I was drawn to this book because it is billed as a ghost story (based on true events) set in the White House. It’s really less ghost and more a vile, evil demon that is let in to ‘the people’s house,’ now determined to sow discord and misery around the United States and the world. No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump! This is a book review! 😏
What it’s about
From the Goodreads description:
The year is 1853. President-elect Franklin Pierce is traveling with his family to Washington, DC, when tragedy strikes. In an instant, their train runs off the rails, violently flinging passengers about the cabin. When the great iron machine finally comes to rest, the only casualty is the Pierces’ son, Bennie. The loss sends First Lady Jane Pierce into mourning, and casts Franklin’s presidency under a pall of sorrow and grief.
As the Pierces move into the White House, they are soon plagued by events both bizarre and disturbing. Strange sounds seem to come from the walls and ceiling, ghostly voices echo out of time itself, and visions of spirits crushed under the weight of American history pass through empty hallways. But when Jane orchestrates a séance with the infamous Fox Sisters—the most noted Spiritualists of the day—the barrier between this world and the next is torn asunder. Something horrific comes through and takes up residence alongside Franklin and Jane in the very walls of the mansion itself.
Only by overcoming their grief and confronting their darkest secrets can Jane and Franklin hope to rid themselves—and America—of the entity that seeks to make the White House its permanent home.
I mean, if you like ghost stories, horror, and historical fiction this book sounds pretty enticing, right?
As a fan of ‘real’ ghost stories since childhood, I am familiar with the stories of the haunted American White House throughout its history, and I was excited to read a book that explored that history. This was my first book by Andrew Pyper, but I don’t think it will be my last—the writing is really good, the historical details seem well-researched, and the author has an uncanny ability to set a gloomy scene.
This story is so dark and sad… to me, it’s primarily about the horror of loss and longing. The Pierces have endured the deaths of all of their children, and Jane Pierce in particular suffers greatly internally. Through her backstory here, we learn that Jane has always been odd, and perhaps more in-tune with spirits than her fellow humans. Once in the White House with her husband, her depression spirals and, in her grief and desire to have her dead son back, she helps bring something very evil in to the residence.
This book wasn’t the sort to keep me up at night (although, full disclosure, I did read it all in one bright, shiny day), but it definitely has its scary parts. One scene in particular where the president gets a nocturnal visitor keeps coming back to me days later and giving me the heebie-jeebies. The Residence doesn’t have a lot of jump scares or gore, but the pervasive sense of dread and creeping pursuit is really something.
I’m no presidential scholar, but I know Pierce isn’t considered one of the better ones in US history. He was ineffectual, wishy-washy and completely wrong on slavery, the most important issue of his time. I appreciate that Pyper didn’t try to change any of that by making Pierce’s character in his book some sort of hero. Through some particular ghosts and Jane’s encouragement, I got a little excited that maybe Pierce would take a stand on the right side about slavery, but while he’s adding some horror and drama to Pierce’s term, Pyper does not revise his history. Pierce is flawed and uninspiring for most of the book, but he does seem to care for his wife and grieve the losses of his children, and he ultimately attempts to do what he can to protect the future leaders of the US from the evil unleashed in the White House:
“Be gone from this place!”
Franklin’s eyes were open. Held to Sir’s.
“I live here now,” it said.
“It is the people’s house! And it is the people’s will that casts you from it!”
Ok, I know I said before that I’m not talking about Trump, but it’s hard to read that little passage from The Residence and not think of him. That’s all I’m saying.
I highly recommend this book to historical fiction/ghost story/horror fans like me. Definitely an engrossing read.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy of the book in exchange for this honest review.