Look, just know that this book is weird. It switches from first to third person sometimes too. And then you honestly don't know what's real or not real so you feel very confused at times. And you also may end up not liking anyone (I know I didn't) but may come away feeling sorry for Natalie (I did) and then just confused again. Just go read Moonlight Reader's REVIEW of this book since it will make way more sense than my mutterings about things below.
First, Natalie and her family are messed up. You find that out quickly when you realize her terrible father refers to himself as God everyday when they are having breakfast. Her mother is scared of being alone with her father (I know I would be too) and also scared of doing anything wrong. Natalie's brother, Bud is barely there and Natalie is at times doing her best to please her father, but also trying to help her mother though she has barely concealed contempt for her at times.
When Natalie starts having a back and forth conversation with a police detective you don't know if Jackson is trying to allude to something that is going to happen, or it's all just in Natalie's imagination.
When Natalie finally leaves for college, things get worse for her. She realizes that she has no friends, the other girls call her "Spooky" and you start to realize that what you are being told is not the whole truth as a reader. I started to pick up on things here and there and realized that Natalie was not realizing what was not being said a lot of times. When Natalie weirdly befriends one of her professor's wives, things actually seem a bit better, but you realize she has fallen into the mess of another family that she is finding even heard to extricate herself from.
I think the writing at times got a bit muddled (sorry Ms. Jackson) I assume that is intentional, since I have read some of Jackson's other works, and it seems as if she chooses each word with care. Some sentences last an entire paragraph. At times it made my eyes glaze over. And you start to realize that maybe Jackson is doing that on purpose since you start to realize that maybe Natalie is speaking some of this out of the way stuff out loud.
The flow was a bit off for me though. Due to the writing I mentioned above, it just made things grind to a halt at times. Since this is such a short book it should not have taken me that long to finish it, but it did. I think that after Natalie goes away to school things drag a bit until she meet's her professor's wife.
The setting of a young girl's home and than college experience was interesting. I just don't remember being alone at college. My brother was an upperclassman so everyone called me Little (insert my brother's name here) so I didn't even have my own identity, I was just his little sister even after he graduated. I will say that everyone treated me differently though. He was a jock, and though I was in high school, I decided to just focus on my grades and not play any sports. When the school's basketball coach found out I could play and how good I was apparently she was not happy.
I digress. The ending of the book gets increasingly dark and leaves the reader with a feeling that something worse is coming Natalie's way due to what all the signs are pointing to regarding her behavior.
I wouldn't really call this a Gothic book or even a straight up horror story though Goodreads classifies it as such. It's just an interesting look at the different stages in a woman's life. We have the young girl (naive and at times defiant) the newlywed (scared of what she did by giving up her own identity) and the married woman (realizing that being married was not the ultimate prize that she thought it would be). So you do get the maiden, the mother, and the crone in this one giving a cautionary tale about what it means to be a woman.