By Christopher Ransom
The Birthing House
is Christopher Ransom's first novel and it is basically the story of a
man named Conrad Harrison and what happens to him when he leaves Los
Angeles and moves into an old Victorian birthing house in the town of
Black Earth, Wisconsin.
Conrad has spent the last few years as a kind of house-husband to his
wife Jo, who is a dynamic businesswoman. When his father dies in an
accident though, Conrad decides to use most of the compensation money
to build a new life for he and Jo, and when he chances upon the
realtor's advertisement for the birthing house he calls up and books an
appointment to view the house without even thinking about it. Then when
he finds himself standing in front of the old place the next morning it
is almost love at first sight.
The decision to buy the house is made without any input from Jo, who is
still in LA, and when Conrad returns to their bungalow he discovers his
wife is not at work, but asleep in their bed. Jo is not alone in the
house though and when Conrad sees his friend Jake has stayed the night,
he has one word for him: "Go."
Conrad has two words for his wife: "It's over." He shows her some
pictures of the house he has bought for them and tells her to start
packing if she wants to come with him. Otherwise she can get out. Their
two dogs will be coming with him.
Jo starts packing.
Perhaps a fresh start in a fresh place is just what the doctor ordered,
but most of the compensation money went on the house and he and Jo
apparently had a lot of debts that Conrad knew nothing about. Once the
debts have been paid there is not much left of their nest egg and Jo
tells him that she will have to get another job. They have only been in
the house a week when she leaves to go on an eight week training course.
Home alone with their two dogs, Conrad tries to keep himself busy, but
already he is beginning to notice that things are not quite right with
the house and when the former owner of the property, Leon Lasky, brings
around an old photograph album, and tells Conrad that it belongs to the
house, and that they took it by mistake, things take a definite turn
for the weird.
Conrad finds a picture that is over a hundred years old. It shows a
group of Victorian women standing outside his house. They are a
scary-looking bunch, dressed in black and with angry looks on their
faces. Hidden at the back of the group he notices a woman that looks
familiar. A closer look at the picture confirms it. He knows her. It is
Conrad is the main viewpoint character and most of the book is written
in the third person. One chapter, however, is written in the first
person. I think I can appreciate why Ransom did it this way, but to be
honest it does not really add anything to the book. Neither does it
take anything away though, so it does not really matter.
There are ghosts in this book; so it is a ghost story of sorts and the
house is haunted. It also seems to be a place that acts as a catalyst
for fertility. An example of this occurs when one of Conrad's pets has
what is to all intents and purposes a virgin birth. Such things should
not happen, yet they do in the birthing house. It used to a place where
women came to give birth, and old habits, it would seem, die hard.
I enjoyed reading The
Birthing House, the characters are interesting, and
believable enough to make it rather sad for the reader when some of
them die. There are a few good subplots as well. One example of which
is Conrad's relationship with his neighbour's young, pretty and very
pregnant daughter. Nadia Grum helps to keep Conrad company while his
wife is away and also, by sharing with him her own past experiences in
the house, begins to fill in a few of the blanks about the property's
rather strange history.
The Birthing House
is 408 pages long and there are those who say that it is the scariest
novel since Stephen King's The
Shining. I cannot honestly say that I consider
the book to be in quite the same league as King's masterpiece, but it
is, nevertheless, a very good read and an excellent first novel.