sudden disappearance. Town gossip would suggest that Olive’s mom ran off with a boyfriend, but Olive is not so sure.

THE INVITED will appeal to mystery fans and devotees of paranormal fiction alike. McMahon doesn’t tie up every loose end --- in particular, the long-term health of Helen and Nate’s increasingly frayed relationship remains somewhat in question at the conclusion --- but perhaps a few uncertainties like this one are fitting, given the novel’s overall willingness to explore the unexplainable.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 3, 2019

The Invited
by Jennifer McMahon