Christopher Ransom’s debut novel, a haunted house story entitled The Birthing House, will definitely draw in many readers with its promising premise and old-school horror atmosphere, but beyond first appearances lies a book plagued by a muddled plot, weak writing and the lack of enough chills.
The Birthing House puts an interesting spin on the haunted house subgenre of horror, presenting a story revolving around an old Victorian house where life and birth become powers of the supernatural. Adopting a third-person limited narrative, the novel focuses on protagonist Conrad Harrison and the strange events that come to pass after he moves with his wife to a 19th century birthing house located in a small Wisconsin town.
The book begins in an intriguing fashion, setting things up right from the very first sentence: ‘Conrad Harrison found the last home he would ever know by driving the wrong way out of Chicago with a ghost in his car.’ At the same time, however, these introductive few words also foreshadow future gaps in the plot. Without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say that the aforementioned ghost that accompanies Conrad on his way to his new home is never mentioned again throughout the novel and we are left only to speculate as to what purpose it actually served. Unfortunately, it becomes quite obvious after reading through the entire book that there was absolutely no purpose to the ‘ghost’ in Conrad’s car other than it serving as a cheap representation of the supernatural motif, much like those jump scares in run-of-the-mill horror films that are lack the creativity to generate scares through other means.
This example may seem fairly odd at first, but I have brought it up because it’s basically a paradigm for many other plot points in Christopher Ransom’s inconsistent ghost story. He seems to summon ghostly appearances and supernatural events at command, but because he never gets around to tying most of them to the story, they end up acting as loose ends. As a result, The Birthing House may make for an entertaining read, but as the book nears its end, one naturally begins to expect some sort of twist that will tie everything together. Nothing of the sort comes along, though, and the final revelation that Ransom employs as a means of concluding his novel is rather half-baked and ultimately unsatisfying.
Unfortunately, the inconsistencies present in the story are far from being the only faults within the novel. Christopher Ransom also stumbles in terms of writing style, assuming an often erratic tone as he tries to inject what ultimately feels like gratuitous swearing and a chaotic use of italics into his book. There’s also that incident involving Conrad browsing through the MySpace page of his next door neighbors’ teen daughter, a laughable attempt at giving the novel a more up-to-date feel that completely backfires, making one realise just how clunky Ransom’s writing is.
On a small positive note, Christopher Ransom does blend elements of erotica and horror in a very effective and distinct manner, and even though the author’s repeated indulgences in depicting sex may seem superfluous to some, they do end up making the novel a more interesting read. All in all, though, not much of the readership is going to come out of The Birthing House content, but in terms of readability it’s not going to hurt anyone either. Kind of what a standard debut novel should be, if you ask me.