The Ghost of Longthorn Manor and Other Stories by Amy Cross is a collection of short stories published, 18 December 2016. I like collections of short stories because I can carry the collection around at work reading a quick short story whenever spare time appears. This is not that kind of collection. I read the 352-page collection in one session. Each story teases the reader into the next one. Is there a connection that binds all the stories together? There seems to be such a connection except for the last surprising, twisty, possibly stand-alone tale controlled primarily by a writer (who could be Amy Cross). It also takes place in a house which could be Longthorn Manor but in this last story, the house is not such an active participant.
For the first seven stories, a reader might consider the house a very active protagonist. This is certainly true in The House Speaks. Fans of Amy Cross should be happy with the table of contents. Each of the first seven titles is followed by the words “previously unpublished.” The writer, the final tale, has the additional note “completely rewritten version.” All the stories are good, typical for Cross, but I really liked the last one. Cross seems to be making fun of or at least writing about, herself.
The Ghost of Longthorn Manor Penelope and Stephen were siblings living to together at Longthorn Manor. Penelope was terrified at ghostly events that happened. Stephen fueled her anxieties, encouraging her to believe in a ghost and even manufacturing evidence to prove a ghostly presence. Her life was ruled by terror. Now, at age 58 Penelope has returned to face her fears. She stays in the house alone for a few days awaiting Stephen. Now it is her turn for revenge. For her and the ghost.
Isn’t This the House Where… Jake and Daria sneaked into the house in 2004. Daria was interested in getting past the virginity thing. Jake and Angela visit the house in 2008; Angela is just there for the sex. Jake and Hazel drop by in 2011. Jake has been a busy man until today when he met Erin. Erin is never wrong.
The House Speaks This is my nomination for the second best story of the collection. The house has seen many people come and go; there have been many disturbing criminal acts committed inside its walls. The house is having some problems with memory. Was it Jennifer or Kelly who was suffering abuse by her father. The names were so hard to keep straight. Remodeling takes a toll on memory.
Touched Louise never felt comfortable making her living through webcam sex but it was for the greater good. It paid her way through medical school. She was able to put the images of her clients out of her mind, especially one of them. She really wanted to see the client with the username “Touched,” but it seemed impossible. Was this just a technical glitch?
Black Pages Johnny, Polly, Rebecca, and dad moved into a house with a history. Polly’s mom, Rebecca, knows the history but won’t tell. Polly is an obsessive writer. She writes down everything as it happens in notebook after notebook. She is on notebook 350 as this story takes place. She writes as she is eating. She writes in the shower; she writes in the bathroom. She can’t stop writing; if she does, bad things will happen. In fact, bad things happened. But at least the cops have the notebooks as evidence.
The Swimming Pool This is a zombie story. Zombies have attempted to take over mankind and they almost made it. But humans retaliated and, although there are holdouts, most zombies have been terminated. Nobody believes there are any zombies in Amanda’s neighborhood. Except Amanda. And she has proof.
My Father’s House Paula and Dougie inherited their father’s house. Dougie and wife Karen want to sell it. Paula is thinking about keeping it but first wants to visit and go through her father’s effects. Paula visits the house in the dead of winter and faces several challenges, such as how to get enough firewood to keep the house heated. But help is at hand. Paula doesn’t know who is piling up the wood outside her door as she needs it. Maybe it’s her dad. Maybe it’s the witcharoo. Paula doesn’t know. Greta, the psychic, might have explained it when she visited Paula but on the way home Greta had an accident and is dead. She wanted to discuss this with Dougie and Karen, but they died in an unexplained house fire. Maybe she should keep the house.
The Writer This is the best story of the collection. It also holds a surprise ending that I cannot believe anyone would anticipate. Cross leads the reader to believe it will end one way, then causes the reader to believe it might end another way, then she ends the story on her own terms with a terrific surprise which totally justified me spending the time to read the novel in one sitting.
I was/am a very happy reader.