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 find a devoted readership. Although the story falls within a genre that is well-established, Ransom here defies tropes with the  kind of syntax only the most gifted writers can tap. 

Initially, I must admit to almost 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. However, The Birthing House does not deserve this dime-store treatment. Of course, there are comparisons to other books, but the author has shoved all of these together with such disparate force The Birthing House 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.  After his wife disappears on a training program, Conrad is left behind to soak up the house's long and unique history. When the neighbors decide to hightail it for a holiday while leaving behind their pregnant daughter Nadia, the house decides more history is in the offing … this time featuring Conrad and his pregnant friend.

After much consideration, The Birthing House is the literary equivalent to Nirvana’s semaphore effort In Utero; an album whose music and artwork is 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 event of existence steeped in blood and mystery. It’s full of life, the prose like 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, Ransom has consulted that which has come before: Bag of Bones, A Winter Haunting, The Stake, Misery and Secret Window, Secret Garden. But The Birthing House resonates with his own unique interpretation of the concept … and this is the reason for its success.

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