Monday, August 26, 2013


by Cassandra King
Maiden Lane Press     2013
390 pages     Fiction

This spring, my husband and I drove the Blue Ridge Parkway, spent a night in Asheville NC, visited the Biltmore Estate and were thoroughly enthralled with the area. Its beauty is mesmerizing. My best memory of that week was watching the blue mist rising with the dawn and descending with the dusk. Cassandra King uses the mountain setting to its best advantage in her new Southern Gothic, Moonrise. The setting is a perfect foil for the quasi-ghostly plot.

Emmet Justice, a TV journalist, has recently married Helen Honeycutt, a dietitian who runs a TV cooking show. Both have been married before and each has a young adult child. Emmet's wife, Roselyn, had been tragically killed the year before in an automobile accident in the mountains. The newlyweds move into Roselyn's family summer home, Moonrise, shortly after they are married. Several cottages are also on the beautiful mountain lake; they are the homes of longtime friends of Emmet and Roselyn. Emmet's friends think that this new marriage is a rebound relationship, and "the bride" as they call Helen won't last once Emmet comes to his senses. Thus they are not very welcoming to Helen, and she struggles to find her place in the group. 

Moonrise is narrated by three women who tell the story of the summer; Helen, Tansy, and Willa. Tansy is one of the neighboring cottage owners and a childhood friend of Roselyn. Willa runs a housecleaning business and takes care of the homes of all the cottage owners. Helen tells her own story. She has a lot to deal with--a huge house that belonged to the dead wife; a husband who seemingly is still grieving; and a step-daughter who doesn't want anything to do with her. Also intrinsic to the story are the other cottage owners--Linc and his wife Myna, Noel, who lives with Tansy, and Kit, Roselyn's oldest and dearest friend. And although she is no longer with them in the flesh, Roselyn fills the house and the friends with her presence. They are all interesting characters, although the women are far less likeable than are the men. 

I had to keep reminding myself that Helen is in her mid-forties. She comes across as a much younger and very insecure woman. One reviewer suggested it is a weakness of the novel that she allows herself to be mistreated by Tansy and Kit--particularly Kit. There are times that the back-stabbing and cattiness is reminiscent of junior high school--or perhaps Real Housewives, Blue Ridge Mountains. Yet, friendship remains one of the major themes of the book. These characters have known each other for decades and have become family to each other.  

King has been called the queen of the Southern Gothic genre. Indeed, Moonrise is replete with hints of ghostly presences, sinister plots, and haunted gardens. King says: "The lush, haunted landscape of the South is every bit as romantic as the wild moors of England and lends itself beautifully to the creation of a mysterious, darkly foreboding Gothic atmosphere." She also says that place is often a central character in her novels, and it certainly is in Moonrise, from the peaceful lake, to the neglected gardens,  and the mansion itself.  Helen calls the house her "own personal House of Horrors." She says, "Funny, a house as grand and richly furnished as Moonrise at my disposal, and I can only relax when it's out of my sight."

In an interview King mentions that she got the idea for the book during a summer vacation spent at an old house in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She brought along Daphne Du Maurier's famous novel Rebecca, and the combination of the setting and the novel inspired Moonrise. This is the 75th anniversary of Rebecca, which was made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940. Moonrise is, in part, an homage to Rebecca. I read Rebecca years ago, but my husband and I watched the movie this week. You can find the whole movie on YouTube here. It was Hitchcock's first American project and it won the 1940 Academy Award for best picture. Great movie. 

 Southern Gothic is not one of the genres that I usually pick up, but once the plot of Moonrise began to move, I moved along as well. When I looked up after closing the book for the last time, I realized that I was in Michigan after all. In my mind's eye, I was back in the Blue Ridge Mountains with the mountain mist descending at dusk.

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