Abandoned Naomi Hintze Project

I had considered writing a book / biography of horror author Naomi Hintze. While I still think it’s a great idea and someone ought to do it, that someone is not me. Below is the very little I bothered to write down before abandoning the project.

Buried Treasure Waits For You (1962)

In retrospect, Hintze’s first book is the one most unlike the others. But being her first, we have to approach it from the context of the time and not what would come later.

Published by Bobbs-Merrill, and illustrated by noted artist W. K. Plummer, what we get are a series of historical tales, each ending with a lost treasure. The target audience is clearly grade school children, and the stories are designed to invoke a sense of wonder and curiosity. Grand figures line every page. Not surprisingly, the book is dedicated to “Doug, Jon and Liza,” her children.

Did Hintze really believe the treasures covered in the book could be found by children (or anyone else)? I don’t think that was ever the point – the idea of adventure and “what if” looms larger than any historical facts. Some claims are hard to accept on their very face. For example, it is suggested that Montezuma’s treasure could have been carried out of Mexico by slaves and buried in underground tunnels in modern-day Utah. Why is this a theory? Montezuma had large amounts of gold, and apparently Utah does have a series of underground tunnels. Yet it strains credulity to think anyone carried treasure hundreds of miles and buried it for no apparent reason.

You’ll Like My Mother

Hintze’s first full-length novel was described by the publisher as a “contemporary Gothic” and by horror expert Kier-La Janisse as a “Southern Gothic.”

We follow the protagonist, Francesca Cabbot, through her life, which has been a series of misfortunes. During her youth, her father remarries to a woman named Allegra and Francesca is set aside. Although not financially well off, Mr. Cabbot is deeply invested in his family’s Colonial-era and Revolutionary history in an attempt to hold on to some sort of pride and dignity in himself.

Francesca manages to get into college through a scholarship arranged by her father, and while there takes up work as a typist for a professor, despite having no secretarial skills. The professor, a married man, has an affair with Francesca, a situation that comes to light in a suicide note his wife leaves for her family. Francesca is no longer welcome at the school, her scholarship is voided, and her father disowns her; with limited options, she moves to Cayce, California and lives on the beach. The choice of city name is intriguing. There is no reason any number of oceanside cities couldn’t have been used, but Hintze chose to invent a new one. There are many cities named Cayce, but none in California. I cannot help but assume this is a nod to Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), famous American clairvoyant, given Hintze’s interest in psychic phenomena.

Regardless, while on the beach, Francesca injures herself on a fish hook and contracts some sort of septicemia (today more commonly called sepsis, or simply blood poisoning). A young man named Matthew Kinsolving comes to her rescue, and they begin a whirlwind romance. Despite only knowing each other for a short time, they decide to get married because Matthew has been drafted for the Vietnam War. He ends up dying “on the way” to Vietnam, and Francesca discovers she is pregnant.

The novel begins here, with Francesca on a bus trip from California to the fictional community of Always, Ohio, described as east of Cincinnati. She intends to meet Matthew’s mother, despite the latter not returning any telegrams concerning the marriage or even Matthew’s death. Following the introduction, Francesca hopes to continue on east to her father’s house, where she will give her baby up for adoption. Before even reaching the Kinsolving home – a sprawling mansion in a state of disrepair, crawling with ivy – multiple locals warn Francesca that the area has a history of traumatic floods. The foreshadowing is strong.

Showing up unannounced, Francesca knocks on the door and is met by Mrs. Kinsolving and her daughter Kathleen – a sister-in-law Francesca had never heard about. The elder woman makes a poor first impression, dismissively calling Kathleen “feeble-minded” and casually declaring that she had just drowned a litter of kittens because the tomcat who fathered them was not of good breeding. In her words, “The kittens were no good… as is always true of any species when a thoroughbred mates with a mongrel.”

This introduction works on two levels. First, there is the plain fact of cruelty involved in killing newborn animals. But also, the analogy is clear – if Mrs. Kinsolving does not care for her cat’s breeding, she may have purposely ignored Francesca’s telegrams because she was not of the right stock, either. We soon learn that Mrs. Kinsolving is aware of Francesca’s past indiscretions and time spent as a “beach bum.” This mating discussion further hearkens back to Mr. Cabbot’s fixation on family roots to make up for any current shortcomings.

Ironically, though Francesca is seemingly horrified, or at least offended, by the obsession with good breeding, she carries the same prejudice herself. She is relieved to learn that Kathleen’s low IQ is from a “birth injury” and not genetic, implying her own child will be spared the unbearable misfortune. Before the day is over, Francesca learns the “truth” when at dinner she is told, “There was one uncle who was defective in the Kinsolving family. There were two cousins that I know of. One was so severely deformed that he was what, medically, is referred to as a monster.”

Mrs. Kinsolving goes from cold indifference to palpable disdain for Francesca as the day goes on. At first she offers to drive Francesca into town, but once it is determined the car battery is dead, their interactions grow more strained. Mrs. Kinsolving’s motives are unclear. On one hand, she wants Francesca gone. But on the other, she does provide dinner and eventually the use of her departed son’s bedroom and pajamas for staying overnight. Claiming to have formerly been a nurse (perhaps true), Mrs. Kinsolving will not let Francesca overexert herself regardless of the growing animosity between them.

After dark, Francesca contemplates whether her mother-in-law is Ilse Koch, “the Bitch of Buchenwald, the one who made lampshades out of human skin.” Or perhaps she “just has one of those mother-son hang-ups, which is so common it’s boring.” Kathleen brings Francesca a cup of bitter cocoa in bed, which is quickly found to have a powder in it Francesca believes is for sleeping. Rather than be concerned, this makes her more sympathetic of Mrs. Kinsolving. Likewise, during this brief exchange, Francesca begins to see Kathleen as a person and not some sort of mistake.

The “sleeping pill” is ineffective, perhaps because the cocoa goes unfinished, and Francesca uses the opportunity to search the house for letters from Matthew to his mother. Instead, she finds that Mrs. Kinsolving had paid a private detective to investigate her – her secrets were revealed by prying, not from her husband. In the morning, Francesca is shaken awake by Mrs. Kinsolving. Though they “never have floods in June,” a dam has burst and the water is rising. The pair drive away in the now-working automobile, but soon discover it is too late – the water has made the house an island.

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