The Uninvited by Cat Winters
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: August 11th, 2015
Format: Kindle, 368 Pages
Ivy Rowan has been abed with the flu for days. The last night she is to spend at home she awakes to see the ghost of her grandmother. She instantly knows something is wrong. She has only ever seen these uninvited guests, these ghosts, as harbingers of death; someone close to her will die. Her grandmother came to warn Ivy, her father and brother have killed a man. They have murdered the owner of the furniture store, who was a German immigrant. Ivy's brother Billy died the week previously in the Great War and there are rumors that the Germans are responsible for this plague that has descended on Ivy's small Midwestern town. Her brother and father committed this horrible act of vengeance on an innocent man. Though the papers will ascribed the death to patriotic vagrants, Ivy knows the truth. Ivy's mind and body rebels, she packs her belongings and flees into the night. Out in the world, Ivy, the virtual recluse, starts to live life and form friendships amongst all the death. She helps two red cross nurses ferry the ill, she lodges with the widow of a former classmate, but most importantly she tries to make amends to the grieving brother of the man her family killed, Daniel Schendel. She is drawn to Daniel as much as she is drawn to the jazz music playing every night across the road from his store. As their relationship grows more intense Ivy starts to realize that not everything is at it seems. There are secrets too horrific to face so one should just face the music and dance.
One of my friends said that I should have been forewarned that I wouldn't like this book because the blurb declaimed that it was "perfect for those who loved The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield." To say I loved The Thirteenth Tale would be grossly untrue, even saying I liked it would be a lie... so I should have had an inkling that The Uninvited wasn't for me. But it was the deal of the day on Kindle and that cover... well, that cover has more atmosphere than the whole book and I seriously need to stop being tricked by a pretty cover. The main problem I had was that I was looking for a good Gothic read and while this does have all the elements of Gothic literature it has all these elements without them ever coming together into a cohesive whole and being Gothic. Ghosts, check, virginal heroine, check, olden days, check, laws flouted, check, add to that a horrid plague and well, I am just baffled. I think the reason it failed is twofold. The ghosts aren't scary, they're just a part of the virginal heroine's life during the Great War. On top of that while a world destroying plague is terrifying and does have the Gothic element in spades, the problem is us modern readers aren't scared of this plague. We know what the cause is. You have to take this truth and spin it or distort it in order to keep the horror relevant to modern readers.
But everything about this book was like Gothic Literature turned upside down. You think it will work and it doesn't. I had this feeling from the first pages as Ivy raised herself from her sickbed that this felt like the conclusion of a story. That we missed Ivy's story, we missed her imprisonment and illness, we missed her journey and here we are at the end and she gets her happily ever after. She is no longer in seclusion but enjoying life and getting a chance at love. Oddly enough it turns out I was somewhat astute in this observation. Because the irony is, and this is a big spoiler folks, Ivy is dead. So this whole story happens after her death. Therefore her journey has happened, her day is done, what we read here is some imagined ghostly happily ever after that Christopher Reeve was so desperately searching and then dying for in Somewhere in Time. It's most likely Winters did this setup on purpose, but that doesn't satisfy me. It makes me feel like I was manipulated from page one. I went in expecting a certain kind of book and I basically got The Others, the disappointing Nicole Kidman movie. So if you're looking for a slightly otherworldly World War I book set in the Midwest that will give your tear ducts a workout, go for it.
Your tear ducts won't be the only thing getting a workout, because this book is determined to pull out your heartstrings and beat you to death with them. One of the reasons I like Gothic literature is that it preys on other emotions, fear being the primary one. I don't like chick flicks, I don't long for a good cry, I'm not pining for something new from Nicholas Sparks. I don't want my emotions manipulated. If in the telling of a good story my emotions suffer, well, that's fine, it's the sign of good storytelling. On the other hand, if a story is written just to play merry havoc on my emotions, well, it starts to piss me off. The repeated reveals of just how many of Ivy's friends are actually ghosts besides herself was unnecessarily cruel. Yes, Winters wanted to show that these people were more than just statistics, that each and every life claimed by the Spanish Flu was a life someone missed, a life that mattered, but there's a point when you just can't take anymore. This drain on my emotions was too much to handle. The first time Ivy returns home to talk to her mother, what with everything that's been going on in my own life at the moment I just couldn't deal with it. I wanted this book to be banished from my sight. I wanted it to stop hurting me. At one point I thought, I'll hurt it by giving it one star! But then I thought, no. While this book isn't for me, while it's not what I expected, Winters is still too competent a writer to punish, like she did to me.
What with everyone being dead you can't help to start drawing conclusions to the aforementioned The Others, or to The Sixth Sense, or more importantly to the television show Life on Mars and it's sequel Ashes to Ashes. In particular the television shows spent seasons building your rapport with these characters only to have the finale of Ashes to Ashes reveal that they are in a way station after their deaths awaiting the next phase of their journey, through a pub, The Railway Arms, which leads to heaven. Now let's look at The Uninvited Guests, ghosts, stuck continuing their lives until they go to the Jazz Club and ascend... so basically exactly what happens in Ashes to Ashes without the time slip... this similarity, even if the author has never seen or heard of these shows made me feel like there was nothing truly original in this book. It felt like it was never trying to be it's own thing, just a combination of other things that worked more successfully. With Ashes to Ashes when the reveal was made with the character of Shazzer I lost my shit. This wasn't a narrative that had ever made me cry, but I was so connected to the characters that this undid me. Whereas, as I've mentioned previously, here Winters just repeatedly pulls the rug out from under you. It's not a real connection, it's not real emotion, she never works to get you to feel, it's a false feeling. Whereas Shazzer's death will always stay with me, I don't think this book will stay with me after a few more weeks.
Though there is one thing that might stick. The jazz of it all. Once you realize the characters are dead and it's basically a siren song it makes a little more sense how much the music is driving Ivy. The thing is, while I love certain artists, play piano and even saxophone at one time, I'm not one of those people with music in my veins. If you cut me I will likely bleed ink from being such a word person. Therefore I have a hard time connecting to people like Ivy who hear music and just can't stop their toes tapping. Who can't stop the call of the music as it pumps through their veins. If music is pumping through my veins I'm usually the person wondering if we can turn the music down a bit cause it's loud. Also if there's one kind of music I detest it's jazz. Seriously. Can. Not. Stand. It. Therefore this jazz that runs through the book was annoying but also was antithesis to trying to get any Gothic vibe going. So it alienated me as it blithely made the book more and more the opposite of what I was hoping for. Can we also talk about how depressing it is that these ghosts are drawn to jazz? While it was popular at this time it wasn't until the roaring twenties when this genre took hold, a decade none of these characters are going to live to see. The music and the characters are full of false life. Their story is done, thankfully for me, and it was a bleak one.
Friday, March 17, 2017
The Uninvited by Cat Winters