cover image North Woods

North Woods

Daniel Mason. Random House, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-59703-3

Mason (A Registry of My Passage upon the Earth) follows the inhabitants of a secluded western Massachusetts home and their tragedies across centuries in this spectacular ghost story. In the 1760s, the eccentric and twice-widowed Charles Osgood, who’s obsessed with finding the best apple in the world, discovers a stellar tree on abandoned land and from there starts an orchard. His two daughters, Mary and Alice, keep the orchard going but Alice’s long line of potential suitors sparks murderous rage in Mary, who doesn’t get the same attention as her sister. The letters of the next owner, hyper-naturalistic landscape painter William Henry Teale, recount his expansion of the house and his slowly confessed, eventually consummated but doomed love for his friend Erasmus Nash. Circa 1920, the ghosts of Teale and Nash torment Emily Farnsworth, until her button magnate husband invites charlatan medium Anastasia Rossi to the house, and her seance unexpectedly conjures real spirits. The Farnsworths’ daughter, Lillian, struggles later with her schizophrenic son, Robert. In her later years, she joins a prison pen pal program and narrowly escapes a grisly fate. As time passes, others are drawn to the house for personal reasons that all end in tragedy. Throughout, Mason interleaves his crystalline prose with enchanting and authentic-seeming historical documents, including a Native American captivity narrative, psychiatrist case notes, and pulpy true crime reportage. Each arc is beautifully, heartbreakingly conveyed, stitching together subtle connections across time. This astonishes. Agent: Christy Fletcher, Fletcher and Co. (Sept.)