There’s a madwoman upstairs, and only Megan Weiler can see her.
Ravaged and sore from giving birth to her first child, Megan is mostly raising her newborn alone while her husband travels for work. Physically exhausted and mentally drained, she’s also wracked with guilt over her unfinished dissertation—a thesis on mid-century children’s literature.
Enter a new upstairs neighbor: the ghost of quixotic children’s book writer Margaret Wise Brown—author of the beloved classic Goodnight Moon—whose existence no one else will acknowledge. It seems Margaret has unfinished business with her former lover, the once-famous socialite and actress Michael Strange, and is determined to draw Megan into the fray. As Michael joins the haunting, Megan finds herself caught in the wake of a supernatural power struggle—and until she can find a way to quiet these spirits, she and her new-born daughter are in terrible danger.
Using Megan’s postpartum haunting as a powerful metaphor for a woman’s fraught relationship with her body and mind, Julia Fine once again delivers an imaginative and “barely restrained, careful musing on female desire, loneliness, and hereditary inheritances” (Washington Post).
A young woman who has interrupted her academic life to give birth, and then struggles to bond with her baby, offers a familiar theme in The Upstairs House. But here the theme veers off into an unusual and fascinating trip into an imaginary life with 1940s authors and poets, so real that our narrator Megan seems to be interacting with them.
Why is Megan hearing strange noises? How does she seemingly connect with what can only be ghost-like images? The forays into the 1940s lives of these characters did not captivate me, as I was more interested in what would happen to Megan in the present.
Despite the surreal elements, I was most amazed by how nobody around Megan seems to notice her struggles. They criticize her and urge her to get out more or even to get “help,” but instead of offering assistance or even compassion, they just seem angry with her. Her obvious break with reality did keep me intrigued throughout.
The backstory includes a mentally ill mother and an indifferent father who has remarried and can’t bother to spend time with her. He is not even interested in the new baby. Megan’s oblivious husband and critical sister were additional frustrating elements for me.
Would Megan find her way back to herself? How would that happen? By the end, I was not surprised by the turn of events. 4.5 stars.