For a person like me who has a tendency to get nightmares from supernatural and gory slasher type horror, psychological horror along the lines of Shirley Jackson is more than sufficiently creepy and delicious. So when I learned about Thomas Tryon’s The Other and saw it noted as a worthy descendent of Jackson I suspected I was in for a treat. Boy, was I! In fact, I put it in the top five best books I’ve read for the RIP Challenge ever.
The book begins with an unnamed narrator who is clearly in some sort of institution. It isn’t long before we figure out it is a mental institution. But who is this person? He is forty-eight-years old and has one of those smooth and slippery voices that ask you to trust him but you can’t quite because there is something not right that you just can’t put your finger on. Very soon he addresses us directly as he begins to tell the story of the Perry family. And not long after that we know this is one of the Perry twins, but is it Niles or Holland?
Then we move back in time to when Niles and Holland were twelve and thirteen, living on the family farm in the small Connecticut town of Pequot Landing. Their father was killed in the fall of the previous year in a tragic accident. When he was carrying a bushel of apples down into the apple cellar, the heavy trapdoor in the floor of the barn smashed down on his head, sending him to his death on the concrete floor below. Now the boys’ mother is in such deep grief she hardly leaves her room. The boys are looked after by their grandmother, their aunt and uncle who also have a boy a few years older than Niles and Holland, and the housekeeper. The twins’ pregnant older sister and her husband are also living at the farm.
While the perspective shifts around, much of the story is told from the viewpoint of Niles. He is the younger twin, born on the other side of midnight. He is also the angelic good twin while Holland has a mean streak. Just how mean? Right away we are treated to the story of Holland hanging his grandmother’s cat in the well. And not long after that story we see him kill his cousin’s pet rat by feeding it poison. Good twin, bad twin.
Yet Niles idealizes Holland. Holland inherited the family ring with the peregrine falcon on it from his father but he gave it to Niles who carries it around in an old tobacco tin because no one is supposed to know he has it. Also in the tin is The Thing, wrapped in blue tissue paper.
And then people start dropping like flies, all of them meeting their end in a freak accident of one kind or another. Niles suspects Holland is behind everything but Niles will keep his brother’s secrets.
The story keeps unfurling with things getting worse and worse and now and then we return to the present with the twin in the asylum but still don’t know which twin. It must be Holland, right? But no, maybe not. And the dead pile up and something is not right, something about what we are being told in the story isn’t meshing, but what is it?
And then, about two-thirds of the way through the book you find out and it’s a surprise but not a surprise because, like the adults in the story, you knew but you just couldn’t believe it because the truth is too horrible. But after the revelation you can’t ignore the truth any longer. And the rest of the book carries you along unrelentingly in this horrible thing right to the very end. I found myself muttering as I read, “oh no, oh no, oh no.” And once in awhile I noticed my hands shaking and my heart beating just a little faster. When I read the last page my “oh no” changed to “oh wow” and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. It’s that kind of book.