E. F. Schraeder’s first novella, Liar: Memoir of a Haunting is a challenging book. A slow-burn gothic horror, its pace is slow, its reveals are subtle and its answers are not freely given, but it is a book that rewards those willing to give themselves over to a story that delivers something that gets under your skin and quietly disturbs without overreliance on big action or violent set-pieces.
Alex and Rainey are looking for a change. Tiring of their life in the city they are looking to escape to somewhere a little more tranquil, where they can live off-grid in a place that offers them the tolerance and acceptance they are yet to find. They soon find Sugar House, picturesque and secluded, located in rural Vermont, it seems too good to be true.
When Alex is forced to stay behind to care for her ailing mother, leaving Rainey alone in their new home, she becomes obsessed with the local history and the challenges of living a whole new life start to impact her mental health. As Rainey starts to suspect something sinister may be going on at Sugar House, the couple is forced to confront the fact that their new home may not have been the fresh new start they had hoped for.
This was a book I would have enjoyed regardless, but it hit home for me all the more given we are, at the time of writing this, in the midst of a pandemic. The themes of isolation and the gradual deterioration of one’s mental health is something that is far more relatable to a greater number of people than it perhaps would have been had the book come out at a different time. It made for some uncomfortable reading at times, heightened by Schraeder’s delicate and understated approach which deftly avoids overt generalizations and willingness to let her readers piece together the subtle hints and clues about what is really going on at Sugar House.
With little in the way of major events or encounters, there is a lot riding on how the readers connect with the book’s leads and Alex and Rainey are both strong and memorable characters who are given plenty of space to develop and change as the book goes on. Sugar House itself also acts as a character in its own right, offering the couple a happy new life at first and gradually proving to be the wedge driving them apart. It has been great to read more diverse representation in horror recently and the strong characterization of Alex and Rainey is hopefully a positive sign of things to come in terms of LGBTQ portrayals in the genre.
Liar may not be a book to suit everyone’s tastes. It is a book that requires patience and careful reading, but also one that offers a genuinely unsettling, uncomfortably relatable story for those willing to persevere. Those who do will discover a character-driven, thoughtful and disturbing story all the more scary for how relevant it is for us all at this moment.
Liar: Memoir of a Haunting by E. F. Schraeder
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When the Sugar House is damaged and Rainey goes missing, Alex doesn’t know where to turn. Was it a storm, vandals, or something worse? What happened at the Sugar House? The only thing worse than wondering is finding out.
DescriptionWho doesn’t crave a little escape? Dreaming of small town life and rural charm, Alex and Rainey find a deal on an old rustic home they can’t resist. But soon after Rainey moves, her preoccupation with weird local history and the complications of living alone in the woods take a toll. Alex worries that the long nights and growing isolation are driving her stir crazy. When the Sugar House is damaged and Rainey goes missing, Alex doesn’t know where to turn. Was it a storm, vandals, or something worse? What happened at the Sugar House? The only thing worse than wondering is finding out.
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