Reviewed by Elaine Lamkin
Written by Sarah Langan
Published by Harper Collins
Start out with a creepy New York City apartment building with a history of tragedy. Add a new tenant with a history of mental illness. People the apartment building with some VERY peculiar residents. Sound vaguely familiar? I thought so, too, but Stoker Award-winning author Sarah Langan freely admits her influences from Rosemary’s Baby, The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining, and The Tenant. But there is one book Langan was not familiar with but I saw a lot of its influence: Jeffrey Konvitz’s The Sentinel (which was filmed in 1977 and starred Cristina Raines, Chris Sarandon, and a very creepy Burgess Meredith).
Poor Audrey Lucas, who suffers from OCD, has finally managed to escape her horrific past and her crazy mother (she’s locked up in a Nebraska mental hospital) and fulfill her dream of being a architect in New York. But she has to find a place to live after breaking up with her boyfriend, adoring and adorable Saraub Ramesh. When she sees an ad for an apartment in the historic Breviary Building and then sees that the rent is only $999 a month, she KNOWS her luck can’t possibly be that good. But it is (or isn’t depending on how you look at Audrey’s story) because a horrific tragedy occurred in the apartment not so long ago, and, as a result, very few people are interested in living there. Audrey is also thrilled to have an opportunity to live in The Breviary as it is the only remaining example of an architectural style called Chaotic Naturalism where there are no right angles; everything is just slightly off center.
Almost as soon as Audrey moves into The Breviary, weird things start happening. Dreams of a tall, thin man playing a piano, red ants crawling everywhere, scratching noises that Audrey hears at all hours of the day … and night, nightmares about the tragedy that occurred to the previous tenant as well as seeing her neighbors change into spider-like creatures and waking up to see that someone has begun building a door in the middle of the apartment with whatever is available.
And then there are Audrey’s creepy neighbors, all very old and decrepit save one – Loretta Parker next door, who has had WAAYY too much plastic surgery and also continues to dress as though the year were 1930. Martin Heast, whose family has lived in The Breviary since it opened during the Civil War. Elaine Alexander, who loves the soap opera General Hospital just a LITTLE too much. Evvie Waugh, who beats his head on the floor of his apartment. Francis Galton, whose own plastic surgery procedure didn’t go well and is forced to wear a porcelain mask with holes for only his eyes and nose. Young stand-up comedienne and overly bubbly Jayne Young from across the hall and even more bizarre tenants on other floors.
Like in The Sentinel, the tenants expect something of Audrey. Something so horrifying that Audrey will do almost anything to avoid it – she goes to Nebraska to visit her mother, who is the source of most of Audrey’s mental problems as an adult. She works excessively on a project for her tough as nails boss, Jill Sidenschwandt, who is going through her own tragedy of losing a child to cancer.
Audrey’s Door is a fascinating character study of a woman with her own childhood demons to fight finding herself fighting new and possibly much more dangerous demons. What Audrey’s Door is not is particularly scary. I love a good haunted house story, but Audrey’s Door just never reached the fear levels induced by such books as The Shining, The Haunting of Hill House, or even The Sentinel. It has a few creepy moments, but they are few and far between. What I enjoyed were Langan’s characters and how they all had realistic backstories: Audrey’s fiancé, Saraub; her mother, Betty; her boss, Jill; and even her slightly annoying neighbor, Jayne. And the backstory on The Breviary, which pops up throughout the novel as faux newspaper articles.
I enjoyed Langan’s first two novels, The Keeper and especially The Missing, but Audrey’s Door was something of a letdown. Still, if you are a fan of urban living horror, I would say give Audrey’s Door a chance (and if you are also a fan of The Sentinel, read Audrey’s Door and let me know if you think there are some similarities).
2 out of 5
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