The Thirteen: A Novel
William Morrow Paperbacks
Trade Paper, 336 pages, $14.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
In Conjure Wife, the famous dark fantasy novel by Fritz Leiber, women practice black magic to ensure their husbands’ career success. The witches of Susie Moloney’s The Thirteen are also concerned with obtaining social status and financial security. Since this is the 21st Century, however, the male spouses are merely a means to an end (and sometimes they meet their end as part of the bargain.) The sorceresses in this narrative ultimately serve only one master. And the rest of the guys can just, well, go to hell. Moloney’s tale is set in a supernatural suburbia rife with petty jealousies and cattiness: some very literal cattiness, since nasty feline familiars figure prominently in the plot. Cat fanciers may take offense at the creatures’ evil depiction; dogs are the virtuous animals in this story. Totally aside from possibly alienating/dividing her readers into respective furry camps, the author creates an entertaining divertissement. She ventures into the Devil’s den and smoothly balances humor with horror. There are some stylistic quibbles to be addressed, but such minor detractions-distractions don’t unduly hamper the read.
The community of Haven Woods is having a crisis. One of the ladies in league with you-know-who has killed herself, and another is going rogue. The remaining members of the coven are confronted with drastic fallout; there must always be thirteen in the club or the structure starts coming apart. And when that happens, their comfortable way of life gets severely compromised: Extended youth ends; beauty suddenly fades; a dancer’s leg is handicapped; one food grabbing gal even starts shedding her digits. And progeny and husbands start acting peculiar. The perfectly constructed environment gets shattered, but thankfully a former female resident returns to town with her pre-pubescent daughter. Before one can utter “Ira Levin,” a plan is formed by the diabolic dames. The inverted Stepford universe can be restored to normalcy with a little sacrifice.
The key players in the narrative are nicely fleshed out, especially Izzy who is the leader of the pack. She views the planned sacrificial rite as “Necessary-like doing dishes, tidying, laundry. All odious in their own way.” Another great distillation of Izzy’s warped personality is this summation: “Being in the presence of illness gave her such a feeling of vitality.”
Other characters are a bit slighted or underdeveloped, but a detailed description/history of a baker’s dozen of witches could prove yawn-inducing. And make for a much longer work. The aforementioned stylistic quibbles, however, mainly concern the author’s tendency to enclose unspoken (and unpunctuated) musings in parentheses. And also giving said parentheses a paragraph of their own. She does this throughout the book. What at first seems a clever, and arty, means of expression becomes tedious because of overuse. Here’s one example of the too frequently employed device:
… Just thinking about it creeped her out
(everything here creeped her out)
All nit-picking aside, The Thirteen is a well-crafted look at “The Craft.” Susie Moloney nicely infuses the suburbs with the scent of sulfur.