The Den is a New England Gothic style novel by Abi Maxwell. It tells the story of two different families, each facing difficult choices and circumstances.
It begins with the sisters Jane and Henrietta, and their dysfunctional family. Henrietta, age 15, has started to rebel, smoking cigarettes, and having sex with her boyfriend. Jane, 12, spies on her sister as she desperately aches to get closer to her. It’s all very dramatic and high hysterics, but with a slightly modern spin on typical New England Gothic by adding in some other intrigues and red herrings, though I suppose these are hallmarks of works in the genre.
In addition to the coming of age aspect of the first part of the novel, there are secrets galore in this book. Jane and Henrietta’s mother keeps a secret art studio in the attic. Plus, Henrietta is pregnant and sneaking around. These are not the only examples of secrecy in the Den, but to reveal them would spoil the surprises in this New England Gothic novel.
Instead of focusing too much on the events of the book, I want to focus on the structure. The novel has four different narrators: Jane and Henrietta who I discussed above, and Elspeth and Claire. Elspeth and Claire are two sisters with a connection to Henrietta and Jane. The two pairs of sisters mirror each other in action, story, and trauma. Henrietta and Elspeth, while not terribly strange, are somewhat odd names. On the other hand, Jane and Claire are relatively plain names. Beyond the names, though, there is the behavior. Henrietta and Elsbeth appear adventurous, independent, and sexual. Their sisters, however, are as steadfast women who stand by their families and run the danger of becoming spinsters. Clearly, these stories have a deep connection.
The Den New England Gothic Meets Today
Maxwell does an excellent job of weaving these disparate but connected tales into one clear vision. As I read this novel, I was mostly able to follow the threads and twists and turns. Sometimes, I admit, the text turned where I didn’t expect. I love that. Gothic literature, no matter the region, needs some good mystery and conspiracy. The Den provides that at just the right times and in just the right amounts.
As for the modern twist, Henrietta and Jane are alive in the 1990’s, and as such have phones, cars, the internet, etc… This provides us with a glimpse of how this genre and these stories are going to look as we move further away in time from the roots of these types of tales. However, The Den never feels fully modern due to Maxwell’s ability to maintain the style and features of New England Gothic writing. These include improbable coincidences, loss, forgiveness (or lack thereof), pain, family, coming-of-age, and sacrifice.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and if you like Gothic style writing with a bit of modernization thrown in, you might like it too. Check it out. Thanks for reading and leave me a comment if you are so inclined.