Sunday, February 15, 2009
The House on Tradd Street by Karen White
10. The House on Tradd Street
by Karen White
paperback, 329 pages
"I see dead people" is the famous line from The Sixth Sense, a movie which both fascinated and frightened me in pretty much equal parts. The difference between the movie and this book is the dead in the movie don't know they are dead, while those in the book do know. They come to visit and talk with Melanie Middleton seeking her help. Some of them need her to tell something to a loved one; some of them give her advice; some are waiting around for her to solve a problem that occurred while they were still alive.
Melanie has seen and spoken with the dead since she was a little girl, a quality she shares with her mother, who left her husband and child when Melanie was very young. This highly successful real estate woman learned a long time ago that the 'gift' or 'curse' should be kept locked in her heart, the same way she has locked away her grief at the loss of her mother. She's very tough on the outside; organized, beautiful, and seems to have it all, but as Mr. Lennon so aptly put it, she's 'crippled inside.'
When we first meet her, she has come to 55 Tradd Street hoping to get the listing on one of Charleston, South Carolina's desirable historical houses. Before she even goes inside, she sees a woman in 'an old-fashioned dress' pushing a swing. Her meeting with the owner of the house is going to completely change her life, but she doesn't know this. She can see the dead but she cannot see the future.
I really enjoyed this book, and I'd walk from room to room holding it in front of my nose during the day, and staying up reading very late at night because I couldn't put it down. When I wasn't reading, I was thinking about it. I loved the setting. I've read both fiction and non-fiction books set in Charleston, and it really does sound amazingly beautiful and very steeped in history. It is a perfect setting for a character who can't enter antique stores because she sees people, long-dead, living among their furniture. And Melanie is not the only one. Throughout the book, other people tell her about the phenomena they themselves are experiencing. She is able to reassure a little boy so he doesn't feel as crazy as she did at his age.
I was intrigued with the whole idea of communicating with the dead. We learn that not only does she see them, but the air changes temperature, and the smells around her change according to whether the 'ghost' is benevolent or malevolent. I liked the mystery element to the book which begins two days after Melanie visits the house on Tradd Street. The man dies, and leaves her the house. She can't sell it for a year. She must live in it for that time, and she must restore it using the money which he has also bequeathed to this amazed, and unhappy realtor. She hates old houses. Her own condo is white-walled and filled with new possessions. She doesn't want any visits from former occupants.
My only complaints about the book were with the main character herself. She makes some really stupid decisions, based on unsound reasoning. I don't like it when fictional women put themselves in unnecessary danger. My other complaint is purely personal. I'm not much for romance fiction where there's often an underlying misunderstanding and conflict between the male and female main characters. I know we are supposed to view it as the fallout from her past abandonment, but sometimes the character was just too much for me to take. Small potatoes, really. I will eagerly read the next one in the series.
I first heard of this book in November from Wendy. I called my local bookstore and ordered it for my daughter for Christmas, thinking I might want to read it myself sometime. She loved the book, as did her mother.