Title: Music From the Dead
Author: Bebe Faas Rice
Description: When Marnie’s father decided to rent an old summer house on the rocky coast of Maine, Marnie never imagined he’d choose Stoneycraig – a creepy-looking mansion miles from town. Her dad isn’t scheduled to arrive for a week, but there’s a housekeeper . . . who refuses to spend the night.
Marnie and her cousin Peter figure they can handle a week alone. But maybe not. Weird things begin to happen in the dead of night; they hear the chilling echoes of a woman crying and ghostly music drifting in from the piano room. Then Marnie learns of Stoneycraig’s tragic past sixteen years ago, involving a woman’s broken heart and horrifying death. Wanting to know more, Marnie and Peter move ever closer to the shattering truth, only to find a shocking secret that could kill them both.
Tagline: Marnie never believed in ghosts – until now.
I don’t remember this one very well, partly because in my mind it’s all mixed up with Rice’s The Listeners and Ritchie Tankersley Cusick’s Trick or Treat – all books I remember liking. I love a spooky ghost story, but I can’t remember if this one went full-on supernatural or not. (Future Me: Ghosts! We get for realsies ghosts! Ghooooooosts!) Either way, I’m really excited to reread this! A spooky isolated house with a possible haunting is right up my alley.
We open with a prologue that apparently takes place after all the events of the book. In it, Marnie McKay tells us about taking a picture of Stoneycraig the first time she saw it, and capturing an image in an upstairs window of the one she calls “She.” Marnie goes on to wonder if their arrival brought Her back from the grave or if She’d always been there watching and waiting. Guys. Guys! Am I actually going to get ghosts in this one?!
Chapter one, and Marnie and her cousin Peter Van Zandt arrive in the New England village of Pedlar’s Green. I’m already in love with this town based on the name alone. Marnie’s dad is a political writer in D.C., and her mom died when she was a baby. A mild heart attack prompted her dad to take some time off and rent the Stoneycraig mansion in Maine for the summer so he can relax and write a book about the Vietnam war. Which really doesn’t sound all that relaxing to me. The plan is for Peter to drive Marnie to the house and stay with her until her dad arrives in a week. Peter used to be Marnie’s BFF, but ever since he got back from spending five months in a Scottish boarding school, things have been weird between them because they’ve started noticing each other in a fuckable way. But it’s totally cool, because they’re not actually blood related. They grew up together, down the street from each other, maxing and relaxing in the same playpen, but them suddenly wanting to bang isn’t creepy at all. Not at all, guys!
Oh, and we get this gem from Marnie when she’s thinking about how girl-crazy Peter is:
Peter acts like a total fool sometimes, especially around girls. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve had to give him womanly advice about love or rescue him from the clutches of some designing female.
Oh, God, Marnie. Are you going to make me hate you immediately? She also says that her friends have been telling her for years what a “hunkarino” Peter is, and look, I was sixteen when this book came out, same as Marnie, and no form of “hunk” was being used to describe hot guys among my age group. Why do authors of teen novels never seem to have ever met an actual teenager?
Marnie and Peter stop at the little grocery store in town, and are told by the owner, Mr. Abbott, to ignore any talk they may hear about their house. Hmm, a house with a tragic past, you say? Rumors about your house, you say? Is it . . . haunted? Marnie doesn’t seem to be picking up on the “everyone thinks your house is haunted” vibe that Mr. Abbott is sending out, and I’m kind of already losing patience with her. Dammit, Marnie. We find out that the town realtor’s father owns the bank (and half the town), and for some reason we’re capitalizing the word “realtor.”
The kids leave the grocery store and go to see the realtor (sorry, Realtor) to get the keys to Stoneycraig. Along the way they throw out some casual abelism (Peter: “Maybe Pedlar’s Green is one of those towns where . . . they keep loony old aunts locked up in the attic.” Oh fuck off, Peter.), Peter low-key blames Marnie for her dad’s heart attack, they bicker like they used to back in the old days before they wanted to ride each other to Bone Town, and Marnie likes Peter’s bossiness. Oh, Marnie honey, no. No, girl. They pass through the town square on their way to Maltravers Realty, and from the description of this town, I want to move there immediately. (It’s reminding me of Star’s Hollow from Gilmore Girls, only now with 100% more ghosts.)
Marnie and Peter arrive at the realtor’s and Marnie immediately goes full snob over the secretary wearing “baggy polyester slacks and running shoes.” Because wearing comfortable clothing is now a stoneable offense. Oh shit, is that what the town square is used for? They meet Mr. Maltravers, who apparently used to be kinda hot back in the day but now is balding and getting fat, and is Marnie’s dad’s age. So, what, early forties? Younger, older, what? Marnie’s sixteen, so I figure her dad could be anywhere from mid-thirties to a hundred. Come on, book, be more specific! Peter and Marnie learn from Mr. Maltravers that the owner of Stoneycraig is named Matt Hadley, and he has a pretty little granddaughter about their age who Mr. Maltravers could introduce Peter to, wink wink. ‘Scuse me while I choke on the heteronormativity in the room. It’s here that we get a physical description of Marnie from Peter – apparently she has the temper to match all her red hair. Oh, good. We didn’t have enough stereotypes to play with, I’m glad this one could join the team.
Peter and Marnie mention the weird talk with Mr. Abbott and want to know what’s up with this house. Ghosts, Marnie. The house is fucking haunted, pay attention! Anyway, Mr. Maltravers explains that Mr. Hadley had a daughter, Ellen, who ran off to college in New York and came back pregnant and married to a no good bum songwriter named Stephen D’Amato. Maltravers sounds incredibly bitter about this, and I wonder if it comes into play later on, hmmm? Mr. Hadley gave Stoneycraig to Ellen as a wedding gift, but Stephen ran out on her while she was giving birth to their daughter, Clare. A few months after Clare was born, Ellen died. Maltravers very specifically tells the kids that Ellen didn’t die in the house, but nobody thinks to ask him how she died. Was it from a broken heart? I bet it was from a broken heart.
Marnie and Peter make their way to Stoneycraig, and Marnie falls in love with it on sight, thinking it looks like something out of Wuthering Heights. Peter mentions how good the fresh sea air smells, and I guess if you like the smell of salt, fish, and the occasional decomposing beached whale, sure, it’s awesome. The kids check out the house, and have I mentioned yet how much I want to live here? Apparently Marnie watches a lot of Antiques Roadshow, because I don’t know how else a sixteen-year-old would know that the furniture is the real stuff and not “cheapo reproductions,” because I’m twenty years older than her and I don’t have a fucking clue how to tell normal furniture from the primo shit.
While exploring the house, the kids find a room that they have to force their way into because the door is stuck. It’s a music room, and it doesn’t look like anyone has been in it for years – there’s dust and cobwebs everywhere, even though the rest of the house is clean. So, the housekeeper doesn’t come in here? At all? I mean, that’s just asking for a gaze of rabid raccoons to make this their home completely unnoticed, but whatever. There’s a heavy silver candelabra on top of the piano, and some blank sheet music papers, and the kids deduce that this was Stephen D’Amato’s music room. The room is much, much colder than the rest of the house, and Marnie begins to feel an overwhelming sense of despair come on her out of nowhere, and I’m happy again because you know what that means, guys? Ghosts! Motherfucking ghosts is what that means!
We get a pointless jump scare when the kids hear a thumping and shuffling sound coming up the stairs, but it’s just Mrs. Gleason, the housekeeper, trying to drag a laundry basket up the stairs. The kids then give her a jump scare because she didn’t realize they were already in the house. She tells Marnie and Peter that there was a storm last night that knocked the electricity out at Stoneycraig, so she had to take the sheets to her home to wash them, and she also had to keep an eye on Little Orvie. Marnie thinks she’s talking about a small grandchild and tells Mrs. Gleason that she can bring him with her, but it turns out Little Orvie is her 32-year-old son, and he’s “not quite . . . right.” So, I’ll withhold judgment on how this book handles a mentally challenged character, but not gonna lie, I’m already cringing a little.
Mrs. Gleason tells the kids she has to go home to check on Little Orvie but she’ll be back to cook their supper, and Peter tells her he’s perfectly capable of cooking, because he’s apparently become some sort of self-taught gourmet chef at boarding school. He gets very upset when Mrs. Gleason expresses shock at the fact that he can cook. Welcome to The Dangers of Defying Traditional Gender Roles 101, Peter. Then we learn that if the kids don’t need her for dinner, Mrs. Gleason won’t be back until tomorrow, even though Marnie was told that she was a live-in housekeeper. Maltravers lied; he knows damn well Mrs. Gleason isn’t a live-in! There are no words to express my shock at this turn of events, although there are several rude noises that express my feelings perfectly.
A storm rolls in while Marnie and Peter are eating in the kitchen, the warmest and most inviting room in the house. Marnie tries to write a letter to her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Norman, who is away at camp and, according to Marnie, probably surrounded by hot babes in bikinis who all want a piece of him. I can’t see some camp counselor named Norman having that much unbridled sex appeal, but okay. In an attempt to make Norman jealous, Marnie tries to make it sound like Pedlar’s Green is filled to the gills with hot guys, even though it’s the sort of place where the locals all leave for the summer and Clare is the only other person their age in town. Marnie, this is clearly not a healthy relationship. Why are you even with this guy when you so obviously want to go to the bone zone with your cousin?
They go to bed early (separately), and Marnie wakes up after midnight to a bone-numbing coldness in her room and the sound of a woman weeping. She gets out of bed to investigate and runs into Peter in the hall. The overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair washes over Marnie again, and then the grandfather clock in the foyer strikes one and the weeping stops. I don’t have anything snarky to say about any of this, because it’s nicely atmospheric, competently written, and as annoying as Marnie is, my hopes for a good ghost story are rising again.
The kids sit around Marnie’s room with what I imagine to be a fire-hazard number of candles lit, and try to logic out what just happened. Marnie is all aboard the ghost train, but Peter is being extremely condescending and mansplaining all about how the wind from the storm was shrieking through the caves under the house and causing noises that sounded like sobbing. Because Marnie has sixteen years’ worth of internalized misogyny to pull from, she is relieved that she was just being an irrational, hysterical female and there are no such things as ghosts. Then she unironically tells Peter, “You’re a jewel, Peter, a real jewel,” and I have to wonder when Marnie had the opportunity to become possessed by Katharine Hepburn.
The next morning, the electricity is still out. Mrs. Gleason comes by and cooks breakfast, and Peter tells her again that she can bring Little Orvie with her whenever she wants so that Big Orvie (her husband) doesn’t have to keep an eye on him. Mrs. Gleason explains that Little Orvie is afraid of the house, which is odd because he loved it there when Ellen Hadley was alive. But Little Orvie can’t really talk, so he can’t tell anyone what brought about the change in his feelings toward Stoneycraig. Peter suggests that it bothers Orvie that Ellen is gone, and Mrs. Gleason agrees, telling them that Little Orvie was the last person to see Ellen the day she died. Peter is confused because Maltravers told them that Ellen didn’t die in the house, and I’m confused because nothing in the previous exchange actually indicated that Ellen died in the house, but I guess we have to move the plot along to the big reveal somehow. I mean, someone could have asked how Ellen died, but I guess that would make too much sense. Mrs. Gleason tells them that no, Ellen didn’t die in the house; she killed herself by jumping off the cliff the house sits on. Everyone else in the free world saw this coming a mile away, but these kids are absolutely shocked by it. Because I guess they’ve never seen a movie or read a book in their lives.
Next up we get told secondhand (through a conversation between Peter and Marnie as they walk along the cliff) that Ellen’s body was found by the nurse who was taking care of the baby and that the only reason she found Ellen was because the dog was barking at the edge of the cliff. Then Peter wonders if the reason Little Orvie is afraid of the house is because he saw Ellen jump, but then why would he be afraid to go inside the house? Come on, kids, use your brains! They decide to play Nancy Drew and one of the Hardy Boys (whichever one is more annoying and pompous) and investigate Ellen’s suicide further. But since the newspaper office and library are tiny, they figure trying to do research there will be hopeless. Oh, research pre-Google era, I feel you. Fear not, though! Marnie has the bright idea that they should go introduce themselves to Clare Hadley, like Mr. Maltravers suggested. Because nothing wins friends and influences people quite like knocking on their door and saying, “Hi, I’m renting the house where your dad abandoned you and your mom jumped off a cliff, tell me more!” Also at some point in this conversation, Marnie calls Peter a “dumbhead.” Was that ever a popular insult? Even in kindergarten? Did someone just use the literal English translation of dummkopf? What is even happening right now?
Turns out that Marnie’s plan is actually to meet Matt Hadley and get him talking about the house and hope that he lets something slip about Ellen. I don’t see how asking about Stoneycraig’s history in the Underground Railroad will lead to Hadley talking about his dead daughter, but I’m not the one writing the story, so what do I know? Oh yes, did you all catch that bit about the Underground Railroad? The caves under Stoneycraig were used to smuggle slaves out to the sea where they could then make it to Canada. Are these Chekhov’s caves? Because I’m willing to bet they play an important role later on.
Matt Hadley isn’t home, but Clare is. Marnie is annoyed by how gorgeous she is and what a fool Peter is making of himself. Oh my god, Marnie, just jump on him already. There’s a life-sized portrait of Ellen over the fireplace, which conveniently turns the conversation in exactly the direction Marnie wants it to go. We learn that Stephen D’Amato left Ellen a week before she gave birth to Clare (although earlier we were told that he left while Ellen was in the hospital giving birth, so what gives?), and that Ellen was convinced he didn’t leave her, that he would never have left her and the baby. Matt Hadley hated Stephen and never thought he was good enough for his daughter, wishing she had married a local boy instead. To try to make Clare feel better, Peter says that he can’t believe her father was all that bad, because someone as beautiful as her mother could have had anyone she wanted and she chose him. Jesus Christ, Peter. Being beautiful isn’t a personality trait. She could be beautiful and drown puppies as a hobby, you don’t fucking know if she’s fun to be around just because she gives you a boner.
Anyway, poor Clare. Her father abandoned her, and her mother killed herself without even bothering to feed her first. The nurse came back from running errands and found baby Clare wailing in her crib, and Ellen dead on the rocks below the cliff. Clare thinks her birth was the catalyst for what happened, and feels abandoned and guilty. I find it hard to believe that Clare would lay all this on two complete strangers within minutes of meeting them, but damn do I feel sorry for this girl.
They invite her to Stoneycraig for dinner, but her grandfather shows up and forbids her from ever setting foot in that house, because he wants that part of her life to be behind her. And yet he keeps a giant portrait of her mother over the fucking fireplace. What the fuck, Grandpa? Peter and Marnie go back to Stoneycraig, where Peter begins fixing dinner (E-Z Neapolitan Pork Chops) and wondering why Mr. Hadley keeps Stoneycraig if he can’t stand going there himself or letting Clare visit. Mrs. Gleason conveniently arrives and informs the kids that Hadley won’t sell because Mr. Maltravers wants to buy the house, but no way in hell is Hadley going to sell to him. Apparently there’s some family rivalry going back generations. Then Mrs. Gleason expresses pleasure and disbelief that Peter knows how to cook “fancy foreign food.” Hahaha, what?! They’re pork chops, lady, what the fuck are you talking about?!
Late that night, Marnie is woken up by the sound of a woman sobbing. The ghost is back! The cold is creeping in around Marnie again, and she goes to investigate, discovering that the electricity is out again. She wonders if it’s really out or if the ghost is knocking it out, which really doesn’t matter, does it? You’re still wandering around the house in the dark, with only flashlights and candles for that extra-spooky atmosphere, so shut up. Marnie and Peter meet up in the hallway and have a conversation about whether or not it’s Ellen haunting the house. Peter doesn’t think so, because ghosts are supposed to haunt the place where they died, and Ellen didn’t die in the house. Good God, these kids are thick. Piano music starts playing from the music room, and the ghostly weeping fades, like the ghost is listening to the music. Peter recognizes the song as “Until Forever,” which is a painfully cheesy title, but it’s supposed to have been a big hit song in the 80’s. It’s a love song so beautiful that it’ll bring tears to your eyes, no matter who you are. I seriously doubt that, but the last song that made me cry was the “Equal Rights” song from Popstar (they were tears of laughter), so maybe I’m not the best judge of tearjerker songs. The cold intensifies and Marnie feels a presence beside her that then moves off toward the music room. As the kids run toward the music room, Marnie notices that two notes are missing from the refrain, and wonders why. Gee Marnie, do you think there’s something inside the piano preventing those keys from being struck and you should probably look inside and check that shit out? You don’t? Oh. Okay then. The grandfather clock strikes one, and the music stops. When Marnie and Peter enter the music room, they see the candelabra on the floor and candles scattered all around it.
Once again, the kids stay up half the night trying to logic things out, except this time they’ve accepted that they’re dealing with ghosts and are now trying to figure out who the ghost is and if there’s more than one. At one point Marnie lays this one on us:
“One thing’s for sure . . . It isn’t Stephen D’Amato. He’s probably a fat, middle-aged woman chaser right now, playing in some tacky piano bar a thousand miles from here. Besides, even if he is dead, that kind of guy isn’t sensitive enough to be a ghost. Scuzzballs don’t haunt houses.”
First off, that logic is just painful. Seriously, I rolled my eyes so hard I caused myself physical pain. Thanks, Marnie. Secondly, Marnie’s got a serious hate-on for this guy just based on second-hand gossip. Not cool, Marnie. Maybe don’t believe everything you hear from biased sources.
The next morning, Mrs. Gleason brings Little Orvie to Stoneycraig with her. Apparently we’re going with the gentle giant cliche for him, so it could be worse, I guess. Clare shows up after breakfast, defying her grandfather’s orders, and wants to take a look around. Little Orvie has a slight freak out when he sees Clare. He’s mistaken her for her mother, even though he knows Clare. He calms down and follows the kids on their tour of the house. Clare says that the last time she was at the house, her grandfather got upset when she went into her father’s music room, but she has a hard time believing her father was all that bad. When she was little, she found a love letter Stephen wrote to Ellen, and she doesn’t think it sounded like it was written by a man who would desert his wife and baby. Which, okay, fair enough. Then she walks into the music room, picks up the candelabra that’s still on the floor, and sets it back on the piano. And Little Orvie freaks the fuck out, pointing at Clare and screaming something that sounds like “Bad! Bad!”
Oh really now?
Mrs. Gleason takes Little Orvie downstairs and says that she won’t bring him around any more, and Clare says that she should probably go, too. The kids look out the window and see Mr. Maltravers getting out of his red Miata (a Miata, guys! This book is soooo 90’s!), and Clare sneaks down the servant stairs and out the side door so that he doesn’t see her and tattle on her to her grandpa. It’s stated yet again that Maltravers wants to buy Stoneycraig (they’re really driving that one home), and Clare says she walked to Stoneycraig along the path to town instead of driving. Okay, but earlier it’s established that Stoneycraig is three miles from town, and I don’t know any sixteen-year-old American kid who would rather walk three miles there and back again than drive, but maybe she’s just really into fresh air and exercise. Weirdo.
Marnie and Peter walk into the kitchen to find Maltravers having a fit about Little Orvie being at the house, and I don’t see what fucking business it is of his? But dude is going off, at least until Mrs. Gleason tells him good luck finding anyone else willing to housekeep at this place! Then he starts backpedaling like it’s an Olympic event. He lets it slip that he only told Mrs. Gleason to keep Little Orvie away after Stephen D’Amato left, and Mrs. Gleason lets it slip that Maltravers was “sweet on” Ellen back in the day. Hmm, do you think any of this might be important later on?
Maltravers turns around and sees the kids, and pulls a change of moods that could give you whiplash, being all fake-friendly and then asking the kids if they’ve settled in okay and if they’ve been bothered by any of the noises the old house makes. Peter does a wide-eyed innocent “Gosh, Mr. Maltravers . . . the house is totally super!” bit that makes me wonder how the fuck he can be possessed by Beaver Cleaver when Jerry Mathers isn’t even dead, and Marnie wonders if Maltravers knows about the ghost, then convinces herself he doesn’t because he wouldn’t keep renting out the house if he knew something like that was going on!
Oh Marnie, you sweet, innocent cinnamon roll.
Later that night, as Marnie’s hanging up the phone after talking to her dad, she sees Little Orvie looking in the kitchen window at her. Okay, agreed that this is Not Cool, but Marnie flips her shit like he was peeping at her in the shower or something, referring to him as a Peeping Tom. Does that apply to peeping in the fricking kitchen window? What private, salacious things is he going to see going on in the kitchen? Not that I’m making light of peepers (hell, my dog scared the living shit out of one trying to look in my bedroom window a few years ago, and I was never so grateful to own a big, mean-sounding dog as I was that night), but it’s someone you know looking in the kitchen window, Marnie. Mrs. Gleason does not deserve the way Marnie goes off on her. Anyway, after Marnie was finally able to fall asleep, she thinks she heard the ghostly piano music, playing the same song with the same two notes missing (seriously, check inside the fucking piano!), but she’s not sure if it was a dream. Whether it was or not, she didn’t hear any sobbing from the ghost that night.
In the morning, Marnie and Peter decide to check out the beach at the base of the cliff, and have to descend a rickety wooden staircase that leads down the cliff face. This does not sound safe, but I guess it’s not that kind of book because they make it down to the beach safely. They talk some more about the house being a stop on the Underground Railroad (such subtle foreshadowing!), and then talk turns to Ellen and Clare, with Marnie marveling that Clare doesn’t hate her mother (“After all, the stupid woman ruined Clare’s life,” wow, nice empathy for depressed/suicidal people there, Marnie), and Peter defends Clare by saying that she’s not the type to hate anyone. Nice sentiment, but you’ve had exactly two interactions with the girl, Peter. You don’t actually know her well enough to know what she feels about anything.
The kids try to figure out if Ellen is the ghost, and if she is, why she’s haunting the house instead of the cliffs where she died. Good lord. I hope for my teenage self’s sake that I was every bit as frustrated with these kids’ inability to add two plus two when I was sixteen as I am now. They’re also confused about why the ghost has a soundtrack and wonder if there are two ghosts but ultimately decide that “Until Forever” must have been Ellen’s favorite song, so obviously her ghost would jam out to it while haunting them. Meanwhile, I facepalmed so hard I think I just gave myself a concussion. Marnie wonders if Ellen is haunting Stoneycraig because she’s sorry she killed herself and wants to make amends to Clare for ruining her life or whatever. Marnie convinces Peter that they need to go tell Clare about her mother’s ghost, then looks up at the house and sees Something in one of the upper windows. Yep, it’s a ghost, but I can’t even get excited about it anymore. These kids’ lack of critical thinking and blind acceptance of everything they’ve been told is draining my will to live. Please send gummy bears and cat videos.
Oh, good. Clare apparently blindly accepts everything she’s told, too, because when Marnie and Peter recap the entire book thus far for her, she agrees to come over, spend the night, and try to set her mother’s spirit to rest. Hey, good thing Grandpa Hadley is out of town on a business trip! Peter works himself into a tizzy trying to think of the perfect dinner to cook to impress Clare, and somehow comes to the conclusion that the five-star culinary masterpiece he should make, which he calls “elegant, but not too presumptuous,” is chicken and rice. Chicken. And. Fucking. Rice. Can we all chip in to buy Peter a dictionary so he can look up the meaning of “elegant”? I mean, first we had Mrs. Gleason calling pork chops “fancy foreign food,” now we have Peter calling chicken and rice made with fucking condensed soup “elegant.” Does Bebe Faas Rice even understand what food is? Chicken and rice is the basic bitch of the Betty Crocker cookbook! Oh, wait. Marnie goes on to call it a “sophisticated menu, designed to impress.” Jesus. I wonder if Mrs. Gleason would pop up to call it fancy foreign food if we started referring to it as arroz con pollo? Well guys, I hadn’t planned on spending an entire paragraph ranting about chicken and rice, but here we are. Count yourself lucky. The book spends an entire page on it. Fuck.
For some reason Clare finds the meal every bit as impressive as Marnie and Peter do, and I’m now convinced that these children spend half their lives standing in the gruel line, getting beaten when they ask for second helpings, and have no idea what constitutes an everyday meal. It’s the only explanation that makes any sense. After dinner they wait around for Ellen’s ghost to appear, hanging out in Marnie’s room with a fire going in the fireplace. Now, I know exactly zero about summers in Maine. Is it really so cold in the summer that you need to wear long sleeves in the daytime, and have a fire going at night to stay warm? Is that how summer in Maine works? I read a lot of Stephen King, and I don’t recall any of his characters being in danger of getting frostbite during Maine summers, but I don’t know. At any rate, after midnight the lights go out and it gets positively frigid in Marnie’s room, then they hear the sobbing coming from the hallway. It sounds more heartbroken than ever, and Clare walks into the hallway to meet it. As soon as she does, the weeping stops and the piano starts playing “Until Forever,” with the same two missing notes. (Look. Inside. The fucking. Piano!) Then a cold mist forms in the hallway. It takes on the shape of a woman and reaches toward Clare, who promptly faints. Because of course she does.
The haunting stops as soon as Clare faints. Marnie and Peter can’t wake her up, so they call the town doctor. Clare comes to but fakes being asleep, and the doc says it looks like she’s in shock but he can’t see any reason for it. He says there was an old lady the week before who fainted while playing around with a Ouija board and wants to know if the kids have been up to something he should know about. I just want to know if communing with the spirits of the dead is considered a pre-existing condition. Then he says he doesn’t see any signs of drug abuse, and we’re treated to Marnie getting super offended and defensive, saying that just because they’re young doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Sigh. Marnie, people don’t try drugs because they’re stupid; they try drugs because they’re bored, or curious, or self-medicating, or desperately trying to make themselves feel something. But way to shame literally half the country, and in one of the most ableistic ways possible as well.
Doc wants to know what Clare was doing there and what happened to scare her, and the kids tell half truths and say that the wind blowing through the caves scared Clare. Then the doc says that at least they weren’t holding a seance or playing with Ouija boards like old Mrs. Petrie, and I have to wonder just what the fuck is going on in this town. Is there a support group for people who commune with the dead? Is there like a “passing out from possession” punch card, with a discount on doctor’s visits after the tenth punch? Doc, why are you leaning so heavy on this Ouija board angle?! Anyhow, the doc is good friends with Grandpa Hadley and tells the kids that he’s going to have to tell Clare’s grandpa that she was at Stoneycraig. Because I guess doctor-patient confidentiality doesn’t exist in this universe? Honestly, I just want Clare to sit up and threaten a malpractice suit if he says anything to anyone without her express permission, but I get the feeling he could tell these kids that it’s common practice for doctors to hire a skywriter to spell out their entire medical file in the sky over the town on their birthdays and they would unquestioningly believe him.
As soon as the doctor leaves, Clare sits up and starts talking about how she’s sure the ghost was her mother and she wishes she had talked to her, then there’s a lot of teenage angst between her and Peter because her grandpa isn’t going to let her come around and see him anymore, and Marnie is just as sickened by this as I am, even though I’m not the one who wants to fuck my cousin. Marnie goes downstairs to make hot cocoa, and she either went to the Ivory Coast to pick the beans herself, or Grandpa Hadley is secretly one of the X-Men, because by the time Marnie has finished making the cocoa he’s pounding on the front door. Despite being out of town, no cell phones, and the fact that the doc most likely hadn’t even had time to drive back to town and call Hadley yet, to say nothing of Hadley having time to then drive up to the house from wherever the hell his overnight, out-of-town business trip was.
Oh. It was Bangor (hi, Stephen King!) and he came home early because his meeting was cancelled, and heard the doc’s message on the answering machine. Fine, but I still call bullshit on this timeline. It just doesn’t take that long to make cocoa. Predictably, Grandpa Hadley isn’t happy, and oh boy is he a drama queen about it. Clare tells him the same story Marnie and Peter told the doc, then Grandpa practically drags her out of the house by her hair, vowing to sell Stoneycraig and forbidding Clare from seeing Marnie or Peter ever again. Because that type of parenting never causes kids to rebel!
Peter turns the teen angst up to 11, and Marnie has had enough of it. She starts yelling about how much she hates the house; yells at Peter about being in the middle of another of his dumb crushes, calls him a “dumbhead” again (seriously, how is this a thing?), and basically goes on a rampage through the house with the intention of destroying the piano so the ghost can’t play any more music in the middle of the night. I mean, that’s not going to stop ghost-Ellen from weeping and sobbing all night, but who am I to argue with a sixteen-year-old girl on the warpath?
Marnie tears open the lid of the piano to rip the strings out, and finally. Finally! finds a couple of folded up pieces of sheet music wedged in under two of the strings! Fucking hell, if it had been me I would have checked the damn piano immediately! But I guess we couldn’t have padded this out to 193 pages if these kids showed any initiative whatsoever, so here we are. The sheet music is “Until Forever,” hand-written, words and music by Stephen D’Amato, and dedicated to Ellen and their unborn child. Okay, book, now we’re getting somewhere!
Except that Marnie and Peter refuse to believe that “that sleaze” Stephen could have written something that beautiful, and Marnie’s way-too-personal hate-on for this guy is still confusing, along with this dangerous notion she seems to have that garbage people will always present themselves as garbage people. Marnie, how do you think abusers get away with abusing people if they don’t come across as caring, good people at least some of the time, hmm? Anyway, their top theories are that either Stephen pretended he wrote the song for some unknown reason; or Ellen faked it because she was half-crazy and pretending her husband still loved her. So this time we’re using “crazy” to mean . . . sad? Grief-stricken? Whatever thesaurus Bebe Faas Rice is using, I think she needs to ask for her money back. The kids start wondering who’s been playing the piano at night, concluding it can’t be Ellen so there must be a second ghost, but who? And right about here I give myself my second concussion of this recap, this time from repeatedly slamming my head against the keyboard.
The kids still stubbornly refuse to believe that Stephen could have written “Until Forever,” but decide to ask Mrs. Gleason about the sort of music he did write, despite Marnie’s protestations about what a gossip Mrs. Gleason is. Which hasn’t been previously established in any way, so we’re just taking her word for it. As Marnie and Peter head off for bed, Marnie notices that the cold in the music room has disappeared, along with the feelings of hopelessness and despair, and as she’s leaving the music room she catches a scent of Glenheather aftershave. The ghost’s, obviously, since it’s not Peter’s scent. I image Peter favors Axe body spray, and probably uses half a can at a time. But no, this is the 90’s, so . . . Drakkar Noir?
The next morning Marnie and Peter visit Mrs. Gleason at her house (it’s the weekend, and she doesn’t work on weekends), and Marnie thinks that it looks like the sort of house Mrs. Gleason would live in. I honestly don’t even know what to do with that. They find out that Mrs. Gleason is tone-deaf and never paid any attention to Stephen’s music, but she liked him and gets offended when Marnie asks her how she could like that sleazeball. Mrs. Gleason points out that Matt Hadley hated Stephen because he wasn’t good enough for Ellen, and he considered him a “foreigner” because he was from New York City. Oh, my God. Okay then. Hadley would have preferred Ellen stick around and marry a local boy, but not Maltravers, as Marnie suggests, because of the generations’-old rivalry between the two families, even though Maltravers was obsessed with Ellen and hated Stephen as much as Hadley did. I feel like I’ve typed all of this already, so that just goes to show how many times these kids need to be beaten over the head with the same information in order to catch on to the simplest thing. Except they’re still fucking clueless, so. Yeah.
Back in the car (it’s a red minivan, guys, I didn’t mention that earlier, did I? Such a cool ride for these cool kids!), Peter finally realizes that they’ve only heard the Stephen/Ellen saga from extremely biased sources, which annoys Marnie for some reason? I don’t know, I’m really over these characters. Then they start arguing over what Marnie meant about Peter’s “dumb crushes” the night before, prompting them to give each other all kinds of shit about previous boyfriends and girlfriends, and I wish they would just jump in the backseat and make this van start a-rockin’ so we could move on from this tortuous subplot. For some unfathomable reason, Marnie decides that the best way to get information about Stephen D’Amato is to go to Maltravers’s office and tell him all about the hauntings. These kids must have flunked math, because they’re still incapable of putting two and two together.
At Maltravers’s office, Marnie and Peter tell him a watered-down version of the crying ghost story, carefully not mentioning Ellen. The kids find out that Hadley is selling the house because of what happened with Clare the night before, and Maltravers is buying it. Marnie is shocked that he still wants to buy a haunted house, and goes on to tell him about the piano-playing ghost and the sheet music hidden in the piano. At this point, Maltravers, who was already acting kinda sketchy, starts to look positively sick. Marnie chalks it up to the bad fluorescent lighting and wonders if she looks that bad under it, too. I . . . what the . . . Marnie, how have you not been murdered yet? I am now certain that Marnie routinely gets trapped in vans with no windows and “Free Puppies” painted on the sides. This girl literally believes everything she’s told, my god. Oh, wait, it gets worse. Maltravers is way too interested in the sheet music, and Marnie tells him exactly where she hid it for safekeeping and informs him that they haven’t told anyone else about it. Why are you like this, Marnie? Why? Maltravers tells them not to tell anyone else about any of this, and that he’ll come by the house in a few hours to sit with them during the big storm that’s about to blow in, and they’ll talk about what to do about the haunting.
I know storms are a cliche, but I like storms a lot, so I’m not too bothered by the use of this trope here. Maltravers arrives at Stoneycraig just before the storm starts, and even though it’s only mid-afternoon it’s already almost pitch-black out. The storm knocks out the electricity and the phone. Maltravers makes sure the kids haven’t told anyone about the sheet music, then Marnie shows it to him. Upon seeing it, he comments, “Yeah, that’s it, all right,” and then tries to play it off like he only meant that it was Stephen’s handwriting. But then he immediately shoves it in his briefcase and pepper sprays Marnie and Peter, so why even bother with the subterfuge? Actually, why bother attacking the kids at all? They’re so fucking oblivious, he literally could have told them anything and they would have believed him. I mean, trust me dude, they did not have any of this figured out. You weren’t anywhere on their radar. They weren’t even aware that they needed radar!
So, Maltravers pepper sprays the kids and ties them to kitchen chairs. I guess he wants to hit every villain stereotype possible. Before he starts monologuing, Marnie thinks that he’s “flat-out crazy” and I’m going to get ahead of the story slightly so that I can say No, Marnie. He’s not crazy. He didn’t do the things he did because he’s crazy; he did them because he’s a toxic person who views women as objects that he’s entitled to, and reacts violently when he can’t have what he wants, because our society teaches men that everything they want is rightfully theirs just because they want it and women are prizes to be collected rather than human beings with the right to pursue their own desires and lives. Not crazy. Just a misogynist, homicidal asshole.
Back to the monologuing. Basically, it was Maltravers in the conservatory with the candlestick. See, Maltravers was all pissy that Ellen came back from NYC married and pregnant, because he was in love with her. So he waited until she went into false labor and was in the hospital for observation, then sneaked up on Stephen while he was in the music room playing his new composition, “Until Forever.” It just wasn’t fair that Stephen had the woman he loved and this new song that was sure to be a hit! Not fair! So Maltravers bashed his head in with the candelabra, threw his body down into the secret room under the house, stole his song and sold it under a fake name, and started raking in the royalties. Oh, and Little Orvie saw him, but ran away and Maltravers figured he couldn’t communicate what he saw to anyone, so fuck him.
Turns out the reason everyone thinks that Stoneycraig is haunted is because Maltravers planted those rumors himself so that people wouldn’t want the house and he could buy it. Which seems like a pretty convoluted plot, but then again this is the guy who hid that original sheet music in the piano, then forgot to come back and get it for sixteen years, so foresightedness is clearly not this dude’s strong suit. Marnie insists that the house is haunted, and that it’s his fault Ellen killed herself. Oh, Marnie. Really? As soon as she says that, she finally starts to put the pieces together, partly because Maltravers looks really crazy now. See above for my feelings on this. So, Maltravers killed Ellen, because she made him do it. Don’t you hate it when you’re going about your day, all innocent and unawares, and someone suddenly makes you throw them off a cliff? I know I do! Ellen found the sheet music (before he stuffed it in the piano, so I guess it was just lying around the house up to that point? this part is a little confusing) and recognized it from hearing it on the radio. She was going to go to the police because she thought the dedication proved Stephen wouldn’t have left her, so Maltravers bonked her over the head with the candelabra and tossed her off the cliff. Hey, he didn’t want to, though! He loved her! He would even have married her, eventually! And it’s here that Marnie realizes the candelabra is always on the floor after a haunting, which is sort of a pointless mention this far into things, but okay, point it out for every reader whose obliviousness rivals yours, Marnie. (Also, Little Orvie was pointing at the candelabra (not Clare) and screaming “Bad! Bad!” but I guess Rice trusts us to work that one out ourselves.)
Maltravers decides here to make the classic super villain mistake of not killing the kids himself, and instead throws them down the hole behind the kitchen fireplace that leads down to the Underground Railroad secret room. Marnie watches him throw Peter down, then faints before he throws her in. Of course. It’s not a 90’s teen thriller until every girl in it has had a fainting spell! Somehow neither one of the kids is seriously injured despite being thrown from on high onto fucking rock, and they manage to stand back-to-back and untie each other’s ropes. Because they saw it once in an old spy movie. Sigh. Really? Marnie fortunately has a flashlight in her pocket that didn’t break when she most likely landed on it, and Peter postulates that this hole might actually be a tunnel since it was used in the Underground Railroad. Then they spot Stephen’s bones, Marnie smells the Glenheather aftershave again and yells for help from the ghosts, and Peter starts acting like she’s “gone off her nut” despite the fact that he’s had the exact same experience with these ghosts that she has, so what the fuck, Peter? You know they exist, why is it so weird for Marnie to ask them for help? I don’t see your sorry ass doing anything, Peter.
Marnie finds a tunnel behind some rocks, and they follow it, hoping it comes out on the beach. Turns out Marnie’s claustrophobic, because we gotta have !drama!, and the tunnel keeps getting smaller until they have to crawl forward on their hands and knees. Peter encourages her not to give up, calling her “my girl” and telling her that she’s always been his girl. Wait, really? We’re doing this now? I mean, I know I’ve been saying just fuck already and get it out of the way, but now?! Peter sort of proclaims his love for Marnie, but manages to make a dig about her hot temper, and also make some really gross comments about his interest in Clare being a “princess in the tower” thing, but this is all kind of hilarious when you remember that they’re still crawling in this tunnel with Marnie in the lead, so Peter is having this conversation with Marnie’s ass. He’s so insufferable that all I want right now is for her to fart in his face.
They come to the end of the tunnel, which opens into a small space big enough to stand up in, but there’s no opening in the rock, leading us to a cliffhanger chapter ending with Marnie crying that they’re trapped forever! They find the remains of an old campfire, leading them to believe this spot was used by runaway slaves and there must have been an opening in the rock at some point. Finally it occurs to Marnie to shut the flashlight off and look for light coming in from cracks in the rock. They find it, and start attacking the spot with rocks and pieces of wood from the campfire. When they punch a little hole through, they stop to celebrate and kiss. So I guess we’re cool with incest? I mean, I get that they’re not actually blood related, but they’ve been raised as family. I would love to be around the first time their parents see them making out, is all I’m saying.
Peter and Marnie come out on the beach and climb the staircase up the cliff to find Mrs. Gleason’s truck, Grandpa Hadley’s car, and a cop car in the driveway. Little Orvie had been at the house and seen Maltravers tie up the kids, and managed to communicate this to Mrs. Gleason somehow, just as he had when he saw Maltravers kill Stephen, but this time Mrs. Gleason was better at listening. But for some reason she called Hadley instead of the police, then he called the police. The sheriff asks Marnie what happened, and she says it was Maltravers and they can’t let him get away! But it turns out he’s already dead, crashed his car off the cliff leaving Stoneycraig. The sheriff says it looks like he left in a hurry since his coat and briefcase were still in the hall and the front door was wide open, and Marnie knows that Ellen and Stephen chased him out of the house, and she also senses that they’re gone now. She drops the bomb on Clare that Maltravers murdered her parents, Clare bursts into tears, Grandpa Hadley yells, “Whaaaaat?”, and Marnie’s dad chooses that moment to call and say he’ll be there in about an hour and ask about the noise in the background, demanding to know if they’re throwing a wild party. Because he’s going to need peace and quiet to work on his book, you know! He has a feeling that Marnie and Peter have been “staying up past midnight and listening to loud music, and heaven knows what else!” Oh, Dad.
Marnie tells her dad that Stoneycraig is going to be a very quiet house from now on, and the book ends.
I thought I remembered really liking this one as a teenager, but now I’m not so sure. I know I loved Rice’s The Listeners, so maybe I just conflated this one with that one. God I hope so. These characters are so infuriatingly slow on the uptake, all I wanted to do was clunk their heads together. I spent a good deal of time screaming internally (and externally). If I didn’t have the same reaction as a teenager, then I’ve lost all respect for teenage me. It’s too bad, too, because this story had potential for real spookiness and a good murder mystery, but it was sunk by oblivious characters without an ounce of critical thinking skills, who were obviously taught to blindly believe everything adults tell them. Seriously, I think Maltravers could have murdered someone right in front of them, then told them “Nope, I didn’t do it, don’t know what you’re talking about!”, and they would have been like, “Oh okay, our mistake!” And why were there so many scenes of Peter cooking? Did this originally start out as a cookbook? I am glad that Marnie and Peter got together, though. They’re both so insufferable, they deserve each other. Pseudo-incest and all.