Okay, go with me here—you know how in The Exorcist movie, each time the camera pans up the staircase (the one in the living room where the spider walk happens, not the one outside that features in the end of the movie), stopping at the closed bedroom door Regan is ensconced behind? You know the overwhelming feeling of oppressive dread that accompanies that camera, not knowing what you’re about to see behind that bedroom door?
Yeah. Sarah Gailey absolutely nails that feeling with Just Like Home. This is an oppressive, claustrophobic, deeply unsettling gothic masterpiece that is unlike anything else I’ve read by Gailey, except of course in terms of writing excellence.
Vera’s mother is dying, and asks her to come home to the house she grew up in, the house her father built with his own two hands—the same hands he used to torture and murder men in the basement. Vera’s feelings about her father are deeply conflicted, as he may have been a notorious serial killer, but they shared a loving, close relationship. Her mother, on the other hand, was a cold, hard, unloving woman, and even now, near death, her heart has not thawed.
Vera has conflicted feelings about the house as well, a place where unspeakable atrocities happened. Her homecoming is haunted by the horrors that have seeped into the walls and foundation, by the hostile townspeople with long memories who still hate her for what her father did, and by the latest in a long line of artists living in the guesthouse, parasites looking for inspiration and leeching off the soul of the serial killer.
Gailey excels at putting us inside Vera’s troubled mind, a dark place, and forcefully keeping us there, never letting us look away. Vera’s childhood home is a prison of sorts to her, and her mind mirrors that, a malignant coffin box of memories and trauma. Just Like Home is unrelenting, sometimes punishing, but always mesmerizing.
I mentioned earlier that this is unlike anything else by Gailey, and that’s true. Their last novel, The Echo Wife, was a tour de force science fiction drama about cloning. Now, having read this, I hope they play in the gothic horror sandbox again. Just Like Home is absolutely brilliant.