Book: “Cackle” by Rachel Harrison
Publishing Info: Berkley Books, October 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: All her life, Annie has played it nice and safe. After being unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend, Annie seeks a fresh start. She accepts a teaching position that moves her from Manhattan to a small village upstate. She’s stunned by how perfect and picturesque the town is. The people are all friendly and warm. Her new apartment is dreamy too, minus the oddly persistent spider infestation.
Then Annie meets Sophie. Beautiful, charming, magnetic Sophie, who takes a special interest in Annie, who wants to be her friend. More importantly, she wants Annie to stop apologizing and start living for herself. That’s how Sophie lives. Annie can’t help but gravitate toward the self-possessed Sophie, wanting to spend more and more time with her, despite the fact that the rest of the townsfolk seem…a little afraid of her. And like, okay. There are some things. Sophie’s appearance is uncanny and ageless, her mansion in the middle of the woods feels a little unearthly, and she does seem to wield a certain power…but she couldn’t be…could she?
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I used to be terrified of spiders. It was a phobia that I eventually outgrew, and now I usually do okay with arachnids (unless they are too big, as well as too big AND inside my house. Then I’m not as fine). I’ve talked about eventually getting a tarantula as a pet, though my husband has nixed that idea. So when I saw that Rachel Harrison had a new book coming out that touted not only the story of a witch, but also an adorable spider pet named Ralph, I was absolutely interested. That is “Cackle”: the story of a woman a bit lost, a witch friend, and a kind and supportive pet spider.
Is “Cackle” a terrifying follow up to the highly enjoyable “The Return”? Not really. But what it may not have in terror, it has oodles of in charm and feel good lady pal narrative. Our protagonist, Annie, has found herself newly single after he long time boyfriend Sam breaks up with her due to no more ‘spark’ in their ten year relationship. She takes a teaching job in the small town of Rowan, and immediately befriends Sophie, a charming, mysterious woman whom the rest of the town seems terrified of, or at the very least wary. Annie is a relatable (though admittedly a little sad sack-y) main character who feels lost, and Sophie is properly mysterious and perhaps a little intimidating. You blend that together and you find a story that has some familiar notes and beats of one woman helping another become self actualized, but is still framed in a novel way. After all, I can’t think of other lady friendship stories that have a jovial spider named Ralph. Yes, I’m obsessed with Ralph. I loved seeing their friendship slowly grow and blossom, and how said friendship helps Annie become a strong and confident person, even if with that confidence comes a little bit of darkness that she never anticipated (as well as questions about whether or not Sophie is dangerous… she is a witch, after all). Oh, and a spider infestation, a set of angry ghosts, and newfound powers that may be running a bit amok.
I went in expecting something a little more toxic, just because of how Harrison’s previous novel went, but “Cackle” is actually a really lovely story about two women who feel alone and isolated and then find joy in each other’s company. It just so happens that one of them is a witch. I really loved Sophie, from the way that she looked at the world to how Harrison addresses her past traumas (being a witch makes you a target, after all), to how supportive, but also lonely, she is. True, there are questions about her actual intentions and motivation, but it becomes clear that this is less a toxic friendship story, and more a woman discovering herself story. Annie is the less interesting character, but as she starts to believe in herself, she starts to take her power back. In some cases, literally. As Annie believes in herself more, partially due to Sophie’s cheerleading, she starts to develop powers of her own. And THIS is where some of the ‘horror-esque’ moments happen. There are definite gnarly moments that involve spells, bones, blood, and more, but it never feels too scary and is always rooted with a tongue firmly in cheek. True, I think that Harrison kind of leads us down a primrose path with some red herrings, but by the end I just had a smile on my face as two women go on a journey find friendship and self sufficiency in a society that has told them they have to tamp down their true selves. It’s cathartic and enjoyable.
“Cackle” isn’t the scary book I thought it would be, but it’s a good choice for a Halloween read if you want something a little spooky, but not terribly horror filled. Why not spend the Season of the Witch with Sophie?
Rating 9: A fun witchy tale about friendship, finding yourself, and the joys of spiders as pets. “Cackle” is a bit of light horror for his Halloween season!
“Cackle” is included on the Goodreads list “2021 Horror Novels Written by Women (cis and trans) and Non-Binary Femmes”, and would fit in on “Witchy”.