To the house that belongs to the Vodou priestess the locals brought the possessed girl. Hopefully Marie Toussaint would cleanse her.
To the house that once belonged to her grandmother, Angela Toussaint returns. It’s hers now. Here she will jump start her life , take care of her teenaged son and perhaps rekindle her love for her ex-husband . All this falls apart. Things go very wrong.
At this legendary house, Fifteen year old Corey Toussaint, curious by nature, finds magical relics that once belonged to his great grandmother. He uncovers secrets that the house hides, deadly secrets
This is a story of a terror plaguing multiple generations, a story about a stretch of land with strong connections to the spirit world. On this land the “The Good House” stands, home to four recipient generations of horror.
Hi there! In honor of Black History Month, I welcome you to the first review in this series of haunted house novels written by black women. I begin with Tananarive Due’s acclaimed novel The Good House. “Good House” is haunted, but it is not the epicenter of the haunting. The trigger for the haunting lies within the lineage of the Toussaint family and on the spirit-laden lands upon which the house rests. It is the combination of a family sensitive to the magic of Vodou positioned in an environment that is receptive to other-worldly forces that stirs up the ghosts, or more appropriately, the demons. Or most appropriately – the “baka”.
The story unfolds from multiple perspectives. At the heart of the story is Angela Toussaint. I suppose she would be the central character. If this were made into a movie, whoever played Angela would be the actress in a leading role. The year is 2001 (approximately) and Angela, a successful lawyer from California, is temporarily residing in her second home in Sacajawea, Washington for the summer. This is “Good House” (also “Goode House”), her childhood home, where she was raised by her grandmother, Marie Toussaint, now deceased. Angela ’ s own mother was unfit to raise her due to mental health issues (or perhaps her soul was “infected”.)
The townsfolk of Sacajawea warmly welcome Angela’s return. Her family, her house, it’s all part of the town’s history, all woven into the fabric of the community, though the weaving process , from a historical perspective, was quote contentious. She is one of the few black members of the community. Mostly, race is not an issue, although the town has pockets of redneck racists. (Her son Corey will learn this) She is highly respected. But when her grandmother was young woman living in Good House.it was a different story.
Angela is seeking to refresh her life. Having only partial custody of her teenaged son, her experiences with him have been limited as of late and she wishes to change that. Corey seems to favor his father, and so she tries to rebond with him one fateful summer at Good House. At the same time, her relationship with her ex-husband is not lost. He visits the house, and there is a rekindling.
So far I am describing a rebuilding of family and community. But this will not happen. Instead everything falls apart. Neighbors go insane. Some kill their loved ones. Others kill themselves. Her friends suffer horrific calamities Her own family meets tragedy head on. Something unspeakable has been unleashed.
As previously mentioned, Angela’s story is the central narrative. And yet, it is my least favorite of the various perspectives. At times, it gets too bogged down in mundane things such as the tasks involving her career and the details of her exercise routine. Even the attention focused on her love life was too much for me. For my tastes. But then again, I’m a guy and romance dramas don’t do a whole lot for me. However, Angela’s story ties together the stories from the perspectives of other characters, so her tale is an important one. And it is these other perspectives that I will now focus on. For me, they capture the intrigue of the book. These would be the perspectives of Corey the teenager and Marie the grandmother. WARNING: there will be spoilers ahead. I don’t know how else to discuss the themes I’m about to delve into without them.
Why is the house at the center of the story a “good house”? Because once upon a time, people came to the house to be healed. Because the former owner, Elijah Goode, a pharmacist in the early 1900s, dispensed medicines, specially brewed with natural herbs and a little bit of magic. The herbs grew on blessed grounds, on land populated with spirits. These special medicines were concocted by his maid Marie Toussaint, later to be his wife, a voodoo priestess. Marie will inherit the house upon Elijah ’ s death, marry an Indian man, be the recipient of much hatred and racism. Still, she will exorcise a demon from one of the daughters of the townsfolk. It is “a good house”. It was a “good” thing for her to do, especially since she was the one to summons the demon in the first place.
What if you were a black woman of Creole descent in the 1920s, and your life was turned upside-down by murderous racists, and you had the power to extract revenge on them with an act that was as simple as snapping your fingers? Would you go in for the kill? Marie Toussaint showed restraint when her first husband was murdered by racists in New Orleans. When she moved across the country to Washington with her young daughter and married a white pharmacist, Elijah Goode (His house = Goode/Good House), racism would rear its ugly head again, even after she helped the nearby communities by using magic to extract the healing power within the herbs that grew on this enchanted land. When she, a black woman, inherited the house of her husband, a white man, people in the nearby town of Sacajawea sought out lawyers to get her out. To further piss-off this community of racists, she took Red John as a common law husband. He was formerly viewed as “the good Indian who knew his place”. Red John had been “the white man’s pet”, but this new arrangement might cause him to step “out of his place”. Both Marie and Red John were stepping out of their places, so the people of the town shot bullets through her windows and front door.
It was all Marie could stand. She gave into anger. A kind of momentary anger that all of us fall victim to now and again. An anger that might elicit a curse word or two from ordinary people. Marie is not an ordinary person. She utters a curse. But the thing is, her words are packed with much more power than your average “God damn you!” Chances are, God won’t sent a person to Hell based upon one person’s idle request. Marie remembered a word that was stolen from the gods. A powerful word. She spoke it, unleashing a powerful baka. Her words, so simple to say, so deadly the consequences. Mudslides ravage the down. A demon is summoned and it does what demons do – it possesses the living.
This is the backstory – the history. But as all of us amateur historians know, history repeats itself. Some eighty years later, the baka will once again be summoned and ravage the community. Who is it that calls upon the baka? Her great grandson Corey.
Corey, fifteen, an aspiring poet and rap artist, is having trouble adjusting to his new environment in the rural northwest. For a whole summer, he must live with his mother Angela at Good House in Sacajawea, Washington. He is used to his urban environment in Los Angeles, where he has many friends and lives under the lax supervision of his father. He had no friends in Sacajawea. His mother is naggy and strict. He is the only black kid in the community.
Eventually, he forms a friendship with a white kid named Sean. They share a love for rap music. However, not all of the kids in this community are friendly to him. Some are downright hostile, such as the town bully Bo Cryer , proud of his confederate flag t-shirts, ready to beat “sense” into this new “gangster kid”. And beat him he does.
Corey is a bright and curious kid. He finds items of his great grandmother hidden away in the house. He finds her diaries, reads her journals. He learns Vodou spells. At first, he uses these spells for innocent things, such as reclaiming lost items. But even this kind of tampering has its costs. And when he speaks the forbidden word to get back at the bully , all hell breaks loose.
Here Ends the Spoilers Sections
So, are there any, shall we say, “Haunted House happenings” in the story? There are some. A piano plays by itself, a presence or two are felt at times, a mysterious ”friend” of Corey’s defies physics by the way she sits on a tree branch and talks to him through his upstairs window. Sometimes the plumbing churns out foul black slush through the faucets. Then there is the night that every room in the house is blanketed with leaves, turning the floors of Good House into a forest’s bed. As previously mentioned, the house is not necessarily the “ epicenter of the haunting.” But the house itself is important to the story, so much so that author Tananarive Due devotes attention to describing the rooms, the attic and cellar, the furnishings and portraits on the wall. The modern day characters that populate the Sacajawea community (Sacajawea is a fictional town, BTW) have great respect for the Goode House. For them it is not only an historical landmark, but it’s a history that continues on. The townsfolk cling to the stories of the past that that focus on the generosity of Angela’s grandmother, Marie Toussaint. She is spoken of as a town healer. When Angela returns to her property and hosts a Fourth of July party at Goode House, many prominent people of the town show up. They have warm affections for Angela and the house and its history of “goodness”.
The people of Sacajawea have either forgotten the darker history of Goode House or have chosen not to confront it. Some still remember, or at least know of the cruel accounts of racism directed toward Marie Toussaint and her house (details of this are in the spoiler section above), but they either don’t speak of these things or do so in a “hush-hush” tone. But such a darkness cannot be extinguished by modern lights. Maybe this is one of the many messages of the book?
Is there anything to say about this book concerning the subject of black history? Well, this is a work of fiction, for sure. Even when it comes to the subject of Vodou, Due admits that while she utilized real concepts associated within that religion (i.e. “lwas”, spirits of Haitian Vodou or “baka”, evil spirits), she creatively improvised when it came to creating the spells, prayers, and magic that take place in story. But Vodou is a real religion and it was practiced by many African slaves
“Vodou is a creolized religion forged by descendants of Dahomean, Kongo, Yoruba, and other African ethnic groups who had been enslaved and brought to colonial Saint-Domingue (as Haiti was known then) and Christianized by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries.”
While fictional and fanciful, Good House does point to many historical circumstances on the subject of black history. It teaches the importance of family and the value of heritage, especially for a people that were so cruelly uprooted. It reminds us of the prevalence of racism toward African Americans in the early part of the twentieth century, and lets us not forget the ongoing prejudice and discrimination that still occurs today. On this last note, maybe I should repeat a phrase I used earlier that gets to the heart of this…and more. I will do that. Here I go:
“ But such a darkness cannot be extinguished by modern lights.”
In other words, our country’s racist past cannot be erased. The ghosts of history will not allow for this. Nor should they.
About the Author
Tananarive Due is a an educator, former journalist and author. She is the daughter of civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, who as a member of CORE, (Congress of Racial Equity) and participated in several marches and a jail-in. Tananarive is the author of several books on the subject of black history/speculative fiction. Her novel “Black Rose” is based upon the research of Alex Haley.
***The above information was taken from Wikipedia.com