Lit Guide: The Grip of It, by Jac Jemc


If you find yourself loving the voice and pace Cormac McCarthy but loathing the violence of texts like Blood Meridian, The Grip of It should be next on your to-read list. This chilling literary horror novel describes the life of a young couple who purchase and live in a haunted house. A lifelong fan of horror—in both film and literature—this short novel took me by surprise; I was both thoroughly creeped out and consistently impressed by the unrelenting unease in every one of this book’s 200-something pages.


James and Julie settle into a small house in a town outside the city they’ve inhabited since getting married. Their move is prompted by James’s gambling addition and subsequent inability to keep impulses in check; the couple is happy to leave behind their young adult lives and start fresh in a rural town. Their new house, however, has something else in mind.


Like with most texts, I took my time coming to like this book. The prologue contains a lengthy quotation by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Who would include 200 words of Wittgenstein at the beginning of a novel? Somebody who wants you to know they’ve read Wittgenstein. Additionally, I was not impressed with Jemc’s reliance on and overuse of literary maximalism: “—Reverse. Reaching morning. The sun sinking instead The puddles of dew retreating back into the lawn. The idea that you can feel anything correctly. A notion of perfect worthlessness. Something negative being flawless. A mold depressing itself to take in the media, space that must be emptied before it can be filled.” I read the novel (very thoroughly, I might add), and the ambiguous subject of this babble mystifies me.


Though unamused by Jemc’s voice, I was impressed by the story’s pacing and narrative twists. This is not a standard haunted house story—bruises form on Julie’s body, but they flower internally as she (warning: spoiler) rots from the inside. Both Julie and James wake up on deserted beaches, and the spying neighbor might be (is most likely) dead. Bonus: It’s a literary horror novel written by a woman.

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