After reading Sarah Gailey’s The Echo Wife last year, I jumped on Just Like Home as soon as it came out—and thanks, by the way, to my library for having a copy available right away! For those who don’t know me, I want to be upfront: I don’t generally read horror. It takes a special kind of speculative-fiction author to get me to do that, and Gailey happens to be such an author.
Vera Crowder is returning to her childhood home to care for her dying mother. The wrinkle? Vera’s father was a serial killer; he killed people in that very house, and this one fact has shaped Vera’s entire life and torpedoed her relationship with her mother. Or at least, that’s how the story starts. As Gailey weaves flashbacks into present-day tensions, we start to learn that there is more happening in the Crowder house than meets the eye. Vera feels a connection reawaken, and as she begins to prepare the house for her mother’s death … maybe it is preparing her.
Can we just talk for a moment about the luxurious quality of Gailey’s writing? They are a master of analogy, metaphor, and simile. The majority of this book is narration and description, something that sometimes doesn’t work for me. But Gailey is so adept at deploying figurative language without verging into purple prose, and the result is … just sumptuous. I read this in a day—and that isn’t only because, as a new release, it has holds on it and so I have to return it within a week instead of two weeks, oops, should have realized…. Anyway, I read this in a day because it was so easy to keep reading. I love how each flashback chapter begins with Vera’s age and ends with such explicit and ominous foreshadowing. Meanwhile, the chapters set in the present day have their own kind of foreboding created by the mood of Gailey’s writing as they unspool the mystery of Vera herself.
You see, I won’t spoil the plot, but Vera is not an innocent person, shall we say? There really are no innocents at all in this book, from Vera to her mother and father to James Duvall—everyone has an angle, has a secret or a weakness or an urge that beats deep inside of them. Vera is not an easy character to love, for Gailey presents her to us in a very detached way. That is the point, I think—this is less about cheering on a protagonist and more of a study in what a serial killer’s daughter might become, with a dash of the supernatural thrown in for good measure. Vera essentially walked away from her entire life: her hometown, her parents, her childhood—and when it comes roaring back, when it pulls her back home, it threatens to swallow her identity whole.
There are echoes in here of commentary on the place of spectacle in our society. The way that Vera’s mother allowed the Crowder House to become a tourist trap, leveraged it to survive under capitalism, and how this allowed James and his father into the Crowders’ lives. This is a theme that isn’t fully explored, much like I wish Gailey had spent more time on Vera and Daphne’s relationship as well.
Just Like Home is what I would call an experience. The reading of it is about as joyous an experience as a dark, bloody horror novel can be. Afterwards, the memory of it starts to fall apart a bit in your mind, as you realize there are pieces that maybe don’t fit quite right. But this novel just confirms my impression that Gailey is a speculative talent to watch, simply because they don’t do things by half measures, and they are bringing deeply imaginative stories into this world.