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The Birthing House    by Christopher Ransom order for
Birthing House
by Christopher Ransom
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, Audio, CD
*   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

After Conrad Harrison receives a large inheritance from his father, he is optimistic that his new largesse will set his troubled marriage back on track. His workaholic wife Joanna has always been the primary breadwinner. Perhaps now she will slow down and they might broach the subject of starting a family. But when Conrad returns home one day to find Joanna and one of their male friends in bed together, his newfound confidence is shattered.

He decides it's time to leave the city and find a less fast-paced lifestyle, somewhere he and Joanna can re-evaluate their lives and their marriage. On a road trip east, Conrad takes a wrong turn and finds himself in the small Wisconsin town of Black Earth. On a whim, he checks out the local real estate and finds himself drawn to an old Victorian house that's priced right. Joanna barely settles in when she's off to attend an eight-week training course. As Conrad wonders if she'll ever come back, he and his dogs make the best of being on their own. Before long, however, ghostly female apparitions and wailing babies leave both Conrad and his pets shaken, then terrified - and Conrad eventually hovering on the brink of insanity.

Ransom's first novel displays an almost literary writing style and initially presents all of the ingredients for a ghost story with a twist as various malevolent spirits trapped inside Conrad's Victorian house attempt to lure him into madness. While Ransom's characterizations lack real emotional depth, the pacing is well done and the tone becomes increasingly creepy as Conrad is pulled in various directions, both supernaturally and psychologically.

Just as suddenly, Ransom switches gears, injecting far too many new and confusing plot threads, some of which include endless introspection detailing Conrad's beta male hang-ups and unresolved marital issues - and then his Lolita-like attraction to budding (and pregnant) teenage neighbour Nadia. Ultimately, The Birthing House never rises above a muddled, overblown ghost story, in which it becomes increasingly difficult to care about what happens to either Joanne or Conrad.

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