cover image Catherine House

Catherine House

Elisabeth Thomas. Custom House, $26.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-290565-9

Thomas’s spellbinding debut opens in 1996 on Ines Murillo’s first night at a small, highly selective college in the Pennsylvania woods. Drunk after a party, Ines reflects on her relief that behind Catherine House’s locked gates, no one knows about her past. Renowned for controversial research regarding a mysterious elemental substance called plasm, the school holds classes year-round, and students remain confined to Catherine’s rural estate. Eager to disassociate from a past trauma, Ines falls behind on her work while seeking solace in a string of sexual encounters before finding a group of friends who feel closer to family than anything she’s ever known. Still, Ines can’t ignore her growing suspicions about the school’s plasm experimentation in “psychosexual healing,” in which students are subjected to mass hypnosis. Ines’s academic probation leads her to forced isolation in the “Restoration Center,” where a professor places plasm pins in her head and tells her she’ll never think of her past life again. Surreal imagery, spare characterization, and artful, hypnotic prose lend Thomas’s tale a delirious air, but at the book’s core lies a profound portrait of depression and adolescent turmoil. Fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History will devour this philosophical fever dream. Agent: Kent Wolf, Friedrich Agency. (July)