Monday, February 22, 2021

Book Nook: The Upstairs House

 Following the critical and popular success of her singular and fantastical debut, What Should Be Wild, Julia Fine returns with the equally mesmerizing The Upstairs House (Harper; 2/23/2021; NetGalley, Edelweiss). An unsettling meditation on new motherhood that calls to mind Shirley Jackson, it plumbs a postpartum woman’s psychological unraveling, which coincides with the ghostly arrival of children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown. 

In the wake of a difficult childbirth, new mother Megan Weiler is largely raising her baby alone, her husband too often away for work. Physically and mentally exhausted, she’s also plagued by the pull of her unfinished dissertation on mid-century children’s literature.

Enter a new upstairs neighbor: the ghost of quixotic children’s book writer Margaret Wise Brown—author of the beloved classic Goodnight Moon—whose existence no one else will acknowledge. It seems Margaret has unfinished business with her former lover, the once-famous socialite and actress Michael Strange, and is determined to draw Megan into the fray. As Michael joins the haunting, Megan finds herself caught in the wake of a supernatural power struggle—and until she can find a way to quiet these spirits, she and her newborn daughter are in terrible danger.

In this riveting story, Fine brings these two historical figures, and the publishing world, to life. The 1940s affair between cross-dressing socialite Michael Strange and Margaret Wise Brown was an infamous scandal of its time, and here Fine pays their relationship and the world of '40s children's book publishing a rich, dazzling homage, with cameos from the likes of legendary publisher Ursula Nordstrom and actor John Barrymore, Michael Strange's third husband.

Using the postpartum haunting by these unusual characters as a powerful metaphor for a woman’s fraught relationship with her body and mind, Julia Fine once again delivers an imaginative and “barely restrained, careful musing on female desire, loneliness, and hereditary inheritances” (The Washington Post). 

Julia Fine is the author of the critically acclaimed What Should Be Wild, which was shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Superior First Novel Award and the Chicago Review of Books Award. She teaches writing in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and son.

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