Rooms by Lauren Oliver

RoomsI loved Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall and was excited to hear that she was publishing an adult novel – Rooms. And, bonus, it had mystery and history and a haunted house! What more could I ask for?!

Richard Walker has died, thankfully not at home – much to the relief of introverted Alice and sarcastic Sandra, ghosts currently haunting their (and now his) former house. A wealthy but philandering hoarder of a man, Richard left behind an embittered drunk of an ex-wife Caroline, nymphomaniac daughter Minna and her own young daughter Amy, and angsty teenage son Trenton, who all arrive to sort through his belongings. None of the them have been in the house in years, having left and never planned on looking back, and Alice and Sandra observe the changes the years have wrought in them while betting on how long they’ll last confronting their memories of the past.

But Alice and Sandra have their own memories they’ve been hiding from. Now stuck in the house for years, increasingly losing their identity, it’s uncertain whether they’ll ever rest in peace. Until a third ghost arrives, a young girl who Trenton can somehow communicate with – and whose presence helps unravel the mysteries of the past and force both the family and the resident spirits alike to face the truth.

This was an easy, but not particularly exciting read. All of the characters were lousy humans, lying both to themselves and to others almost compulsively. Granted, several of them had very good reasons to bury the truth but naturally (and literally in one case) it’s eventually dug up. The getting there is darkly humorous, similar to the film American Beauty in many dysfunctional ways. I don’t know how to describe it exactly but all of the characters are sympathetic, yet not very compelling. Take Trenton, who’s depressed because he’s unpopular – understandable for a teen, but not particularly interesting. Or Caroline, who drowns her regrets at leaving her cheating husband in alcohol and stalks his former mistresses. Maybe they just felt like stereotypes? But whatever it was, I couldn’t feel invested in them.

Unfortunately, all of them get POV chapters – switching between characters that frequently is risky because certain perspectives are bound to be better. I think my favorite here was Sandra, who was dead-on accurate despite her bitchiness, which at least enlivened the narrative in a way that Trenton’s moaning and Minna’s boning couldn’t. In spite of my interest though, I still lost track of even her back-story because of all the switching. Additionally, several chapters are encompassed within each section, which is named after a room in the house, a cute tie-in to where the story was at that time but one that ultimately added to my confusion about certain plot points.

Overall, it just wasn’t what I expected it to be, and not in a good way. The idea of it far trumped the execution. I hesitate to bill this as fantasy or horror because the supernatural ghost element isn’t so much paranormal or spooky as it seems to be a depressing extension of the human experience. The book is more geared towards the family drama-loving audience than any readers of the aforementioned genres. As for me, I am still eager to read her newest YA work Panic, but this one just didn’t cut it.

3 Stars

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