Little Sister Death by William Gay book review

William Gay channels The Blair Witch Project in Little Sister Death

Little Sister Death by William Gay

What better place to write a horror novel than a haunted house? When struggling novelist David Binder moves his wife and daughter into the former Beale mansion, he’s hoping to use the legend of the Beale Witch to write the book that will make his fortune. But as anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie can tell you, that’s not exactly how things are going to play out.

Drawing on the allegedly true story of the Bell Witch – the same legend that inspired The Blair Witch Project – this ‘lost’ novella by the late William Gay dances through history, exploring hundreds of years’ worth of tragedy that all happened in the same creepy house.

The writing is gorgeous; descriptive, rich and musical, with a Southern accent so thick you’ll wish author William Gay could’ve read it to you. It’s compelling – and short – enough that it’s possible to read in a single sitting. That’s probably how it’s best enjoyed: as a single gulp of deliriously macabre mystery.

This isn’t a book that’ll stand up to close scrutiny. It’s all atmosphere and mood, packed full of moments of horror and weirdness that, individually, are effective enough, but don’t come together to form a coherent whole.

It ends abruptly, abandoning Binder and his family in the middle of their story, stranded in the remains of a history they’ll never understand.

Perversely, that might make it even more unnerving than if it’d had a tidier ending. It’s the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve closed the cover – while you might not remember the details of the plot, there are plenty of eerie images and haunting ideas that’ll snag in your brain, waiting for the perfect late night moment of vulnerability to resurface and creep you out all over again.