Book Review: The Women in the Walls, Amy Lukavics (2016)

September 28th, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

The Women in the Walls are no Devilish Daughters

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

So ever since I found Walter dead, I’ve been acting as if nothing happened, even though on the inside I’m beginning to unravel, slowly, like a thread being pulled painstakingly from its spool. Something isn’t right in this house.

So I saw that one early reviewer read Daughters Unto Devils and The Women in the Walls back-to-back, and thought it a pretty swell idea; after all, Daughters has been in my TBR pile for going on a year now, and what better time to read it than an Amy Lukavics binge? Now that I’ve finished, I’m not entirely sure it was the best move. I really enjoyed Daughters, and Women was a bit of a letdown by comparison; but, had I read Women first, it’s quite likely that Daughters would have taken a drastic hit in priority. So it’s a bit of a toss-up.

Both books have the same general vibe, but whereas Daughters masterfully balanced psychological suspense with supernatural horror – creating a tension between the two and sowing doubt in the reader’s mind as to what’s real and what’s imagined – Women tips the scales heavily in favor of the paranormal, and pretty early on, too. And I think the story suffers for it; there’s just not the same feeling of pressure and something’s-gotta-give anxiety.

Maybe it’s the setting, too; whereas the Verners were trapped together in a tiny little mountain cabin (and then a slightly larger, yet even more isolated, prairie homestead), Women takes place on a sprawling estate, where the three remaining members of the Acosta family can go days without laying eyes on one another. When the shit goes down and a police officer is nowhere to be seen – a point Lucy presses her father on continuously – you kind of wonder why she doesn’t just pick up the phone and call someone? Or use the internet? The estate’s disconnectedness from the real world had me wondering if maybe Women was set in another time or world. But nope! Eventually we learn that Google does indeed exist, yet email is apparently beyond our hero’s grasp. It’s a real head-scratcher.

Lukavics mastered the slow burn with Daughters; while it’s clear that Women is shooting for a similar feel, the story is way too drawn out, even tedious at times. (I considered DNF’ing around the 69% mark, but the power of Patty Daughters compelled me forward.) It’s also ~70 pages longer, so.

In a similar vein, the ending of Women is much less ambiguous and more clearly spelled out for us than in Daughters. Sometimes coy conclusions frustrate me, but in Daughters the uncertainty fit nicely with the rest of the story. Women’s ending kind of pales in contrast. There’s nothing held back, no puzzles to keep your mind running circles at night.

There are some other elements I though Women could do without. The whole country club thing is weird and confusing and never fully resolved (or at least not to my satisfaction; what is it that the club does, again?). I feel like maybe Lukavics was trying to make a statement about wealth and class and privilege – similar to how she addressed sexual double standards in Daughters – but if there’s a point here, I’m afraid it went over my head. The characters alternate between having zero personality – or being wholly unlikable. Lucy and Margaret, for example, mock the country club wives for their vanity and obsession with wealth and reputation – yet they treat the cook’s kid Vanessa like garbage. Hypocrites much?

Overall, The Women in the Walls is an okay enough read. Some of the imagery is pretty great – jars of teeth; a skittering, Cicada-like creature; a mysterious, haphazard cemetery with unmarked tombs; legs and arms and heads served on THE GOOD CHINA – and Lukavics has a pretty wicked imagination. I’d love to crack her noggin open and see what else is lurking inside.

Maybe it’s not entirely fair to compare her freshman and sophomore books, but reading them so close together, it’s kind of hard not to. The curse of misplaced expectations strikes again!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Lucy’s mother Eva died of a brain aneurysm when she was just three. Her aunt Penelope and cousin Margaret moved into the Acosta family estate with Lucy and her father Felix shortly thereafter; Lucy considers Penelope to be her mom. Lucy started self-harming around the age of ten to cope with all the pressure put on her by her family. Margaret is described once in passing as having brown skin (along with raven curls like Penelope). Given that Acosta is a Spanish and Portuguese surname, it’s safe to assume that Margaret and Lucy are Latina on their maternal side. (Also, Penelope has a collection of Spanish cookbooks that belonged to her grandmother, so.)

Animal-friendly elements: n/a

 

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