So far this is my favorite Hawthorn novel, although to say that is deceiving. I have only read “The House of the Seven Gables” and “The Scarlet Letter” which I loathed… even seeing the cover of the “Scarlet Letter” brings on waves of nausea which only large quantities of sunshine and a good dose of trashy horror novels can cure. But that was long ago, and I am a much more mature reader now, besides, people call this a horror novel.
This is not a horror novel… It’s some sort of family drama/morality tale with a smattering of bad romance thrown in. So is it terrible? No, Hawthorn does have a way with words… but I also believe that he thinks his readers have the short term memory of a melon, therefore he has a tendency to continually bash the reader over the head with an idea until he is absolutely positive that even a mouth breathing troglodyte will not only understand, but also have it burned into the interior of their skull.
Short Summary: Loooong ago a maniacal Puritan leader by the name of Pyncheon falsely executed a local by the name of Matthew Maule by claiming he was a wizard and in league with the devil. As he was hung, Maule uttered a curse on both Pyncheon and his descendents. Pyncheon then takes over Maule’s land, plows his house under and builds his own enormous dwelling on top of it – a house with Seven Gables. Flash forward to the 19th century and we have the descendants of Pyncheon, still living in the house and suffering as their family’s wealth, status and sanity have dwindled to almost nothing. The elderly Hepzibah Pyncheon(that’s a female name by the way) is forced to open a penny shop to try to bring food in. Enter Pheobe Pyncheon, a niece who has come to stay with Hepzibah and is full of life and vitality. They run the shop, do some gardening and entertain Clifford (Hepzibah’s brother) all the while living in fear of their cousin Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon who seems to want something from them.
There were some parts of this book I enjoyed, and the over all concept was interesting… the sins of the father shall be paid for by the sons, but there is a lot that is left unexplained. And the reader is never sure if there truly is a curse or if the fear of a curse is what has kept the Pyncheon family down for all of these generations. Their sense of pride is almost a physical character in the book. In truth there is only one likeable character in the book, and that’s Pheobe… and Hawthorn is so determined to make us like her that he goes on and on about everything she does, how she looks, how bloody cheerful she is, how everything is better as long as Pheobe is around… to the point that the reader hopes a ghost either gets her so that we don’t have to read any more about her or grabs the rest of the household so that she can live in peace.
I understand the historical significance of Hawthorn’s works, and his mastery of the language. However this particular book becomes almost as suffocating as the house itself, dreary, stifling, repetitious and sadly… the reader may find themselves searching for a way to escape (much as Clifford does)… lucky for us the escape is much easier than it is for the characters. There are other classics that I would recommend before digging into this one. It’s not a difficult read, after the first 15 pages or so the language clicks and you can read it quite easily… it’s just not an overly exciting read, nor is it an overly rewarding read.