The House Next Door Essay - Critical Essays

Anne Rivers Siddons


Much of the immediate inspiration for this novel seems to be derived from an even more famous account of a dream house turned nightmare abode, Jay Ansons The Amityville Horror (1977), which was published the year before The House Next Door. This self-described nonfiction work recounts the predicament of the real-life Lutz family, which buys a house despite the fact that it had been the scene of a mass murder. Although their residence in the place does not prove fatal to them, the Lutzes do experience personality changes, very much like the characters in Anne Siddons novel.

The House Next Door is part of a long tradition of haunted house narratives that subdivides roughly into two main categories. There are versions that stress the psychic interconnectedness between a haunted house and its haunted inhabitants. An example is Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), wherein the troubled soul of the house is a mirror of the deteriorating mental condition of the main character, Roderick Usher. Other versions focus on the setting as an independent entity, as in the case of Shirley Jacksons The Haunting of Hill House (1959), wherein an actively evil dwelling exploits the flaws of four people for its own demoniac purposes.

Siddons novel falls into the second category, with a focus on ordinary people confronting extraordinary events because of their occupancy of a sinister place. In this regard, some critics have objected not to the ordinariness of Siddons principal characters, the Kennedys, but to their self-satisfaction, which makes it difficult for some readers to sympathize with their problems. Other critics point to the strength of the novels first-person narrator, Colquitt Kennedy, who acknowledges that she and her husband perhaps have been too “involved with each other” and need to “give more to the world”. Their campaign against the evil house may be their chance to balance the scales. The compelling voice of Colquitt Kennedy also gives evidence of the authors specialty—richly detailed accounts of the vicissitudes of spunky heroines in the American South. Siddons is essentially a local colorist. The House Next Door both reinforces and expands its authors canon. Although it features Southerners in a Southern locale, this third book by Siddons represents her first (and as of the mid-1990’s, only) foray into fantasy literature.