cover image The Upstairs House

The Upstairs House

Julia Fine. Harper, $26.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-297582-9

Fine (What Should Be Wild) examines a new mother’s unraveling in her eerie sophomore outing. Eight days after stalled English PhD candidate Megan Weiler gives birth to her first daughter, Clara, Megan discovers a turquoise door in the stairwell above their apartment. Behind it she finds a woman who, upon asked what she’s doing, says she’s “building a house for Michael.” While researching for her dissertation on children’s literature amid her postpartum delirium, Megan realizes the woman resembles Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, who died in 1952, and decides she must be Margaret’s ghost, and the house she is building is for her lover, poet Michael Strange (born Blanche Oelrichs). Interstitial chapters comprise chapters of Megan’s thesis, in which she casts Margaret and Michael’s lesbian relationship as a tempestuous, borderline-abusive affair beginning in the 1940s. As the ghosts of Margaret and Michael disturb Clara, Megan flees with Clara to a cabin in Wisconsin, but even there, she can’t shake the grip of the ghosts, and her world becomes more claustrophobic. Fine keeps the high concept under control as the book hurtles toward a disturbing conclusion. This white-knuckle depiction of the essential scariness of new motherhood will captivate readers. Agent: Stephanie Delman, Sanford J. Greenburger Assoc. (Feb.)