Orson Scott Card, bestselling author and master of the science fiction and fantasy genres, presents Homebody: A Novel, a spine-chilling tale about a man who must overcome the demons of his past -- and the bitterly sad demons he unwittingly stirs up while renovating a faded Southern mansion.
When driving through Greensboro, North Carolina, Don Lark happens upon a derelict 1870s mansion that's crying out for restoration, and he envisions a job that will bring him temporary distraction and a tidy profit. He buys the property, intending to restore the house to its former glory and then, as with past projects, sell it and move on. There's just one problem -- this once beautiful house has a way of holding on to those who cross its threshold. Lark's aging neighbors, Miss Evelyn and Miss Judea, stridently pray that he leave the house during a get-to-know-the-new-man meal: "Bless him to be smart enough to get the hell out of that house before it eats him alive." Don Lark doesn't know it, but this house will eventually change his life -- or take it.
Card deftly captures the atmosphere of a small Southern town, from the charms of an overhanging willow to the endearingly entrenched etiquette of his protective neighbors. He dares the reader to peer inside a troubled house and its equally troubled tenants. Ultimately, he offers compelling evidence that a strong will and a good heart can make a house a home, but not until the owner reckons with both personal and otherworldly demons.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like its haunted-house centerpiece, Card's third dark fantasy novel has great potential that shines through its superfluous detail. The Bellamy mansion is a venerable Victorian pile that has seen better days when it catches the eye of Don Lark, a widower who "turns his loneliness and grief into the restoration of beautiful old houses. Don's labors to restore the mansion to its former grandeur introduce him to a succession of women receptive to his emotional needs, including an amorous real estate agent, three dotty elderly neighbors who urge him to demolish the place and Sylvie Delaney, a squatter who has lived in the house secretly for a decade. All have been drawn to the mansion and its legacy of corrupted splendor through the shame of their private lives and one turns out to be ghost whose past troubles are a touchstone for analogies between Don's home improvements and the need to rebuild dignity and character. Card's imaginative use of the haunted-house theme to explore the haunting power of guilt and remorse is deflated by facile observations on the theological significance of human suffering. All of his characters are sensitive studies of the crippling effects of emotional trauma, but several serve no purpose other than to speed the sometimes sluggish plot along with timely advice and miraculous feats of magic. These shortcomings aside, the novel is a powerful tale of healing and redemption that skillfully balances supernatural horrors with spiritual uplift.
VOYA - Pam Carlson
Can a house actually be alive and take on the personality of its owner for good or evil? Don Lark never thought so-but then he met the Bellamy house, and the women of the house: homeless Sylvie, who refuses to leave, and Miz Evvie, Miz Judea, and the mysterious Gladys, neighbors who beg him to tear it down. Inside the house tools move by themselves, and nail holes heal overnight. It seems to be getting stronger as Don restores its former structure and grandeur. Secrets are revealed: Sylvie is not only homeless, she is lifeless, having been murdered by a former roommate. Problem: Don has fallen in love with her. Is there a way to rescue everyone and destroy the power of the house once and for all? In a furious fight to the death, the Bellamy house throws everything it has at Don, stabbing him with nails and attacking him with his own tools. Its malice cannot stand against Don and Gladys, however. When the dust settles, the house is destroyed and the people are free to truly live. Readers will have to wait a long time for the truth of this house to be revealed, as some characters are established while others are discarded. The mystery of Sylvie is an unexpected twist and after its revelation, the action accelerates and does not stop. Patient readers will be well rewarded and Mr./Ms. Fix-its may think twice from now on. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Broad general YA appeal, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
When Don Lark begins restoring a faded Southern mansion, the house and neighborhood come alive with enchanting characters. Don himself is haunted by his tragic past-his alcoholic ex-wife killed herself and their young daughter in an automobile accident. His new neighbors, Miz Judea and Miz Evelyn, try to convince him not to repair the mansion, telling him that it is dangerous to continue the restoration. He discovers that the house is haunted by a squatter, Sylvie, who also implores him to leave it as it is. When Don discovers an old tunnel in the cellar, the mysteries of the house have an effect on all of them and Sylvie and his neighbors come together to prevent evils of the past from taking over their lives. This novel is fast-paced, magical, and full of unusual characters. The supernatural aspects are surprising, amazing readers and compelling them to continue reading to find out who survives. -- Alice Silver, Robert E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Memphis Comm. Appeal
The pace is headlong, the protagonist's dilemmas compelling, and the supernatural aspects well-described and consistent. Card is quite a craftsman and builds his treasure box here with a sure and steady hand.
Dayton Daily News
Card's books [are] thoughtful, well-crafted stories of fully fleshed characters in situations so wonderfully weird the reader can't help but feel bored by read life. Card's folks are right there, ready to do the smart thing, the brave thing, with second throughts dogging their every step. They're all too human. . . .It's pure imagination, pure wonder, total fun. Card is able to take the reader for a ride leading who-knows-where, and engenders enough confidence in the driver for us all to just sit back and keep the pages turning. Good as gold.
Another mainstream contemporary supernatural (Treasure Box, 1996; Lost Boys, 1992) from sf/fantasy author Card. Builder Don Lark's life fell apart after his drunken ex-wife killed their two-year-old daughter in a car smash; now he looks for old houses to buy, fix up, and sell, and then move on. In Greensboro, North Carolina, realtor Cindy Claybourne sells him the Bellamy house, a magnificent but badly neglected residence. Don's new neighbors, the ancient Miz Evelyn, Miz Judea, and their bedridden companion Gladys, seem nice enough but mutter darkly about the house. Meanwhile, Don and Cindy find each other attractive, though when they realize that they both have inconsolable sorrows, their affair subsideswhile as a result Don is forced to pay quit money to a local lawyer who threatens to blackmail him. And, he discovers, the house is inhabited by curiously elusive Sylvie Delaney, who seems able to drift in and out when she pleases and requires no food or drink. Still, the renovations go well until Don realizes that the stronger the house gets, the weaker his neighbors become. The 'Weird Sisters' next door, it turns out, were prostitutes in the house in the 1920s when it was a brothel and speakeasy, and it still has some sort of hold on them. Sylvie the ghost was another former resident: during the renovation, Don discovers her body in an abandoned tunnel. Ironically, though, Sylvie didn't realize she was deadshe thought she'd murdered her roomie, Lissy, ten years earlier, but the reverse was true. And now Don, emotionally involved with Sylvie, must somehow trace the murderous, long-vanished Lissy and trick her into returning to the house for a showdown.Solid but undistinguished work, not high either in tension or in depth.
Read an Excerpt
Dr. Calhoun Bellamy made it a point to stay away from his property while the crew was tearing down the old Varley house. He didn't want to remember scenes of destruction. All he wanted to see was each step in the construction of the new house, the one he had designed for Renee and for the children they would have together.
Architecture was all he had wanted to study, ever since his father sent him abroad after the War Between the States. It wasn't the grandeur of the great buildings of Europe, the cathedrals and palaces, monuments and museums, that made him long to be a shaper of human spaces. Rather it was the country houses of Tuscany, Provence, and England. In his mind they formed a strange amalgam: the rambling outdoors-indoors of the villas designed for the perpetual summer and spring of the Mediterranean, and the bright-windowed tight enclosures in which the English managed to frolic despite the bitter winter and the endless rain. He came home full of ideas for houses that would transform American life, only to find that architects weren't interested in new ideas. No one would take this mad young man as a student. At last Cal settled down to study medicine and follow in his father's footsteps.
But now, with his marriage less than a year away, he was granting himself one last indulgence. In consultation with an architect from Richmond, he had designed a house which seemed to be a conventional Victorian on the outside, but which on the inside preserved some of the ideas he had developed abroad. Nothing too strange, just a different use of space that made him dream of the swirling dancers at a country-house ball, witharches that reminded him of the open doors and passageways of the Riviera and the hills above Florence. The architect tried to persuade him that no one would be comfortable in such a house, but Cal responded with cheerful obstinacy. This was the house he wanted; the architect's job was to draw up plans for a structure that would last, as Cal modestly suggested, until the Rapture.
"Do you happen to know when that might be?" asked the architect, only a little superciliously. "I wouldn't want to waste your money on excessive sturdiness."
"Make it last forever," said Cal. "Just in case."
All that remained now was for the old Quaker family's house, which had been standing longer than Greensborough had been a town, to be cleared from the lot on Baker Street. The city was growing toward the west, and although this was not the wealthiest neighborhood, it was the most tasteful. It was fitting that the son and heir of the most prominent physician in the city should build his bride a house on such a piece of land. The wooded gully at the back of the lot would guarantee privacy and a wild-seeming, natural setting; the large carriagehouse and servants' quarters would separate the house from the neighbors on the one side; and shaded residential streets bounded the property on the other two sides. In effect, the house would stand alone, conventionally graceful on the outside, a place of surprise and enchantment within.
So Cal was not pleased when a servant boy came all out of breath into his offices and insisted on giving him a message from the foreman of the wrecking crew. "You best come, sir. What they found you gots to see."
"Tell them to wait half an hour-doesn't it occur to them I have patients whose needs are urgent?"
The boy only looked puzzled. There was no hope of his delivering the message coherently.
"Never mind. Just tell them to wait until I get there."
"Yes sir," said the boy, and off he ran again. No doubt the moment he was out of sight he'd amble as slowly as possible. That's the way it was with these people. You could make them free, but you couldn't make workers out of them. There was a limit to what Northern arms could impose on a prostrate South.
In truth he had no patients that afternoon and so it was only a few moments before he set out from his office, walking because it was such a fine day. He expected to pass the boy on the way, but apparently he was either more ambitious than Cal had expected or better at hiding.
Cal was not surprised to see the entire crew lolling around-getting paid, no doubt, for their waiting time. But if the foreman was at all embarrassed about wasting Cal's money, he showed no sign of it. "Something none of us was expecting, sir," said the foreman, "and there was nothing for it but to ask you to decide."
"I reckon you best come down into the old cellar with me and I'll show you."
With the house a ruin, it wasn't a safe enterprise, slipping down into the darkness of the cellar. Even when they got to the brightly lighted place where the floor above had been torn away, it was tricky walking without banging head or shins into some lurking obstruction. But at last the foreman brought him to a stone foundation wall with a small hole knocked in it.
Cal definitely did not see. Not till the foreman took out several more stones and held a lantern into the opening. Only then did it become clear that there was a tunnel connecting the cellar with . . . what?
"Where does it lead?"
"Sent the boy down there, and he popped out in the gully. Looks like them Varleys was smuggling niggers out before the war."
Cal tightened his lips. "I hope you'll never use that term in my presence again."