Jennifer McMahon’s The Invited: a Novel, Reviewed by Heather Bass

the cover of the novel shows a darkened window



When I picked up Jennifer McMahon’s The Invited, I was expecting a classic haunted house text, my go-to for detoxing after a busy school year. Not only did the novel provide traditional conventions, it also offered some original twists (a creepy cult, a witch-ghost hybrid). At its core, The Invited connects the story of a couple settling into their dream home with a teen’s search for buried treasure and for answers to her mother’s mysterious disappearance.

Helen and Nate are typical haunted house owners. Helen plays the intelligent and open-minded heroine while Nate assumes the role of the down-to-earth cynic, raising questions about his wife’s psychological stability. McMahon sets the atmosphere early for supernatural happenings and conflict between Helen and Nate:

They’d lost the broom. Helen’s favorite coffee mug. Other things had disappeared, too.
Money from their wallets seemed to go missing—never all of it—just a ten here, a five
there. Two days ago, Helen had splurged and bought a bumbleberry pie at the general
store. When she went to get it, from the fridge after dinner, it was gone. (81)

The third protagonist also fits a set mold. Olive presents as meddling youth, who doesn’t trust the new neighbors or the rumors that cast her mom, Lori, as the town tart. McMahon’s characters satisfy even if they remain stereotypes since the reader is likely to pay more attention to what is happening than to characterization.

Narration shifts between that of Helen, Olive, and members of the Breckinridge family who once resided in the house before succumbing to grisly fates. The different voices elicit sympathy towards each character while contributing various clues to Lori’s mysterious disappearance. Helen proves to be more than a city woman unable to retain her wits in the woods. Olive reveals more depth than one might expect from a teen troublemaker. Likewise, the Breckenridge women’s narratives help us to see them as complex personalities instead of victims whose characterization is limited to their names.

One point about McMahon’s book that irked me was the human antagonist’s motivations. Even though readers might expect treasure, vengefulness, or some sort of evil to serve as instigators in a supernatural plot, the actual articulation of motive by the villain comes across as clichéd.

Still, McMahon’s novel is likely to satisfy horror or mystery readers, who appreciate the dependable unfolding of supernatural events along with the shocking depictions of charred and bloody ghosts. The pacing kept me interested. The writing, also, was meticulous in its descriptions. McMahon cleverly uses tropes to construct a chiller and thriller about heritage, loss, and trust.

McMahon, Jennifer. The Invited, a Novel. Doubleday, 2019.