Imagine reading a book that is the equivalent of being locked in the Sleeping Beauty castle. Thorny vines wind their way around the windows and turrets, while inside, beautiful young people are sleeping peacefully. The family members in Elizabeth Gentry’s Housebound are similarly asleep, as if under a spell. Reading it was an enchanting but slightly breathless experience.
Maggie and her eight siblings are home-schooled and isolated from the small town they live near, except for a weekly library trip. She is the eldest at 19, and the story begins when she realizes that it’s time for her to get a job and leave home – that if she doesn’t, no one else ever will. Her announcement at breakfast one morning seems to break the spell that the family has been under for years. Maggie begins exploring the woods near her house, rambling around places she doesn’t remember going before, and meets neighbors and family members she’d forgotten existed. They start filling her in on what’s really been going on with her family all this time, and deeply buried family secrets are brought painfully to light.
This is an enthralling and slightly claustrophobic read. We get inside the minds not only of Maggie and her siblings, but also her parents, and very briefly, a rat that bites Maggie’s finger in one of the opening chapters. Menacing characters fill the woods like trolls or witches from fairy tales. The family’s house itself holds mysteries. I felt compelled to keep reading, to see if Maggie, was going to find her way out of the labyrinth of secrets and forgotten memories she was ensnared in. It’s a dark, cautionary fable, vague in time and place, but explicit in the ways families hurt each other and believe lies that both comfort and bind.