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The Evening Spider by Emily Arsenault

Last week I reviewed What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault.  This week I'm reviewing the same author's fifth novel, The Evening Spider.  I've read and reviewed all of the authors novels so far, and there's a sixth coming next year.  This novel has some supernatural overtones which is a departure from her previous novels.

Initially I was really on the fence with this one. Its depiction of a 'hysterical woman,' who is really a woman who doesn't conform to the contemporary social norms of her time, and as a result is committed to an asylum in the 1880's for the convenience of her husband, is a story that is disturbing and difficult for me to read.  This story line is coupled with the foreboding and foreshadowing in the present time story line that implies that the modern day woman may be headed the same way.  However, as it turns out the former woman is committed for far more sinister reasons than her non-conformity to social norms of the day.

In 1885 Frances has made an ill advised marriage to a much older man that produces a daughter whom she loves dearly.  However, Frances has difficulty adjusting to motherhood, and in the wake of the birth her sanity and her marriage go downhill fast.  At this point Frances has been in the asylum for several years, and she tells her own story of how she came to be committed post haste to the asylum in narration to her brother.  It's debatable as to whether or not Frances is actually mentally ill or merely a victim of a husband who wanted to be rid of her for whatever reason.  The mysterious murder of a local young woman some years previously also plays a role in Frances's story.

In the present time line Abby is in the middle of a sabbatical year taken to stay home with her infant daughter.  However, mysterious sounds in her daughter's room and mysterious bruises that appear on her daughter prompt Abby to dig into the history of the house in which they live.  In fact the same house was inhabited by Frances and her young family over a hundred years ago.  It's clear that the mysterious phenomena emanate from and center around Abby's daughter's room and may even have been triggered by her birth.  But what do they mean?  And how do they connect to Frances's story?

Abby delves into the history of the house and its previous occupant, Frances, and as she digs, the details of a mysterious tragedy shrouded by history emerges.  And it hints of a far more recent trauma buried in Abby's own past and that begins to surface in her memories.  How are Abby's difficulties connected to Frances's history and residual presence?  How are they related to Abby's buried trauma being stirred up by the stresses of new motherhood and the monotony of staying at home with her daughter?

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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