House of Echoes by Brendan Duffy

By Ekta R. Garg

April 29, 2015

Rated: Bypass it

A husband and wife move their family to upstate New York to get a fresh start. As they attempt to become members of the community that is now home, the husband and wife learn they may have made a mistake in looking for their “happily ever after” in the village. Debut novelist Brendan Duffy misses the mark by a mountain’s width in the somewhat creepy but ultimately predictable and ridiculous novel House of Echoes.

Ben and Caroline Tierney need a break from their life in Manhattan. A published author working on his next novel, lately Ben can’t get into the writing groove. Caroline loses her job in finance, and the birth of their second son magnifies her bipolar symptoms. Their older son, Charlie, becomes the victim of a horrible bullying situation, and that turns into the family’s tipping point. When Ben finds out about the land and farm in the mountains in upstate New York left to him by his grandmother, he jumps on the chance to start over.

They arrive in the village of Swannhaven, a community full of the quintessential members of small-town life. The village residents look at them with suspicion at first. Ben and Caroline inherit the largest home in town, known as the Crofts, and Caroline’s grand plans to turn the large structure into an inn draw some of the residents to the Tierneys.

Soon after they move in, though, Ben begins to get signals that he may have made a mistake. Someone kills animals in a brutal manner and leaves the remains where Ben can find them. Charlie starts to wander the forest on his own, and while he finds solace in the fresh air and abundance of natural beauty he also becomes withdrawn. Caroline’s symptoms don’t seem to get any better; her erratic behavior continues to haunt Ben.

The more time Ben spends with the older residents of town, the more he learns about his ancestors and their role in the founding of Swannhaven. The stories provide him with inspiration, and he begins working on a new book based on the family. Some of the details don’t make sense, however, and others feel incomplete. The animal remains keep appearing around the house, and Ben starts to get a bad feeling.

Author Brendan Duffy sets a somber mood for the book; unfortunately the story takes itself so seriously that readers can’t feel the same way after the first few chapters. Duffy may have intended to convey a sense of mystery. In reality the only mysterious event in the book comes in the form of the animal remains until about three-fifths of the way through the story.

Finding parts of deer and raccoons on the doorstep could give anyone the chills, but having little else to support the conflict until so late will make readers impatient. Until that point Duffy tries to compel readers mostly with Caroline’s paranoia and Ben’s discomfort around it. Readers can put up with descriptions of their marital problems and Charlie’s forays into the woods only so many times.

A minor character purported to be essential to the family slips into the background so often that readers may forget that person even exists at times. When the character suddenly takes on an important responsibility in the plot, it feels forced and convenient. Also, dialogue repeating what the narration just stated or vice versa will make readers squirm with impatience. The predictable end will leave readers shaking their heads, making it hard to buy into the way Duffy resolves his tale.

I recommend readers Bypass House of Echoes.

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