[Book Review]: Sarah Gailey’s Just Like Home

Home is where love flows.

This house, the house her father built, is where she belonged…

Sarah Gailey can twist your mind. Though my first exposure was through The Echo Wife — an immeasurably good and disturbing turn at the intersection of horror and domestic — Just Like Home proves they’re more than able to turn any familiar territory into something menacing.

It’s funny, when you think about it, how much a house can really hold. The love, the pain, the memories. The secrets. Returning to a place we once knew like the backs of our own hands can sometimes prove to be a far ruder awakening than we ever anticipate. It happened for me — returning even just to the state I was raised in brings me so much anxiety it builds like sludge in my throat — and it happens to Just Like Home’s Vera when she’s called to return to care for her dying mother and settle the affairs of the house her father built.

Awash in the warmth of familiar surroundings and enveloped by the ice of her mother’s cold words, Vera must face the violent scrutiny of her neighbors and the secrets long since buried as they slowly come to light. Through chapters that alternate between Vera in the present and Vera’s childhood, we watch as she battles the tension between the love she feels for her father and the darkness she feels within herself. The things that happened in the basement of Crowder House, the animal sounds and smothering silence within its walls and beneath Vera’s bed are the lifeblood of her memories, and facing them again proves equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.

Gailey’s ability to make a simple phrase echo with equal parts threat and longing makes each of their works a uniquely enticing experience. Just Like Home is visceral in its prose, dripping with hunger and need that transcends years and experiences and the floorboards of old houses to craft something that sticks in your mind with an earthy stubbornness. The threat thrumming at the heart of Home is ever-present in a way that clings to the air around each of the characters but, true to form, nothing is quite what it seems and there are twists lingering among these pages that feel both painful and fresh, like an unexpected splinter digging into the viscera of your mind.

2022 seems to be turning into a time reaching back to the Gothic and bringing it into the light as something with a fresh coat of darkness and understated menace that makes the genre so alluring. Perhaps it should not be surprising — after three years of staying in our homes it’s only natural they should become fodder for exploring our anxieties and desires, and no genre trends that ground better than Gothic. The walls and floors and crevices we have gotten to know so well are newly intimate, and, after all, what is intimate can also be menacing, can’t it? And maybe the safest place you know has monsters of its own. Maybe our monsters can love us. Maybe they can make us feel whole.

The Gothic is also a complex ground to explore other darknesses we try to pretend don’t exist so we might feel comfortable. It’s no coincidence that the resurgence of the genre’s tendrils includes a resurgence of women who have a kind of strength to them born from their acceptance and comfort with the fact that they do not have to be wholly good people to be worthy of life and meaning. Men are always allowed to show their power, but never their weakness. Women are expected to show weakness and smother the light of their power. Just Like Home is but one recent entry in the literary landscape that presents a kind of inversion of that standard and consequently creates a world where the monsters are both new and familiar all at once.

I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to receive this book in exchange for an honest review.

Just Like Home hits shelves July 19, 2022.

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Katelyn Nelson’s writing interests lean mostly toward pop culture analysis and representation. She tweets @24th_Doctor, mostly about horror.

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Katelyn Nelson

Katelyn Nelson

Katelyn Nelson’s writing interests lean mostly toward pop culture analysis and representation. She tweets @24th_Doctor, mostly about horror.

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