Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone: Review

Author: Stefan Kiesbye
Published in 2011
Rating: 7/10

I stumbled across this book totally by chance, but the description – and, of course, the infamous cover – ensured that I wouldn’t forget it. (For those who don’t know, the cover is printed with a sneaky message only revealed under the right angle of light. Go to Barnes & Noble to see what it says.) A few months later, I was finally able to read it.

The jacket compares this short novel, made up of disparate stories connected by narrators and the location, to Shirley Jackson and The Twilight Zone. It tracks the coming-of-age experiences of a group of children who live in Hemmersmoor, a sinister backwoods village untouched by time or modern logic. The village is full of superstition and dark secrets, from the eerie manor on the outskirts to the haunted mill. As the children navigate this perverted, insular world, they accumulate secrets of their own – some of which are too horrible to say.

The premise of the novel, and the atmosphere it manages to construct around the village, are terrific. The world is disturbing and ugly, but it’s impossible to leave it until its secrets are unveiled. Its stories and style borrow heavily from Jackson in their detached point of view, describing awful events without understanding that they are awful. Some of the tales are extremely disturbing – one involving a circus particularly frightened me – but as the novel goes on, they become more and more normal. There is no real sense of climax, and the pieces add up to a hollow whole. This is, in a way, in keeping with the themes of adulthood – the world seems a little less special and exciting with each year you age – but it is a betrayal of the promise to the reader, which is to build to an ending.

That being said, the moodiness and evocation of the setting are worthwhile in their own right. It’s a disturbing joy to spend time in Hemmersmoor, even if its secrets don’t live up to the comparison of Shirley Jackson. It’s a fun read for an autumn evening, when everything is just a little bit spookier than usual.


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