In the summer of 2010, I became engrossed in Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 gothic novel Rebecca, whose unnamed naïf of a narrator, recently made the second wife of a wealthy older man, finds her sanity undermined by a houseful of secrets and dread. The house, Manderley, is a creepy and grand English seaside estate, a place dominated by the residue of the gentleman’s first wife, who is the novel’s namesake. Is Rebecca a ghost or just a formidable memory? As I was drawn into the novel’s delicious mystery, I myself was headed to a gothic environ — Lake Seminole on the Georgia-Florida border, where live oaks hang like gallows over the water. The closest town, Chattahoochee, features a “hospital for the insane” established in 1876. I scanned its ornate facade and vast rolling grounds from the passenger seat as I turned pages. Our destination was no Manderley, just a rattlesnake-infested A-frame. The temperature was 95° when we arrived, and there was no cooling off in the lake, which is filled with dangerous creatures and an entangling weed called hydrilla. Because of red bugs, one must wear long sleeves and long pants with knee-high rubber boots. (The mud will suck regular shoes right off your feet.) I was on the dock, closing in on Rebecca’s thriller of an ending, when I was jolted out of my chair by a deep, low rumble. An oncoming thunderstorm, I wondered, like the one that leads to Rebecca’s untimely drowning? No, a 14-foot alligator, roaring, about 20 feet away.
Kushner’s latest novel is The Flamethrowers
Next Meg Wolitzer