Book: “The Last House on Needless Street” by Catriona Ward
Publishing Info: Tor Nightfire, September 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street is a shocking and immersive read perfect for fans of Gone Girl and The Haunting of Hill House.
In a boarded-up house on a dead-end street at the edge of the wild Washington woods lives a family of three. A teenage girl who isn’t allowed outside, not after last time. A man who drinks alone in front of his TV, trying to ignore the gaps in his memory. And a house cat who loves napping and reading the Bible.
An unspeakable secret binds them together, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, what is buried out among the birch trees may come back to haunt them all.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
Welcome to HorrorPalooza 2021!!! I cannot wait to showcase and review all horror, all the time for the month of October, as is tradition, and right off the bat we have one of the most hyped horror novels of the Fall: “The Last House on Needless Street” by Catriona Ward! I had been thinking about this one as a solid HorrorPalooza choice for so long that I completely forgot that it actually came out in September (hence I missed it on my highlights that month), but by no means does that mean I wasn’t eager for it. And I’m here to report that while it was much anticipated by me, it wasn’t as compelling of a story as I expected. But who doesn’t love the idea of a cat being a character with perspective chapters?
“The Last House on Needless Street” follows a man named Ted, who lives a fairly solitary life outside of his cat Olivia and his daughter Lauren. They all live on Needless Street, and Ted is dealing with an angry teenager, as well as an unreliable memory that is causing him some problems. His cat Olivia is constantly watching over him, her devotion true but starting to wane as she starts to see changes in his behavior. And then there is Dee, a new neighbor who has moved to Needless Street with one motivation: she believes that Ted was responsible for her sister Lulu’s disappearance a number of years ago, and wants to find out what he did with her. As Dee tries to untangle what is going on with Ted, Ted seems to be shifting into a more and more unstable emotional state as daughter Lauren comes in and out of his life and Olivia observes. Ted’s chapters are haphazard and have a disjointed and unreliable feel to them, which made for a character that I desperately wanted to know more about, for the good or the bad. Olivia’s are VERY funny and feel super cat-like, with both loyalty to her owner/friend Ted as well as an aloof above it all snark. Dee’s are probably the most linear which kind of tie one of the mysteries into the larger story, which then plays into the rest of the story too. I liked all of the voices and found them varied, especially Olivia’s. I mean, a cat being a narrator of a scary story is just so fun. Ward really gives them their own personalities and they all feel pretty realistic for what they are and what their arcs are like.
The plot itself had some bumps, however. Not the tension or the suspense, that was all on point! Ward really knows how to build up atmosphere and wring out every ounce of creepiness and discomfort, no question. There were multiple scenes that just had me on the edge of my seat. However, one of the things that I was seeing about “The Last House on Needless Street” was that it had really surprising twists and turns. I will certainly agree that it does have a couple of those! One even totally took me by surprise, even though looking back there were hints here and there as to the truth of the matter at hand, and I love finding the hints after the fact. But as for the others, I think that there were some desperately laid red herrings that just screamed out that they were red herrings. And I really don’t want to give anything away in regards to some of the reveals, but to really address one of the twists I feel like I have to get into at least a little of the nitty gritty. So here is your SPOILER ALERT! Skip down past the next paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled.
So what I will say is that one of our characters has Dissociative Identity Disorder, aka DID, aka Multiple Personality Disorder (though this name is out of favor). Generally those who have DID suffered a horrific trauma and in an effort to cope the mind creates ‘alters’, or other personalities. While I thought that Ward did this in a way that didn’t feel shaming or stigmatizing in a ‘all mentally ill people are dangerous’ kind of way (and even listed a number of sources into the research she did about DID, which was good to see), it’s still a bit of a trope in thriller and horror stories these days, having seen it in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”, “Fight Club”, “Psycho”, and others. And the problem with turning a mental condition into a ‘twist’ is that, even with the best intentions (and I do think that Ward has them here!), it can come off as gimmicky at best and dehumanizing at worst. I myself don’t think that Ward treads into dehumanizing territory, BUT I also don’t have DID, so I’d bet I’m not the best judge of that.
Overall, “The Last House on Needless Street” has its ups and downs! I didn’t find it to be as excitingly twisty as others have, but I did overall enjoy a fair amount about it. Especially Olivia the Cat!
Rating 7: A creepy and somewhat bittersweet story about a man, his cat, and coming to terms with guilt and trauma. But one that relies on a trope that is a bit overdone and becoming more and more controversial.