Title: Just Like Home
Author: Sarah Gailey
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: July 19, 2022
Print length: 352 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
“Come home.” Vera’s mother called and Vera obeyed. In spite of their long estrangement, in spite of the memories — she’s come back to the home of a serial killer. Back to face the love she had for her father and the bodies he buried there.
Coming home is hard enough for Vera, and to make things worse, she and her mother aren’t alone. A parasitic artist has moved into the guest house out back, and is slowly stripping Vera’s childhood for spare parts. He insists that he isn’t the one leaving notes around the house in her father’s handwriting… but who else could it possibly be?
There are secrets yet undiscovered in the foundations of the notorious Crowder House. Vera must face them, and find out for herself just how deep the rot goes.
Sarah Gailey’s books are always a little bit out-there, full of surprises and strange situations and characters who take some time to truly “get.” Just Like Home, though, is the first book I’ve ready by them that I’d describe as flat-out creepy… and occasionally pretty gross. Still a great read though!
In Just Like Home, Vera returns to her family home after many years away, summoned by her dying mother Daphne to clean out the house in preparation for her death.
It was the house her father built, and she needed to treat it right.
Daphne is in terrible condition, unable to eat and living on lemonade alone, bedridden, oozing and menacing and strange. Vera and Daphne haven’t seen each other in over a decade, and there’s years-worth of animosity to unpack and tiptoe around.
“I think you have to know someone in order to truly love them, and you have to love someone in order to really hate them. There’s the thin hate we have for strangers. […] And then there’s the thick, true, smothering hate we have for those we know best. And that, Vera-baby, that’s what I had for you. That’s what bubbled up in me and stuck.
The house itself is disturbing, full of dark spaces that connect one to another. And why is the basement door, right next to Vera’s old bedroom door, always locked?
As the book reveals, Vera’s beloved father is the renowned serial killer Francis Crowder, who died in prison several years after his arrest and incarceration. The basement was his murder lair, where he’d chain up his victims and drain them of the “grease” that had built up inside them, turning them corrupt and evil from the inside out. Crowder House is an infamous location, popular with murder tourists and a string of artists who pay Daphne for access, trying to feed their artistic muses on the misery left behind in the house.
But when Vera returns, many of her memories center around Francis. He may have been a serial killer, but to Vera, he was her sole source of love, connection, and nurturing during her childhood. One of the more shocking aspects of Just Like Home is the carefully built portrayal of a daughter who loves everything about her father, even his most terrible deeds.
“I watched you eat up his love like a crab eating a seafloor corpse, one pinch at a time.”
The wording choices throughout the book emphasize the creepy, scary nature of Crowder House as well as how much Vera is not okay.
Vera could feel the question of who would speak next filling up the room like mustard gas in a trench.
At the beginning, she seems like a survivor, someone who’s lived through a horrific childhood but is more or less “normal”. As the book progresses, it becomes clear that Vera is not at all well-adjusted, that her worldview is absolutely dependent on the lessons she learned from her parents, and that her driving motivations and needs are not about moving forward or leaving the past behind her.
There was so much, she was sure, that he’d meant to teach her. Surely he’d seen something of himself in her, something that deserved to be loved and nurtured.
The horror elements become more explicit toward the end of the book, including a supernatural element that I was initially taken aback by, but ultimately found pretty darned cool, actually. The ending is twisted, and I’m not sure I totally get exactly what happened… but it was fascinating and disturbing to read, and I just couldn’t look away.
Just Like Home tells a story of twisted love and the power of home. It’s odd and scary and horrible in so many ways, yet utterly compelling too. If you enjoy chilling reads, check this one out.