Conjuring stories at Starbucks +”The Evening Spider” by Emily Arsenault

I’ve been having a rough time lately. Those that know me know why, but I don’t think that right now the reason for my rough time is my story to tell. Yet. Suffice to say I will be talking about it in spades in the months to come.

So right now I’m attempting to get in touch with my faith (of which I do have abundance, and I need to find a way to tap into it when I’m lost), relying on friends and family, and writing a lot.

And trying not to be alone too often with my thoughts (unless I’m writing them down).

So, this morning, when my brain was ready to explode, I took off for Starbucks.

0 (1)Sipping on my Smoked Butterscotch Latte (their newest), staring out at a beautiful February day reminiscent of Colorado (blue sky, a little chilly, but sunny!!), listening to the Starbucks music and the lull of conversation. When I’m here, I make up stories about the customers, especially those that I see more often than not.

For instance, there is a man and a woman who are here nearly every time I’m here. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they sit in silence. I’ve decided they’re in the middle of a long-time extramarital affair that has become so staid that it’s as boring as their marriages. They meet at Starbucks every morning, and sometimes go over to the nearby hotel. But not as often as they used to, when their eyes connected over the clementines at the nearby Kroger. Or over the beachtowels at Wal-Mart. Each of them is bored with the affair, but don’t want to end it for fear of hurting the other, which could lead to lashing out and telling the spouse they’re also not ready to leave.

In actuality they’re probably married. Or related in some way. Or they work together. Or something similar.

But, with the fiction I’ve created in my head, I can make up daily stories. Today he’s meeting with some other men. It’s an extramarital affair support group (I have headphones on, so I conveniently can’t hear their conversation). Or they’re hit men–one he’s hiring to off his wife; the other, his mistress. And the younger women over here sitting by herself? She’s his young thing on the (other) side that he’s running off with to Belize, as soon as the deeds are done. Or maybe before. We’ll see if I see him in here, or her, later this week.

There are many other stories I tell. About the baristas (those two cannot stand each other, because of a feud in high school), the people getting drinks through the drive-thru (he just found out his wife is pregnant; she just lost her job; that woman with the toddler needed to get out of the house and had a giftcard left over from Christmas. But her toddler fell asleep, so she had to hit the drive-thru rather than getting out of the car), the delivery man (he has a crush on a woman at his next delivery. He needs to get out of this Starbucks so he can see her!!!).

Thus, I fill my morning with music, internet browsing, and my made-up world. None of these stories really amount to much, but they are fun, and they keep my fiction-chops in working order.

And right now, I need fiction. Because parts of my real world really suck.

Okay, onto my review of Emily Arsenault’s  The Evening Spider.

A young mother attempts to exorcise the ghosts in her house by discovering the truth about another young mother from another century.


The Premise

Abby Bernacki is a new mother, taking a year off from her teaching position to spend time with her young daughter. When she starts to hear noises in the nursery at night, she begins to question the history of her old Victorian, wondering if she’s hearing ghosts.

At the same time in a different century, Frances Barnett tells her story to a visitor while she is held at the Northampton Lunatic Asylum. She starts to believe she may be crazy, questioning her own memories and blaming the loss of her sanity on the birth of her child.

Abby sets out to discover the truth about Frances and the house, to discover as much as she can about the Barnett family. Through doctors records, journals, and the family, Abby learns as much as she can.

While Abby delves into the history, we learn a more personal story from Frances. She tells her visitor about her slight obsession with the trial of Mary Stannard–a true event that captivated many with its salaciousness and its use of forensics. Frances was raised to love science and has a real grasp on it; but her curiosity is discouraged by the times and her husband.

As Frances revels  more about her obsession and why her curiosity is peaked, Abby delves deeper into learning the truth about Frances. Abby becomes convinces that a malevolence in the house is out to get her young daughter, and vows not to sleep until she discovers the cause.

As the stories converge, readers come to understand the truth is usually simpler, and more sinister, than first imagined.

My Thoughts

The history behind this story is real–there really was a Mary Stannard andthumbnailImage she was killed, and there was a trial with a lot of forensic evidence, a novelty in the late 1800’s.

And the way women were treated at the time is highlighted by the way they were ‘put away’ in mental institutions.

Frances is purely fictional, a woman who very easily could have been put away because she was inconvenient. She has brains and inquisitiveness, and is very interested in science, so her fate is not unheard of.

And Abby’s teetering into her own sort of lunacy, accelerated a bit by the fact that her husband is on a business trip and she is pretty isolated as a new, stay-at-home mom.

These facts should have been enough to make this really interesting. And it interesting. I think any confusion and frustration was all my own doing.

Maybe it was because I couldn’t figure out if there really were ghosts, or if Frances really was crazy, or if Abby was. The alternating voices threw me a bit, but not really. Usually this is a plus, but this time it just frustrated me.

The fact that I got a little lost and frustrated was because I was listening to The Lake House, which also had alternating stories and timelines. When you have four stories floating around, it’s way too much. I’m afraid The Evening Spider lost out. I think two stories is all my brain can handle!

All-in-all though, both women were realistic for their times and circumstances, and the story was interesting. The conclusion was deeply satisfying and very interesting.

I give The Evening Spider 3.5 stars. Lots of research went into it, lots of history and realism. Any missing stars are probably my own fault. Read it and let me know what YOU thought!!!


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