Chapter By Chapter: Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall, Chapter One
Sometimes when I’ve been in a Reading Slump, I try to get back in the habit by making a point to at the very least DIP IN to a book once a day. A specific number of pages, a short story, a single chapter of a Comfort Read, even—I never know what’s going to grab me and get me going again, off into the sunset with my book.
As this has been the Reading Slump to Rule Them All, I figured I’d keep myself honest by posting about Down a Dark Hall—if Lois Duncan’s thrillers don’t count as Comfort Reads, I don’t know what does—as I go.
These chapters won’t be every day—just the days that I suspect I won’t manage to do any other pleasure reading.
Chapter One: In which Kit’s new stepfather is a real turdlington.
We open with fourteen-year-old Kit, her mother, and Dan, her new stepfather, in the car on their way to drop Kit off for a year at an arts-oriented boarding school.
Dan and her mother are all schmoopy with each other—they’re have googly eyes because they just got married—and Kit’s pretending to sleep so she doesn’t have to deal. And it turns out that the reason Kit’s going to boarding school for a year is because her mother and Dan are going to Europe on a honeymoon—which, like… I get why they wouldn’t want to bring Kit, but are they really going on a YEAR-LONG HONEYMOON?? That seems way unlikely—especially given that Dan is an Important Lawyer Man—and sending your kid away for a WHOLE YEAR while you swan off to Europe seems like overkill??
Which makes me want to revisit The Long Secret; maybe I’ll do that if I continue to be Slumpy after I finish Down a Dark Hall.
ANYWAY, despite the bizarreness of their Life Choices, I sympathized with the adults to a DEGREE right up until here:
“Kit, that’s enough.” There was an edge to Dan’s voice. “We’ve been over it and over it. I know your position in the family has been different from that of most girls; with just the two of you, your mother has treated you as an equal rather than as a child. You’re strong-willed and independent and very used to running things. But you are not going along with us on our honeymoon.”
So in one fell swoop, Dan of the NPR voice—Kit observes that he sounds like someone from Sunday afternoon television—stomps all over Kit, throws her mother under the bus by disparaging her parenting, and then ends the argument by basically telling Kit to clam it because she’s upsetting her mother.
I wish they’d leave HIM at boarding school.
Also he does that thing where he beeps at the gas station attendant, and sure, DIFFERENT TIME AND PLACE, but good lord I always find that so imperious and rude. Ugh, worst.
So then we get some background about how Madame Duret, the lady who runs the school, has run girls’ schools in Paris and London and knows all about art to the point where she picked up an unknown Vermeer at an auction; how Kit was into going—or at least was okay with it, if not super excited—when she thought her friend Tracy Rosenblum would be attending as well, except Tracy didn’t get in, etc., etc.
So, again, I guess it’s possible to sympathize with the adults here, but I REFUSE because after the lecture above, I will hate Dan forever.
Fast-forward to their arrival—via an endless-and-not-very-well-maintained dirt road—to Blackwood School for Girls. And perhaps this is a reach, but this feels like some SERIOUS foreshadowing to me:
It was huge, three stories tall with a black slate roof so steep that it seemed to fall rather than slope to its outer edge. The walls were of gray stone, no two of the same size and shape, yet arranged somehow, one upon another, so as to fit together like a child’s jigsaw puzzle. The great front door was flanked by stone lions and the steps leading down to the driveway were fashioned of the same stone. Centered on the second-floor level there was a deep-set window of stained glass. The other windows were more ordinary in construction, but the late afternoon sunlight struck them now in such a way that it seemed as though the entire interior of the mansion was ablaze with orange flames.
(It’s been a long time since I’ve read this, but I vaguely remember a fire? Maybe I’m confusing it with a different one—either way, we’ll find out!!)
Anyway, the last page or so in the chapter is classic Lois Duncan, in that it is, at moments, genuinely creepy:
But for some reason it seemed to Kit that they were not covering any distance. The house stood above them still, no closer than it had been when they had turned it at the gate. It was an illusion, she knew, something to do with the curve of the driveway and the angle at which they were approaching, but the car itself did not seem to be moving. It was as if the house were growing larger, reaching out its great gray arms to gather them in.
And, at moments, supremely hacky:
Kit shivered with the sensation of an icy wind blowing across her heart.
She BEGS to not stay, but can’t articulate her exact reasoning, so NPR Dan vetoes her despite her mother’s concern… and the chapter ends with yet another Classic Lois Duncan line:
And then Kit knew the word for which she had been searching. The word was “evil.”
Where will I go from here?
Like I said above, I might need to revisit The Long Secret.
I’d like to poke around to find some modern-day Lois Duncan types, so let me know if you’ve got recommendations.
Also I’d like to rewatch Burnt Offerings even though I’ve seen it 9,000 times, in part because I’m on an inexplicable Oliver Reed kick, but also because 70s horror is my jam, now and forever.