This is the Hale farm.
Here is the old milking barn, the dark opening that says, Find me.
Here is the house, noisy with stories.
On 23 February, 1979, Gorge Clare returns home from work to find his wife, Catherine, brutally murdered in their bed. On the surface, it looks like a break in, but the details don’t add up. His young daughter, Franny, was home with her mother all day, but won’t say what, if anything, she saw.
Catherine is not the first woman to meet an unnatural death at the Hale farm. In fact, the house has a dark history.
The thing about houses: they chose their owners, not the other way around. And this house had chosen them.
Set in the fictive rural town of Chosen, New York, All Things Cease to Appear is immersive and sinister: a Gothic tale of domestic oppression and family breakdown.
The story follows two families: the Clares and the Hales, and the narrative shifts between the families and members of the Chosen township: slowly sketching the events leading up to Catherine’s murder and the death of Ella Hale in the same room the year before. It’s a haunted house story quite unlike any other. The Gothic pall never fully lifts, but for entire chapters, Brundage immerses the reader in the detail and routine of rural life. It’s only when Catherine, Franny or one of the women from the town finds themselves alone that the house begins to stir around them. But there’s no poltergeist slamming doors and knocking books from shelves, nor ghostly apparitions drifting through the halls. Rather, the house reflects the families that dwell within, creaking, sighing and falling apart little by little, despite Ella and Catherine’s near constant scrubbing and cleaning. And its rooms are full of echoes: one woman’s desperation reflecting another’s.
Brundage sets the eerie tone with a brief prologue narrated in first person plural by the past inhabitants of the house. The use of the collective ‘we’ establishes a mood of surveillance—all who enter the house are watched by unseen eyes:
Always the farm sings for us, its lost families, its soldiers and wives…
We wait. We are patient. We wait for news. We wait to be told. The wind is trying to tell us. The trees shift. It’s the end of something; we can sense it. Soon we will know.
Indeed, the narrative is much concerned with juxtapositions between the visible and invisible: the public and private self and, as the story progresses, the phenomenal and the sublime.
All Things Cease to Appear is also an intensive character study. At its heart are two marriages in decline, and Brundage not only delves deep into the lives and relationships of the family members involved but also into the lives of their friends and acquaintances, examining the marriages from all angles.
However, she particularly focuses on Catherine and Ella, both of whom imagined very different lives for themselves and whose husbands are not the men they hoped they’d married. The reader, like these women, feels increasingly trapped. Initially, the narrative swings from one perspective to another: from those inside the house to those who dwell beyond, and the women, too, move relatively freely. However, as the story progresses, the women begin to lose their resources and their movements become restricted. The reader too feels the windows and doors of the house sealing shut around them as the narrative grows increasingly introspective: an unstoppable force spiralling towards Catherine’s murder. It’s intense and claustrophobic and Brundage’s style nods towards both Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith.
All Things Cease to Appear is a good story, well told. It’s literary but not self-consciously so, and draws on the tropes of Gothic and suspense fiction without stooping to cheap thrills and schlocky plotting. On the surface, it’s a slow-burning, sinister thriller, but it rewards the reader who ventures deeper. If you like your fiction rich and dark, it’s an utterly compelling read.
Thank you to Hachette Australia for providing a copy of All Things Cease to Appear in exchange for an honest review.
Thanks also to Grammarly for picking up 4 critical issues in my draft of this review. If, like me, you have trouble with typos, do give Grammarly a go!
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