Paperback, 432 pages, $7.99
Review by Sheila Merritt
Audrey’s Door won the Bram Stoker award for best novel of 2009. This catapults Sarah Langan into a lofty position: She joins the heady ranks of Peter Straub, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon in achieving two wins in that category. Should the accolade be construed as being on a par with this year’s Academy Award to director Kathyrn Bigelow? If a superficial look at gender is an issue, then yes; but Langan’s achievement isn’t about trying to break through glass ceilings. It’s horror writing at its most intense and febrile; about getting down to the real nitty-gritty of personal terrors in an impersonal world. In Audrey’s Door, she probingly scrutinizes alienation and psychological aberrations. All the while, the author never forgets the literary legacies of Shirley Jackson and Ira Levin.
The Audrey of the title has major mental baggage. An obsessive-compulsive disordered daughter of a severely mentally disturbed mother, the character tries to function. She observes that, “The thing about other people is, they’re not you.” Attempting to fit in, while seeing every imperfection, she waxes philosophical: “Sometimes you get so tired of living in your own skin that you’ll do anything to peel it off. Even the hardest thing: change.”
Audrey’s attempts at change have a mixed degree of success. She tentatively treads into relationships, and moves into a New York City edifice with an eerie past. Like Jackson’s Hill House, and Levin’s Bramford, The Breviary is a building that has a supernatural symbiotic relationship with its inhabitants. The structure, itself, has a life and breath all of its own: “True to the Chaotic Naturalist philosophy, The Breviary’s floors differed in height from one story to the next, and its walls didn’t intersect at right angles but were either obtuse or acute. The gargoyles weren’t evenly spaced but appeared at random intervals, like flowers on a vine. Inside buildings like this, dropped marbles rolled in all directions, and the furniture warped, so once a couch lived in a particular space for a few years, you couldn’t move it, or it crumbled.”
Architect Audrey is drawn to The Breviary because of its artistic significance. On a more subliminal level, however, she feels a kinship with it; a connection of instability. The Breviary’s construction correlates with her manic state. Intelligent and insightful, she is aware of potential problems: “Moving into a haunted and crumbling apartment like a modern-day Miss Haversham [sic]. These decisions were pathologically stupid.”
The Breviary has a background of death and destruction. The most recent incident involved the previous tenant of Audrey’s apartment: A mother who drowned her four children then killed herself. The building makes demands. It hungrily thrives on negativity, madness, mayhem, and social estrangement: All the specific demons that Audrey grapples with on a daily basis. The parallels are striking and profound.
Sarah Langan builds her tale like an adroitly astute architect; aware of design and thematic harmony. She also manages to emotionally cut to the core, by making the protagonist flawed and fractured; her fragility and failings harbor her history to her habitat.
Invoking echoes of great writers past, and in the company of exemplary authors present, Langan holds her own. Audrey’s Door is a path way to a place best kept at bay; subconscious and/or spectral, it is portal of portent.