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The Grip of It: A Novel Paperback – August 1, 2017
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Praise for The Grip of It
Recommended Reading by Nylon, W, Marie Claire, Entertainment Weekly, Men's Journal, Lit Hub and Chicago Reader
"A page-turning psychological thriller . . . [The Grip of It] is the clever work of a writer who has patiently carved out her own home in contemporary fiction . . . as chilling as it is evocative." ―Laura Pearson, Chicago Tribune
"[The Grip of It] is a cerebral haunting in book form, a page-turning, suspenseful read that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it . . . The Grip of It stalks the reader through its pages with a silent, grayscale terror, like the brush of a web against your cheek in the dark . . . What makes this novel so powerful is the acknowledgement that intimacy does require a trust beyond logic, that “ruin” can come just as easily to the guilty or the guiltless, and an embrace of the chaos is sometimes the only way to make it out to the other side." ―Matt Lewis, Electric Literature
"Jemc adds something unique to [horror in American media] with her writing . . . To keep the tension going, Jemc never allows her readers a chance to fully know if the haunting is authentic, but it’s not validation of the supernatural that the reader needs to enjoy this book. The pleasure of this text is in the participation of the reader, the act of taking Jemc’s narrative gaps and her characters’ fugue states and constructing the story they want (or don’t want) . . . Simply put, we need more books like this, books that allow us fear without forcing themselves on us with a two dimensional ta-da." ―Duncan Barlow, Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"Jemc’s novel of literary horror is sharply written and builds compulsive momentum, alternating between James and Julie’s points of view in short, dense chapters. The language is vivid and the syntax deliberate, building sentences that unfurl the novel’s growing unease. A novel centered on a haunted house that will inevitably also haunt the reader, The Grip of It is an intensely satisfying narrative that calls into question what trust means―of our own minds, and of the relationships around us." ―Anne Valente, The Rumpus
"You may find The Grip Of It keeping you awake at night, not because it's a traditional horror novel but because Jemc effortlessly weaves threads of reality and the abstract into an unsettling lens that distorts perception itself." ―The Oklahoman
"With an eerie quality evocative of Shirley Jackson . . . [The Grip of It] feels both familiar and disorienting, and both Gothic and modern ― a reflection of Jemc’s masterful talent." ―National Book Review ("5 Hot Books This Week")
"[The Grip of It is] so immediately frightening that your conscious mind subsumes the drama and focuses on the sounds in the house, the weird laughter in the forest, the jagged writing on the walls. The fun in the book is the way Jemc explodes all the haunted house clichés . . . Like all great haunting stories, the great thing is how quickly reality is overturned and shown to be the flimsy construct it is." ―Leah Schnelbach, Tor.com
"[The Grip of It] is a book that, like the haunted house at its core, sinks its hooks deep into you and refuses to let go until you turn that last page. . . . The Grip of It is a psychological horror novel that belongs in the same conversation as a classic like The Shining, or more modern examples in film like The Babbadook or Oculus. . . . To all the ravenous fans of the horror genre looking to devour a smart, creepy, and well written book, this is one that once you start, you won’t be able to put down." ―Robert Young, Heavy Feather Review
"The Grip of It left me with the feeling of being gaslighted―made to feel crazy while being manipulated . . . Jemc delivers a psychological horror story and a disturbing portrait of a marriage . . . The Grip of It closes with unnerving ambiguity, allowing the reader to imagine the options." ―Toni Nealie, Newcity Lit
"That distance―the distance between what your relationship feels like on the inside and what it looks like to the outside observer―is the space Jac Jemc productively exploits to some mighty frightful ends in her new novel, The Grip of It . . . All the spooky shit that happens is just on the edge of scary, just on the edge of believable, which makes it all the more terrifying . . . [Jemc's] urgency drove me down the page and onto the next one." ―Rich Smith, The Stranger
"A psychological spook story in the best high literary tradition . . . The real scare in this truly haunting novel stems from the way Jemc keeps the psychological tension of Julie and James' relationship taut . . . Shivery and smart. A book that brings the legacy of Henry James into the modern world with great effect." ―Kirkus (starred review)
"A haunted house tale that toys with the hallmarks of ghost stories―a young city couple moving to a small town, a curmudgeonly neighbor, a spooky legend―to create an exhilarating and unsettling literary page-turner . . . As the author ratchets up the tension, the reader eagerly follows. The conclusion is the perfect cap to a story full of genuine frights." ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"For connoisseurs of the 'new weird' and literary/psychological horror à la Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves and Marisha Pessl's Night Film." ―Library Journal (starred review)
"Told in a luxuriously looping style that examines experiences from two points of view, this seemingly typical haunted house tale takes some very unexpected turns. Jemc has created a frightening world that feels both impossible and altogether too real. Prepare to read this in one sitting and think about it for days to come." ―Booklist
"The Grip of It is a stunning, smart, genuinely creepy page-turner that I couldn't put down. It's got depth, thrills, twists, and great writing. I'd recommend this novel to anyone. One of the few haunted house stories that sticks the landing." ―Jeff VanderMeer, author of the Southern Reach trilogy and Borne
"I mean this in the best possible way: Jac Jemc gives me the creeps. The Grip of It deserves a spot on the shelf beside Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, and Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves―not only because it is a masterful haunted house story, but because it, like its literary predecessors, is elegantly written, psychologically rich, and damn terrifying." ―Benjamin Percy, author of The Dark Net, The Dead Lands, Thrill Me and Red Moon
"Jac Jemc's novel gets into your brain from the first page, then steadily gasses you with a sense of growing dread. The Grip of It is a beautifully built scare ride, and also a surprisingly moving and trenchant portrait of married Millennials. It held me in its grip and squeezed."―Dan Chaon, author of Ill Will, Await Your Reply, and You Remind Me of Me
"Quick and haunting, stark and unsettling, every page of this novel is a shingle laid over the dark heart of a couple in quiet crisis. Take shelter!" ―Amelia Gray, author of Isadora and Gutshot
“A horror story, a love story, an astute exploration of the unreliability of thought and perception, Jac Jemc’s brilliant and moving novel challenges and enlightens on every page. I couldn’t put it down. ―Stephen O’Connor, author of Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings
About the Author
Jac Jemc is the author of My Only Wife, a finalist for the 2013 PEN / Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award, and the short story collection A Different Bed Every Time. She has been the recipient of two Illinois Arts Council Professional Development Grants, and in 2014 was named one of 25 Writers to Watch by the Guild Literary Complex and one of Newcity’s Lit 50 in Chicago. She recently completed a stint as the writer in residence at the University of Notre Dame and currently teaches at Northeastern Illinois University and StoryStudio Chicago, as well as online at Writers & Books and the Loft Literary Center, and she is the web nonfiction editor for Hobart.
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Top customer reviews
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Just a quick FYI before we get started... I started Jac Jemc's The Grip of It yesterday morning before work, continued reading it on my lunch break, on my commute home on the subway, before getting ready to meet up with friends for a pre-Halloween night out, left my friends early so I could come home and read this, and then stayed up until 2:30 am to finish this. If that doesn't mean that this book deserves 5 stars, then I don't know what else to tell you, but I digress. Let's get started on this review, shall we?
Jac Jemc's The Grip of It is intoxicating and enchanting from the very beginning. The story revolves around a couple from the city, James and Julie, moving to the countryside to escape the drama surrounding them and to get a fresh start. James suffers from an addiction to gambling and the couple relocates to try and rid themselves of this horrible dilemma. Insert typical introduction to all haunted house stories: couple finds a cheap house that is way too big for them but provides them rustic charm and latches onto their egos and dreams, couple purchases the house and decides to not do any research into why the massive house is so cheap, couple moves in immediately. Once they move in, they realize that things aren't quite what it seems - shadows lurking around the house, random horrific growls coming from who knows where, little hidden rooms leading to areas of the house that have no value for the typical person, and a neighbor who won't keep his eyes off of them. This is just the start for the naive couple, but what is wrong here and what has James and Julie done to invoke these nightmarish plagues against them?
If you haven't read the first part of my review, I just wanted to reiterate how epic and awesome this story was for me. The Grip of It is not your typical horror story that has in-your-face gore and fright at every page. This story is a psychological thriller, mixed with suspense and a domestic thriller component all blended together with minor horror features. The slow build-up to the story is engaging and left me begging for more. I love this story - and now time for a nap because I'm exhausted.
This eerie and intellectually stimulating literally horror novel transcends the classic haunted house story, probing much deeper into uncanny psychological and existential territories.
In an attempt to save their marriage and start fresh, Julie and James escape the city and buy a house in the suburbs. Immediately, it seems that there's something not right with the house and the area surrounding it: from the groaning noises they constantly hear to the mysterious bruises that begin covering Julie's body to the strange neighbor living next door.
As things gradually become more menacing, Julie and James are overcome with feelings of delusion and paranoia—as if the house has taken root inside them and won't let them out of its grip. They begin to doubt everything: their perceptions, each other and even themselves. Their thoughts and actions become increasingly unfamiliar.
At one point, James convinces himself that maybe he's to blame for all of this—anything to create an illusion of control when nothing makes any sense.
Is the haunting even real, or is there something else going on—something more firmly rooted in reality that's potentially even more insidious?
The Grip of It is a horror story but it's also a portrait of a marriage. How well do we really know each other? How well do we really know ourselves?
As a fan of all things horror, I'm especially drawn to the psychological and existential variety. There's nothing scarier to me than the idea of losing touch with reality or the world not functioning in accordance with what I've come to expect. The Grip of It uses the haunted house plot to create a persistently creepy atmosphere of tension and dread, then asks us to consider whether the real menace is actually within.
There were also several moments that didn’t seem to follow from the previous events. I’m talking in particular about Julie’s sudden religious obsession- there was nothing in the book that would have suggested that, not even as a possession angle. Also, James & Julie’s decisions throughout were questionable & unrealistic to me, but I suppose that could be explained as a product of the house’s influence.
I wasn’t as bothered by the lack of answers or resolution as some readers, but I agree that the ending was abrupt & made the struggle throughout the rest of the book seem meaningless. Why not take that action early if it was going to happen at all? Overall, this book had promise but is not one I will pick up to reread in the future. I will however read more from Jac Jemc.