House and Garden by Deb Victoroff
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (27 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Astilbe
An isolated country house on a parcel of overgrown land refuses to be gentrified by a girl from the city who is gradually terrorized by the nature that surrounds her.
Elise, a socially awkward professional single woman finally buys a piece of real estate – a house with a garden – which she feels she can shape to her own desires. Her need to control her surroundings, her fatal flaw, will never be directed to a human partner. Instead she turns her energy toward taming nature.
An odd-looking real estate agent has sold her the parcel after the previous owners have abruptly abandoned the house, a bungalow with a creepily over-grown garden. As Elise attempts to weed and groom her property, it seems to fight against her. Bugs bite her, thorns pierce her, gardening tools are ripped from her hands and mysteriously disappear.
She feels the dislike of the townsfolk toward the city people who keep buying up the countryside only to domesticate it to city tastes. Are they behind the creeping dangers that assault her at every turn? Or is there some larger malevolent force in play?
It’s difficult to adjust to a new home, especially when one lives alone, has an overwhelming desire to control his or her surroundings and bizarre things still keep happening.
Elise is the kind of person who grows on you. At the beginning of House and Garden I found her a little too rigid and obsessive about the inconsequential details in life. In one scene she describes in detail the proper way to cut tomatoes for a salad and says uneven slices make her “lose her appetite.” Her deep emotional attachment to her dog, Solo, fleshes out and softens Elise’s character and by the end of the story she does become far more likeable.
Her halting adjustment to living in a small town brought a surprising touch of humour to an otherwise tense, suspenseful plot when Elise attributes the increasingly odd behaviour - for example, the pharmacist giving her medication with only her address, not her name, written on the label - of those around her to cultural differences between rural and urban life.
From Elise’s quiet, unnamed neighbour who always seems to show up when she’s doing something embarrassing like having a one-way conversation with Solo to her slightly overbearing real estate agent, Margaret. This is one of those rare books in which many of the secondary characters are as interesting as the protagonist.
Just enough information is provided to weave the plot together but several clues are fairly subtle and it’s ultimately up to the reader to piece them together. I was a little disappointed when the story ended not because I disliked it but because I really wasn’t ready to stop reading! In retrospect I understand why Ms. Victoroff structured it this way, though. Sometimes using less exposition makes a story much scarier than it might have been otherwise. It also easily sets everything up for a sequel if the author decides to write one.
If you’re in the market for a creepy story that will keep you up at night wondering what happens next I strongly recommend “House and Garden.”