Bookworm: ‘How to Sell a Haunted House’

Author Grady Hendrix absolutely knows how to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“How to Sell a Haunted House”

  • By Grady Hendrix
  • c. 2023, Barkley
  • $28, 432 pages

You forgot that there were strings. You forgot who was doing the talking, too. No, your eyes were stuck on the puppet with a funny voice that made you forget that this was a show, that a bit of cloth and a wooden face were only objects of theater. Didn’t you see the puppeteer’s lips move? As in the new book “How to Sell a Haunted House” by Grady Hendrix, wasn’t there a human holding the strings?

Driving by it, her parents’ house looked smaller than she remembered.

Then again, it had been some time since Louise Joyner had been home. Years ago, she’d escaped the place and never looked back, returning only when necessary – like now, when she and her brother, Mark, had a double-funeral to plan and that shabby old house to clear out.

“How to Sell a Haunted House” by Grady Hendrix.

She couldn’t say she had a bad childhood, but it wasn’t normal, either. Nancy Joyner had been a good mother, but her focus was more on doll collecting, puppet-making, and puppet-ministry for the church. Sometimes, it felt as if Louise and Mark were raised with a third sibling, a ratty old puppet named Pupkin that their mother’d had since she was a child.

That was embarrassing and somewhat traumatic, which is why Louise moved to California long ago, as far from Charleston as she could get. But then her parents were killed in an accident, she had to hurry home, and if that wasn’t enough heartbreak, she learned that they’d left everything to Mark, except their mother’s artwork.

It didn’t help that Mark was being a jerk.

He wanted the house cleaned out immediately, even before the funeral. He tried to bar Louise from getting their mother’s crafts and dolls, that awful taxidermed squirrel Nativity, all the marionettes and puppets and Pupkin, but Louise was adamant.

She wanted that awful inheritance.

Truthfully, though, she’d probably just throw it all away later. True Fact Number Two: they were creepy things, and the worst of her childhood.

She’d go home and forget it all happened.

But she wouldn’t go alone ...

If there was a dial on the outside of “How to Sell a Haunted House,” you wouldn’t be surprised to see it turned up high. The story inside this book offers maximum creepiness, freaky googly-eyes, and dolls that move. The only thing better would be a ghost.

Oh, wait. There’s a ghost in here, too.

And nightmares, and animals with tiny teeth, and electric tools that behave on their own, an attic, beloved stuffed toys with the capability for disappointment, and a thick thread of dark humor trailing lazily throughout this story. Author Grady Hendrix absolutely knows how to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, but he also knows how to wink at readers who are ready to get a joke.

Why, oh why does it always have to be dolls and puppets? Because it does, of course. And for that, you’re going to love “How to Sell a Haunted House,” no strings attached.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.