Based on the jacket copy, I thought this was going to be a “there’s something in the basement”-type horror story. But, The Visitors is not a ghost story. It isn’t a thriller. It’s a twisted descent into the madness of a sociopath.
Mary is in her 50s, living with her older, sexually deviant brother John, in a filthy, ramshackle house full of garbage. They don’t have any financial worries, so Mary and John are free from responsibility and can pursue their hobbies. John’s hobbies include pornography and model airplanes (among other things that I won’t mention), and Mary’s involve indulging in daydreams where she’s married to a male acquaintance she met 30 years ago, watching sentimental Lifetime movies while gobbling junk food, or petting her stuffed animal collection. It’s depraved, but not exactly evil. Lurking just beneath the surface, however, there are more nefarious goings-on.
Mary is intellectually disadvantaged. She’s uneducated, unskilled, and she is also overweight and unsightly. She’s never been loved or encouraged to do anything with her life, so she hasn’t. She’s believed everyone who has ever told her she’s worthless. She’s wasted away in her childhood home never doing anything at all. When she allows herself some time for self-reflection, she’s aware of her lack of ambition and fulfillment, but soon reverts to daydreams about men who never actually even learned her name. This denial of reality has some evil consequences when Mary has to deal with her brother.
This book is a glimpse into Mary’s head, into her psyche of aching for love and attention, and also her lurid desires for revenge on those who have slighted her or rejected her. There are flashes of epiphany when Mary understands she has done wrong, knows that her clothes are disgusting and her house is squalid. These insights are fleeting, but they allow some sympathy to flow in between the cracks of the abhorrence one feels for her.
The Visitors reminded me of Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. Repulsive, sinister, and yet, you can’t look away. Recommended.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.