Sunday, November 3, 2013

There Was An Old Woman by Hallie Ephron

“Don’t let him in until I’m gone,” elderly recluse Sandra Ferrante whispers to a neighbor as the paramedics load her into an ambulance in the aftermath of a drunken fall.

When her estranged daughter, Evie, arrives she is shocked to discover that her mother’s house is at risk of being condemned by the health department. It’s a real mess to put it mildly. Filth, squalor, rot, decay, garbage, and vermin galore. Oddly, right in the center of it all is a brand new flat screen tv her mother’s scant social security income could never afford, the liquor bottles are of an expensive brand of vodka instead of the usual cheap stuff, and, when she examines the financial records, she discovers her mother has paid off her thousands of dollars of credit card debt without any money going in or out of her bank account. The mail is also full of mysterious envelopes containing stacks of $100 bills. Who are they from? What are they for?

Mom’s condition has deteriorated, so she’s not able to enlighten Evie, and her nearest neighbor, Mrs. Yetner has problems of her own. She’s becoming increasingly forgetful and accident prone. She’s worried she’s developing dementia like her late sister. Her nephew Brian is inclined to agree and is very eager to get her into a nursing home. And what about those papers he wants her to sign?

Is something sinister going on in the neighborhood? Or is it just a case of old age and the inevitable decline? Sorry, no spoilers today.

This was an interesting novel that kept me up and turning pages until the very end, but not quite what I was expecting. When it was suggested to me it was being presented more as a horror novel, or a thriller, that first tantalizing line “Don’t let him in until I’m gone,” had me very curious. But there’s nothing supernatural stalking through these pages, what mysteries and evil deeds there are in this novel are entirely human.

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