The Caretaker by Cass Clarke (Hear Us Scream Press)
-genre: horror, paranormal, supernatural, grief horror
Welcome to another installment of my Mini Mondays series, this time featuring an appropriately-mini book as well: The Caretaker, a 109-page novella by Cass Clarke! The story follows protagonist Cara, a 30-something whose life gets turned upside down in the wake of her mother’s death— not an unexpected one, as the elderly woman was on hospice care in the family’s living room, but a traumatic loss nonetheless, and one compounded by the already-rocky relationship between Cara and her mother (a fellow nurse). As Cara tries to move on, she’s pulled back into the wayward ways of her youth as she, her cousin, and her ex-girlfriend discover a crew of ghostly apparitions that seem to haunt the childhood home… and take a fascination to the mother’s now-empty hospice bed. What follows is an atmospheric, deeply emotional tale of grief, ghosts, and the ever-present variable of family ties.
I read this book in an afternoon, my eyes glued to every page as I tried to predict the ending and instead found myself rocked by the anguish Cass Clarke projected onto every single page. The three main characters— Cara, Dylan, and Beth— were all well-developed and nuanced, but most importantly, they were all deeply flawed in their own ways. Cara in particular was both a likable protagonist (comparing the hauntings to an episode of Supernatural felt like a very human reflex!) and a frustrating one, which definitely fit her narrative as she uncovered the gruesome truth about her mother’s storied career as a hospice nurse. There were moments of immense tension as we confronted The Terror (who I won’t describe here, in an attempt to avoid spoilers and inspire you to pick up a copy!), as well as overwhelming comfort and community in the story’s neatly-resolved ending.
While blood may be thicker than water, the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb— and Cara’s growth and self-reflection throughout the story establishes her as far more than just her mother’s unwanted daughter.