Modern architecture is evil and will make people have aberrant sex and kill and other things frowned upon by civilized society. Narrated by a character called Colquitt Kennedy, a stolid middle-class Southern woman, The House Next Door tells the tales of three families who move into a new house next door to the Kennedys. All are destroyed in one way or another, ostensibly by the house.
Famously dissected in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, Siddons’ novel is a look at social mores and conventions of a well-to-do neighbourhood. This picture-book perfect idyll gets slowly eroded in the course of the novel, with friendships shattered and families destroyed. The corrupting influence, Colquitt the narrator deduces, is the new house built by a hotshot architect, which seems to enhance already existing fractures in its new inhabitants.
Some of the first events can be easily explained away as just human tragedies. But the coincidences keep mounting, until only one explanation persists. The house, a modern creation recalling perhaps the works of Frank Lloyd Wright in the way it seems to grow from the ground, works in mysterious ways, it’s never too obvious in its actions, rather it’s as if it’s pushing people’s buttons to cause as much harm as possible. People get inappropriately horny, the TV suddenly shows a movie that isn’t in any schedule, and so on. It’s how people react to these triggers that creates the horror.
All this insidiousness, however, makes the novel a very slow burn. Siddons’ language and colloqualisms are nice and there’s a lot of good, ominous stuff to keep the novel going between the horrors, which, when they come, are explicit and brutal, at least to a mind lulled by all the pleasant Southern babble in between. Persist, and the novel yields plentiful rewards.
In the end, the narrator tries to warn people about the house, and in the process also destroys her own reputation. Or did the house destroy her too, only more slowly? The true horror, for the narrator, is not death or mental illness. It’s the loss of social standing. The house always wins.