Despite owning a bookshelf filled with true ghost stories, this was my first encounter with Grave’s End by Elaine Mercado. It was a delightful surprise to read an honest, straightforward, clear-eyed account of living in a real haunted house. This book was a refreshing “palate cleanser” after the overcrowded, cloying mess from last week.
The opening elements of the story are familiar. The year is 1982. Elaine and her husband discover “the last affordable house in Brooklyn” after searching for over a year to purchase a home within their modest budget. There are some clear danger signs from the very beginning, but the couple is focused on owning a piece of the American Dream so they can raise their two daughters in their very own home with a backyard, a driveway, and total control over the thermostat in winter. After a rocky purchasing process stretched over eighteen months and dominated by a cantankerous elderly couple who refuse to move, the family finally moves in.
Within the first year of residency Elaine and her daughters hear strange sounds and share odd experiences. From a shaky beginning, things only get worse. To me, the most terrifying aspect of their shared paranormal experience is the “paralyzing dreams” Mercado describes. which only become more intense and disturbing throughout the years. As time marches on, the family is plagued by slinking shadows, zooming orbs, and other disturbing phenomena, including one violent encounter with a levitating hamster cage. There are weeks and even months where nothing happens and the family is able to enjoy a respite of peace, then everything gets worse. It is an ordeal that lasts thirteen years before Mercado finally finds the courage to seek the help she needs to put the spirits to rest.
I believe Mercado has made every effort to tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but her personal true version of a haunting as well as her inability to come to terms with the reality of the situation. In doing so, she is brutally honest about her own unwillingness to consider or accept the paranormal, despite an avalanche of mounting evidence. It was particularly frustrating to read Mercado’s doubts regarding her eldest daughter’s honesty. And it was difficult for me to maintain empathy with a mother who readily admits she would rather believe her beloved, intelligent, vivacious child was lying and “acting out” rather than consider the possibility of a haunting.
And yet, Mercado’s stubborn resistance, deeply rooted in her own guilt and feelings of inadequacy, rings true.
The author is candid about her unhappy marriage from very early in the narrative, telling us in Chaper 1, Page 12. “… my marriage was not a very good one.” We watch her alternately flail and tolerate years of unhappiness with a man who undermines his wife and daughters. It’s believable, if not exactly admirable, that a woman in her position will continually explain away supernatural experiences rather than confront the frightening reality. It is a pattern of behavior, one that is all too familiar for many women.
Take for instance the way Mercado heavily stresses her nursing credentials to prove she’s a sane and reasonable person, even going so far as to utilize the “R.N.” in her author title. So people who aren’t medical professionals are less believable when witnessing a haunting? No. She’s justifiably proud of that title, but also overcompensating for the lingering feelings of shame, doubt, and inadequacy she feels while relating her haunted house story. Listen. Most nurses I’ve met have one or more ghost stories to tell. My aunt was the charge nurse on a notoriously haunted ward at St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Dayton, Ohio during the 1980s and 90s. Her stories will make you think twice about walking any hospital floor between dusk and dawn. Seriously. (She also grew up in the same haunted house where I was raised and can talk about those experiences with zero shame or doubt of her own sanity.)
I would definitely recommend this story as a painfully genuine accounting of a realistic haunted house story. It’s not Hollywood horror. It’s not a thriller. Don’t expect sexy special effects or breathtaking suspense. This is a thirteen-year ordeal of weird experiences and haunted dreams. Therefore, I was not surprised by many of the negative reviews I found online, but I was saddened. Most are reviewing this story the way they would review a fiction story. The incidents are repetitive because that’s real life. There’s no attempt to embellish or make the story more exciting. because she wants to tell the truth. The narrator makes bad choices, refuses to face reality, and is very honest about her mistakes. Cut her some slack.
Side Note: The publisher of this book, Llewellyn, is a highly reputable independent publisher with thousands of published titles dating back to 1901. Many of their books grace my shelves. Their production quality is normally wonderful. However, the amateurish cover they put on this book is awful and should be updated. Seriously. What were they thinking? And why haven’t they corrected the issue in the past 15 years?
Alexis K. says
I love how you noted it was a straightforward, clear-eyed account. I couldn’t agree more with that statement. When you go into a real account story and the mindset it is one, you don’t expect all the extra dramatic BOO as in standard fiction.
If I remember right, there was one other violent attack on animals, her eldest daughter’s fish toward the beginning. One of the entities took out the filter the fish needed while Karin was at school.
“And yet, Mercado’s stubborn resistance, deeply rooted in her own guilt and feelings of inadequacy, rings true.” Another one perfectly said. I didn’t enjoy her doubts about her daughter, but I understood it. I feel accepting a haunting is almost like the stages of grief. There’s a lot of bargaining with yourself in accepting an entity or entities haunting you or your home.
It appears we both feel the same about this one. So, I shall end my reply here :). I would keep echoing you if I continue to comment.
I love that you titled this story as an ‘unembellished truth’. That’s how I took it. Unfortunately, I assumed this was another ‘based on a true story, but not actually’ when I read it, so I fell in the category of the online reviews by comparing it to fiction. That left me with a very underwhelmed feeling about it, and why the word ‘unembellished’ feels so fitting to me. I haven’t had a paranormal experience, so the story wasn’t as compelling. But I will say that the back and forth doubting of oneself and staying in a toxic relationship were very relatable and I appreciated that.
Glenna Hartwell says
Hi Trisha. I agree with your post and loved the book as well.
Because my copy is in the car at the moment, I can’t comment on your opinion that the cover is amateurish. But I will take a look when I have a chance. I did like the composition and the typeface the designer chose. Was the title a little pixilated, though? I wish they had chosen a photograph of the actual house, unglamorous as it is. As a graphic designer who has created a few book covers I think about cover design a lot and would be curious to hear more about your reaction.
I appreciated Mercado’s analytical voice as she took us painstakingly through thirteen years of haunted events. The questions she asked herself at every resurgence of the disturbances were ones I might have asked myself. Her journey, and the arc of her emotional growth, was rewarding to follow.
I agree about Mercado using her “R.N.” title as a way to garner credibility for herself–her title reminds her of how she is someone grounded in verifiable facts. Beyond that, it serves to lend credibility to her status as an author. She is someone who works in the fields of science and medicine. Her title makes her experiences more difficult to dismiss.