The Dark House represents the best of what we at Discover seek to do: uncover literary surprises from unexpected sources. Although the program doesn't generally include more commercially oriented suspense thrillers, we found The Dark House so unique and absorbing, it was unimaginable for us to exclude this spellbinding story of obsession, greed and redemption from our summer recommendations.
In this gripping debut, John Sedgwick takes readers on a haunting psychological voyage. Beginning one night in front of a dark house outside Boston, we meet Edward Rollins. Handsome and monied, but at only 37, plagued by the lack of his own accomplishment, Rollins finds himself tormented by unsettling childhood memories. Though Rollins has taken to randomly following cars to their homes at night, the real window he seeks to peer into is much closer to his own heart, involving the disappearance of a beautiful and talented cousin.
Through his relentless pursuit of the truth, secrets long interred are painfully exposed, ultimately forcing his mother into a brutal and cathartic confession, and forcing an elemental showdown between Rollins and his long-estranged father in another dark house in Vermont.
Much more than a mystery, Sedgwick's compelling debut is an exploration of family and the strength of familial connections.
Barnes & Noble.com Reviews The Dark House
We can now add John Sedgwick's name to the growing list of gifted young writers who have entered the suspense field in recent months. Sedgwick's debut, The Dark House, is a complex, immensely readable book that brings to mind another memorable debut: Peter Moore Smith's recently published Raveling. Like Raveling, The Dark House is a novel about the lingering aftermath of an unexplained disappearance. Like Raveling, it is also an account of a family undone by secrets and lies, and by the indelible memory of a senseless domestic tragedy.
The central figure of The Dark House -- and, eventually, its hero -- is Edward Rollins, an eccentric, modestly wealthy member of an upper crust New England family who has a peculiar -- and dangerous -- hobby. Rollins is, in effect, a voyeur, a benign, non-predatory observer who compulsively follows randomly selected motorists, collecting glimpses of their private lives, and recording his impressions on tapes that constitute an ongoing record of his one-sided encounters with the outside world. These encounters are Rollins's way of connecting with that world. They provide him with a kind of second-hand life, and allow him to exist on his own chosen terms: as "a vacancy, a being without substance or history, drifting through other people's lives."
As the narrative begins, Rollins is engaged in what he believes is one more randomly chosen "pursuit." He follows his quarry -- a gaunt, insurance salesman-type in a late model Audi -- to the eponymous "dark house" somewhere north of Boston. The gaunt man then enters the house -- which appears to be deserted -- and remains inside for several hours, but never turns on the lights. Disproportionately intrigued by this unusual behavior, Rollins breaks two of his most fundamental rules. He tells the story of his nocturnal adventure to an attractive co-worker named Marj Simmons, and then returns to the house, accompanied by Marj, on the following night. Although he doesn't know this at the time, Rollins's decision to indulge his curiosity will alter the conditions of his life, leading him, in time, to an unplanned confrontation with the buried secrets of his -- and his family's -- troubled past.
To begin with, Rollins learns that his chosen quarry may, in fact, have chosen him, seducing him into what only appears to be a "random" pursuit. Subsequent encounters -- with the driver of the Audi, and with a shady real estate agent named Jerry Sloan -- and subsequent research into the recent history of the dark house reveal unexpected connections to the unsolved mysteries -- and central tragedies -- of the supremely dysfunctional Rollins family. Included among them are the facts behind the traumatic divorce of Rollins's parents; the long suppressed story of the accidental drowning of Stephanie Rollins, Edward's younger sister; and the unresolved disappearance of Cornelia (Neely) Blanchard, Edward's cousin, friend, and former babysitter.
As the narrative progresses, the story of Neely Blanchard -- who disappeared without a trace some seven years before -- becomes the dominant thread in a complex web of interconnected histories, each of which serves to illuminate the others. Illumination is, in fact, both the central theme and primary objective of this cumulatively compelling narrative. As Rollins investigates the mysteries surrounding the dark, deserted house, he gradually illuminates the true story behind Neely's disappearance. Along the way, he confronts the forces that have turned him into a lonely, detached outsider, and begins the process of reconnecting with the everyday human world.
The result of all this is a satisfying and substantial novel that occasionally succumbs to implausibility and melodramatic excess. For the most part, though, The Dark House works both as a psychological drama and as a literate, suspenseful thriller. John Sedgwick -- who is, by the way, a member of the same family that produced film star Kyra Sedgwick and Warhol icon Edie Sedgwick -- is a welcome new discovery, a gifted storyteller who has something to say about the subterranean forces that shape -- and warp -- the human personality. At its frequent best, The Dark House offers many pleasures and a few surprises, and marks the arrival of an ambitious, potentially significant new writer. I'll be watching his future development with considerable interest.