The heavy sense of dread that hangs over Cat Winters’ work of gothic suspense, her first novel for adults, derives as much from the historical milieu as from this unnatural ability.
Set in fictional Buchanan, Illinois, population 12,500 (although the infrastructure and sprawling layout appear to resemble a larger city like Peoria rather than the small-town setting where I live), The Uninvited hits to the heart of why the year 1918 was such a terrifying time. The threats are all too human.
Ivy has barely recovered from a nasty bout of flu when she learns her father and younger brother have gone out and killed a German man who co-owned a local furniture store – in a horribly misguided act of revenge, since Ivy’s older brother Billy had recently died while fighting overseas. Feeling intense guilt over the deadly results of their “superpatriotic” sentiments, Ivy leaves her family’s white farm house and trudges past the city limits, with its sign warning visitors about the dreaded influenza.
When she seeks out the victim’s surviving brother, Daniel Schendler, in an effort to somehow make amends, she stumbles into an unexpected mutual attraction. Ivy is also drawn toward the syncopated rhythms emanating from the jazz club that’s sprung up at the Masonic Lodge downtown. Interestingly, the scene there is one of the few places in the city that recognizes people as equals, regardless of color or ethnicity.
The novel is drenched in atmosphere, both the terrible paranoia that caused Americans to turn on so-called enemy aliens during wartime – a shameful practice that continues to occur – and the heady release found in music. For fans of The Thirteenth Tale and other novels of that ilk, The Uninvited has more than one daring twist. (I felt proud at predicting one of them, but another blindsided me.) And either paradoxically or fittingly, in this story saturated by death, it also evokes the intoxicating joy that comes with being young, vibrant, and free. I recommend it as a shivery read this summer.
The Uninvited will be published by William Morrow in trade paperback in August (368pp, $14.99). Thanks to the publisher for approving my access via Edelweiss.