The Birthing House
by Christopher Ransom
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
St. Martin's Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312385842
Date: 04 August 2009 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Conrad Harrison has never had a steady job. After inheriting a large sum of money, he flees the stress of Los Angeles. On impulse, without consulting his workaholic wife Joanna, he buys an old Victorian house in the secluded, rural town of Black Earth, Wisconsin. Conrad learns that it served as a birthing house during the Civil War. Poor, unwed, pregnant women went there to give birth.
Joanna leaves for a training class in Detroit. Conrad is soon plunged into a nightmare while investigating the house's mysterious history. He hears a baby's crying. A faceless, grotesque doll menaces him. He sees fleeting images of an angry woman who could be his wife's twin. Conrad discovers that she is a malevolent, vindictive spirit intent on being the only mother inside the birthing house. All other pregnant women who enter must die. Unfortunately, Joanna is pregnant.
Christopher Ransom's controversial debut novel, The Birthing House, is extremely bizarre and creepy. It is reminiscent of Jay Anson's The Amityville Horror in that a violent act of murder occurred in the past and a vindictive spirit wants to possess the new owners in order to reenact the bloodshed. It is a suspenseful, psychological horror novel that the reader will find difficult to lay aside before learning the dark secrets of the house. The spine tingling finale is very downbeat and open, the type of finale that made horror films and novels of the seventies extremely enjoyable.
Usually it is a woman who is victimized in a horror novel. Not so with The Birthing House. The macabre events unfold through the eyes and experiences of the lonely, underachieving Conrad who suffers most of the abuse from the evil spirit. His wife is physically absent from the house except for the novel's beginning and climax. Consequently, the Harrisons' rocky marriage is strained. They bicker continuously over the telephone. Working couples living apart can greatly sympathize with them.
Conrad's yearning to be a stay-at-home father is the catalyst for the possession that occurs. Complicating matters even more is Nadia Grum who lives next door. Young, attractive, pregnant, and unwed, she soon falls under Conrad's protection during Joanna's absence. Their relationship slowly turns from platonic to romantic, causing the house's evil spirit to become jealous. The reader will become enthralled by the ensuing drama that resembles the bizarre love triangles that existed in Dark Shadows, a gothic soap opera that was popular in the late sixties and early seventies.
A devout fan of the horror genre, I can safely say that fans of horror novels, especially those dealing with haunted houses, will greatly enjoy The Birthing House. A mixture of the macabre and surreal, this novel depicts supernatural events that are never completely understood or explained. This is one of those novels you may want to re-read after learning the house's dark secrets. Some readers may be offended by some of the graphic sexual acts and language committed by Conrad. However, they are pertinent to the plot, considering that characters (both alive and undead) want a baby.
Christopher Ransom spent three years writing The Birthing House. It began as a drama about the strained relationship experienced by a working couple living apart. It slowly evolved into a ghost story when he decided to have them living inside a haunted birthing house. While writing this novel, Ransom and his wife moved from Los Angeles to the small rural town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin where they bought a 140-year-old Victorian house. He soon learned that it had been a birthing house around the turn of the century. He jokes that it may have forced him to write The Birthing House. I hope it forces him to write more suspenseful novels of psychological horror.