By Ekta R. Garg
May 8, 2019
Release date: April 30, 2019
Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars
A woman and her husband decide to build their dream home in the woods. The land they buy for it, however, comes with a tragic history, and they begin to wonder whether the ghosts of the past are happy to stay back there. Author Jennifer McMahon leads her readers on a meandering but ultimately satisfying journey in her latest novel The Invited.
Helen Wetherell loves history. She specializes in early American time periods and shares her passion with her students at an exclusive private school in Connecticut. It’s where she met her husband, Nate, in fact. Nate teaches science, and the two feel like they’re living their dream life together.
At least, that’s how Helen used to feel. After her father died, however, an unexplainable restlessness has settled inside her. The lesson plans she used to build no longer hold the same excitement, and life just doesn’t make sense anymore.
She discusses her feelings with Nate, and their conversation leads to a crazy thought: what if they leave their condo behind and go build their dream home? Actually build it, with their own hands? Although it seems far-fetched at first, the idea begins to take shape and feel more attainable the longer they research it and suitable plots. Helen thinks they’ve struck gold when they find a piece of land in Vermont; the small town of Hartsboro contains enough history to satisfy anyone attached to happenings in the past.
In Hartsboro, Olive Kissner wants nothing more than for her mom to come home. Even though gossip in town is rife that Lori Kissner ran off with another man, Olive still believes she’ll come back. She even has the perfect plan to convince her: Olive is going to find the treasure of the legendary Hattie Breckenridge, the woman rumored to be a witch at the turn of the century. People still speak about Hattie in hateful whispers, but Olive doesn’t believe any of the rumors and neither does her Aunt Riley. Of course, Aunt Riley doesn’t exactly believe in buried treasure either, but at least she thinks it’s okay for Olive to look for it.
Except now Helen and Nate have bought the land where Hattie’s home used to sit, and Olive doesn’t feel free to keep searching it anymore. What makes matters worse is that something—a sort of sixth sense—has begun pressuring Olive to step up the search for the famous treasure. When Olive, Helen, and Nate finally meet, Olive has to decide whether to tell the truth about why she’s poking around their land. If Hattie was real and the treasure was too, then it’s the only shot Olive has at bringing her mother home.
Author Jennifer McMahon takes her time to build the ghost story around Hattie and her connection to the modern-day residents of a small Vermont town. Readers may find it challenging to buy into the premise of Helen and Nate quitting their jobs and deciding to build an entire house with almost no outside help and no means of financial support beyond the first year after they’ve completed the home. The explanation that Helen grew up doing some construction work with her late father does provide credibility, but Nate comes off as overly optimistic and naïve about the entire venture.
While Helen, Nate, and Olive’s paths cross at a fair point in the story, readers may feel like they’re encountering two different versions of the same tale: one is about Helen and Olive’s discoveries about Hattie, and the other is about the home building process that Nate and Helen undertake. At some points these two sections of the book run parallel; they almost have nothing to do with one another for several pages. Helen and Nate’s bickering may annoy some readers and cause them to skim those pages, and some of the dialogue between Helen and Riley comes off as unrealistic.
When the main portion of the ghost story gains some steam, however, McMahon keeps the train moving along at a steady pace. Twists and turns will make readers nod with satisfaction, and a few red herrings provide a great deal of satisfaction. It just takes patience to get there, and some readers may choose to leave the book behind before they make it to the final stop. I recommend readers Borrow The Invited from the library.