Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review: The Birthing House

Christopher Ransom has burst from the blocks with one of the most astonishing debuts to emerge in recent years. He has created, with The Birthing House, a distinct and homely voice that will no doubt find a devoted readership. Although the story falls within a genre that goes beyond well-established, Ransom here defies the tropes with a kind of writing that only the most gifted writers can tap into.

Initially, I must admit to nearly bypassing this one. Etched on the bottom is the kind of mantra one wants to avoid when purchasing a novel: If you like Stephen King, you’ll love …’ Let’s face it: nine times out of ten these would-be Steve King’s fall very short on capturing anything but a swollen and pale imitation of a classic thriller. However, The Birthing House does not deserve such dime-store treatment. I will go as far as saying this book deserves the red carpet treatment with many other classics of the genre. Of course, there are comparisons to other books, but Christopher has shoved all of these together with such disparate and melting force that it reads like the ultimate homage … with Ransom’s unique voice shouting to be heard above the others …

Conrad Harrison is a man that likes new beginnings, fresh starts. The decision to pack up and move to Wisconsin from California seems a natural one after the death of his father. Although never close to the old man, his inheritance gives him an opportunity to move himself, his wife Jo, and their two dogs to a 140 year old Victorian house in Black Earth.  When his wife disappears for work on a training program, Conrad is left behind to soak up the house’s history … of which there is a lot. When the neighbors decide to hightail it for a holiday and leave their pregnant daughter Nadia behind, the house decides that it wants more history … this time featuring Conrad and his pregnant friend.

The Birthing House is the literary equivalent to Nirvana’s semaphore effort In Utero. That album’s music and artwork was themed with birth, babies, and new beginnings. Christopher Ransom’s book works in much the same way … inviting the reader to share with him an advent of existence that is steeped in blood and mystery. It’s full of life, the prose like that of a professional, and certainly not a debut.

To give birth to a novel like The Birthing House, to bring it into the world all bloody and screaming, Christopher Ransom had consulted that which came before him: The book falls under the umbrella of many novels like Bag of Bones, A Winter Haunting, The Stake, Misery and Secret Window, Secret Garden. But it fairly resonates with his own juxtaposition of the concept … and this is reason it has been so successful. 

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