A haunted house with a twist!
Hello, friends and foes! Today I’m reviewing Jac Jemc’s 2017 horror novel, The Grip of It. The grip of what, exactly? Well, I read the book in a day (literally one day – I could not put it down) and I’m still not quite sure. This little book took me on an anxiety-ridden roller coaster ride that I’m still recovering from, days later. An unassuming young couple, the perfect house, a quiet town… until all Hell breaks loose. Let’s talk about it.
There’s not much to find online about Jac Jemc. She seems to be as mysterious as this little book. Her website is streamlined and offers some updates and bits of info (linked below). Her works follow everyday people experiencing everyday horrors, most with terrifying, breath-stealing twists. Her first novel, My Only Wife, was published in 2012 and won the Paula Anderson Book Award. She has also released two haunting story collections; A Different Bed Every Time in 2014 and False Bingo in 2019, both critically appraised. She’s also the author of an abundance of short stories published in various magazines. Currently, she teaches creative writing at UC San Diego.
Refreshingly, Jemc has a page on her website for her story rejections – short stories she’s submitted to publishers that were turned down for whatever reason. She has received four as of her latest post in July, 2021. As a querying author, I’m familiar with the sting of rejection and find it endlessly charming that Jemc is transparent with what it means to be an “author”. It’s not all easy once you have a successful book out (or, in her case, four – and one more slated for 2022).
In The Grip of It, we meet young couple Julie and James. They flee their old life in the city for a quiet home in a small, peaceful town. James’s gambling addiction and lack of impulse control seemed to spur the move, and Julie is trying her best to forgive him and rebuild the trust in their relationship. They find a house near the forest and a lake on a quaint street, with a mysterious and grouchy elderly man in the home next door. As their fractured relationship begins to heal, the very home they are living in insists on tearing it apart.
It starts off small; a leak here, a strange noise there, a black mark on the wall that definitely wasn’t there when they moved in. Then Julie starts getting strange bruises, mirroring the black, graffiti-like marks along the freshly painted walls. The house becomes unfamiliar, shifting and re-shaping itself, doors leading suddenly to nowhere and staircases missing from where they once stood. The noises turn from whispers to groans to shrieks. And then, in the most terrifying moments, there is nothing at all- leading Julie, James, and the reader to wonder if it ever happened in the first place. Julie and James experience different phenomenons within the house and sometimes struggle with understanding and believing each other. Often, this leads to lying. Gaslighting each other while the house is gaslighting them both.
When Julie and James turn to neighbors and townspeople, asking for information about who lived in the house before them, they get no straight answers – more often, no answers at all. Julie’s bruises draw attention and judgement from those outside the house, and there are only so many lies you can tell before people begin to suspect something awful is going on at home (and their minds don’t go straight to haunted house).
The lingering distrust from their fractured relationship, coupled with lying to each other about what they’ve seen or found or experienced in their ever-changing home, begins a slow and diabolical descent into madness for the once lovely young couple. Their once so beautiful relationship is crumbling due to factors they can’t control, and this is arguably one of the most terrifying aspects of the whole book.
On top of the horrors within their haunted house, Julie and James are sucked into a strange family mystery involving their perpetually grouchy neighbor and a disappearance that was never solved. They try to work together to solve the mystery while simultaneously lying to each other about everything… because they don’t even know what’s real.
I definitely shouldn’t have read this book while house hunting. The Grip of It had me on the edge of my seat, waiting impatiently until I could turn the page to find out what happened next. It left me wondering about the strength of a loving marriage and what lengths one is willing to go to to believe the other, or to be believed themselves. Overall, it was a tantalizing and terrifying read, though I wasn’t a big fan of the ending. Despite that one blip (that’s entirely subjective, anyway), I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone that loves haunted houses and gripping, psychological terror.
Was it scary? Yeah, I think we’ve been over that. It’s stomach-twisting, anxiety-inducing, waiting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat scary. You’re side by side with Julie and James, angry when they find no answers and disturbed and disgusted when they do. It’s a disorienting ride through a haunted house with no haunting – there’s no murderer, no vengeful ghost. Just pure evil. It’s chaotic and confusing (in a good way). A true whirlwind of haunts, gripping fear, and a strange, moldy mystery…
4/5 stars overall, 4/5 on the scare scale.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.
All other images are certified public domain.