Indeed, that's just the kind of faux-pas that Anne Rivers Siddons, in The House Next Door, realizes terrifies up-and-coming, well-to-do folk in the New South in the modern age. They don't believe in boogeymen or poltergeists or their ilk, but an untended lawn in the dog days of August, or a family with too many kids' toys on the lawn, or a car in the drive that wasn't traded in this year, those are the types of things that make the neighborhood collectively shudder. Siddons, known today for genteel mainstream fiction, wrote her early bestseller in 1978. Stephen King championed it in his masterful study of horror Danse Macabre (1981), which is where I first heard of it. The cover of the 1995 Harper edition I first read was decidedly less macabre:
I've read this a couple times and really like it; its depiction of the easy, satisfying, slightly liberal social lives of smart young professional couples living in the rather upscale suburbs of Atlanta, is spot-on. But when the house in question, a stylish inviting marvel of modernity (unlike the home depicted on the original paperback), built by an aspiring and likable young bohemian architect, begins to affect its inhabitants at their most vulnerable spots, the game is on. The anxieties of trying to fit into predetermined societal strata, even when one is aware of their total bullshit quality, is relentlessly exploited. Colquitt Kennedy, the attractive Vanderbilt graduate in public relations, narrates the story in her calm, rational and perceptive manner:
We like our lives and our possessions to run smoothly. Chaos, violence, disorder, mindlessness all upset us. They don't frighten us, precisely, because we are aware of them. We watch the news, we are active our own brand of rather liberal politics. We know we have built a shell for ourselves, but we have worked hard for the means to do it; we have chosen it. Surely we have the right to do that.
And it's her, and her husband's, calm perception of what's happening that makes the reality so hard to accept or define. It's horror of the suburban kind, a masterful haunted house tale that's rooted in the most polite behavior, people horrified of giving offense or of bad taste. Jobs could be lost, marriages broken up, ugly family secrets revealed, tennis partner can turn against tennis partner. But The House Next Door don't really give a fuck about your property values or your oh-so-tidy lives, that's for sure.