To find his muse, writer David Binder, under pressure to produce another successful novel, moves his pregnant wife and daughter to a renowned haunted farmhouse, where the legend of the Bell Witch still rankles with the locals. Set amongst the landscape of a rural farm in Tennessee, the house is filled with secrets that Binder envelopes in his quest for research and the spark of a bestseller. Cut between the horror of experience of the previous inhabitants of the house and Binder’s unravelling, the book, although good, feels unfinished, as it must be, since the manuscript and notes were found after the death of the author, William Gay in 2012.
The classic dramatic question is set, what price a good story, Little Sister Death has been described as Southern Gothic, as was the style of the author. The descriptions of the landscape, the isolation, the people and the hauntings are vivid and mystical. Likened to The Shining, the trajectory of Binder is similar to that of King’s character, Jack Torrance, and much like the theme of alcoholism weaves through The Shining, I found Gay’s novel to be themed as much about mental health as it is about hauntings – and that’s cool too as the two go hand-in-hand anyway, especially in gothic fiction.
Yes, given the component parts, desperate author, isolated farmhouse, history of notorious hauntings, it could have become clichéd, and veers slightly that way, though I suspect that the novel would have gone so much deeper in terms of the psychological horror, given the obvious strength of the late author’s storytelling. I enjoyed it; perhaps because those unwritten links and conclusions provided me the blank canvas of imagination, filling the shadowed gaps left open to interpretation by the passing of a gifted writer.