The Evening Spider by Emily Arsenault
Special Dispatch to the New-York Times.
HARTFORD, Sept. 5, 1878--The dead body of Mary E. Stannard, 22 years old, was found at Durham, near the border of Madison, on Tuesday night. She had been living with her father, and on Tuesday left home to go, as she said, into the woods half a mile away after berries. As she did not return, a search was made and she was found dead in the woods, lying in a by-path on her back, with her hands folded across her breast.
The Evening Spider is the second book I've read by Emily Arsenault, an author who says she doesn't consider her books mysteries but more suspense or ghost stories. I concur with that. This book is rather interesting as it does include a real-life murder, the one mentioned above in the opening paragraph. All the newspaper articles included in the story are real. The Northampton Lunatic Hospital (later named the Northampton State Hospital) was also real and didn't officially close until the 1990's. There are curious things in this tale told in two different time periods and featuring two young mothers who might or might not be suffering from some postpartum issues. I listened to the audio and there were two narrators, which worked very well, Bernadette Dunne and Nan McNamara.
I don't think The Evening Spider suited some readers - a lot of back and forth between time periods and characters and perhaps a less than satisfying ending for a few. Maybe because there were two narrators, I found it easier to keep up. Abby, in the current day, spends a lot of time going through the old journal/diary that she acquires and puzzling out what exactly happened to Frances, the young woman in the late 19th century. Each woman was tired and exhausted, not sleeping well, and, of course, anyone who has had an infant knows that memories of those early days can be hazy because of the exhaustion. I did like this book. I liked the 'perhaps' supernatural aspects, but maybe they weren't - hard for a reader to decide. The attitude in those earlier times and the way women were 'supposed' to act and be was sad and tiresome. Frances loved science and was very analytical in her thinking, which was not a good thing for her era. She wasn't emotional enough and felt just 'wrong' in her heart. Abby, on the other hand, was maybe overly emotional about her baby and certainly was very protective and nervous about all kinds of possible 'dangers'. They were quite a contrast. Would I read another book by this author? Yes, I would. In fact, she has a new book, The Last Thing I Told You, that will be published next week. I'll look forward to reading it soon.
Frances Barnett and Abby Bernacki are two haunted young mothers living in the same house in two different centuries.
1885: Frances Barnett is in the Northampton Lunatic Hospital, telling her story to a visitor. She has come to distrust her own memories, and believes that her pregnancy, birth, and early days of motherhood may have impaired her sanity.
During the earliest months of her baby’s life, Frances eagerly followed the famous murder trial of Mary Stannard—that captivated New Englanders with its salacious details and expert forensic testimony. Following—and even attending—this trial, Frances found an escape from the monotony of new motherhood. But as her story unfolds, Frances must admit that her obsession with the details of the murder were not entirely innocent.
Present day: Abby has been adjusting to motherhood smoothly—until recently, when odd sensations and dreams have begun to unsettle her while home alone with her baby. When she starts to question the house’s history, she is given the diary of Frances Barnett, who lived in the house 125 years earlier. Abby finds the diary disturbing, and researches the Barnett family’s history. The more Abby learns, the more she wonders about a negative—possibly supernatural—influence in her house. She becomes convinced that when she sleeps, she leaves her daughter vulnerable—and then vows not to sleep until she can determine the cause of her eerie experiences.
Frances Barnett might not be the only new mother to lose her mind in this house. And like Frances, Abby discovers that by trying to uncover another’s secrets, she risks awakening some of her own.