Grady Hendrix, whose unique talent is to amuse and disturb simultaneously, does it again in his newest pop culture / horror mashup, the account of a nGrady Hendrix, whose unique talent is to amuse and disturb simultaneously, does it again in his newest pop culture / horror mashup, the account of a nasty case of possession at an American suburban high school in the totally gnarly 1980s.
You might want to read Hendrix's books in actual book form, or the experience could lose some of its zing. Like the craftily designed Horrorstör, a haunted-house story about an IKEA-ish superstore whose packaging closely resembles a catalog from an IKEA-ish superstore, My Best Friend's Exorcism has its own charming physical schtick: it looks a lot a high school yearbook from the 1980s, and every chapter is titled with a radio classic of the era. Loaded with black humor, that "playlist" includes "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "I Think We're Alone Now" as well as the obvious but always appropriate "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine"). Having attended a suburban high school in the 80s, I'm exactly the target demo for this book . . . and I can totally vouch for the bad hair, awesome music, and rampant demonic possession.
Seriously, though. This is the story of Gretchen, a (relatively) good girl going unpleasantly wrong after a blurry night of partying in the woods. It unfolds through the eyes of her BFF since childhood, the wry and increasingly horrified Abby. Entwined with the story of Gretchen's decline into corruption, Abby shares the history of their friendship, exposes the mean-girl cliquishness of high school, and makes a buttload of sassy pop culture references. If you're old enough to get the jokes, you'll laugh a lot. (Shout out to my Gen X peeps!).
I just realized that makes MBFE sound something like "Clueless" with less "barf me out!" and more more actual barf. Its sassy tone could fool you, but this is not a YA novel; even its humor is dark and disturbing, and also nobody wants to give teenagers any encouragement to be more violently crazy than they already are. Heavy on the body horror, splattery, squirmy, and sometimes pushing the yuck meter into the red, there's implied sexual violence, casually lethal cruelty and recreational drug and alcohol use. (view spoiler)[One disconnect I had with the plot had to do with the implication that casual drug experimentation led directly to Gretchen's possession-or-whatever. Partly, it's that it feels a little judgy and not tonally right for the book, which otherwise reflects how teenagers really behave when adults aren't looking. Also, it's an uninspired choice for the moment of infestation, since pretty much every book about demonic possession asserts drug use is one of the moral weaknesses that lets them take you. Like, duh.(hide spoiler)]. If you lived through, or at least heart the 1980s, adore pop culture trivia, and can stomach Gretchen's repulsive afflictions, you'll enjoy this totally gnarly novel. 4 solid stars . . . see spoiler above if you really want to know why it's not a 5 for me. Still, waaaaaay awesome!...more
I have always been a sucker for a good demonic possession story, and Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts has all the elements of a pretty great one.I have always been a sucker for a good demonic possession story, and Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts has all the elements of a pretty great one.
Part of what I enjoyed so much about the story was the deliberately ambiguous treatment of the difference between mental illness and demonic possession, a fine line I have often pondered myself. The afflicted fourteen year-old Marjorie even tells her sister she's faking, though clearly something is very wrong. The addition of a reality TV film crew -- invited to film Marjorie's exorcism to help defray her rising (and ineffectual) medical treatment costs -- only ups the ante, as we wonder if it's Marjorie or the demon playing to the cameras . . . and playing with her rapidly fracturing family.
The story unfolds primarily through the memories of Marjorie's then-8-year old sister, the gregarious Merry, who both loves and fears Marjorie in equal measure. The two have always been close, but much of the older girl's uncanny new behavior seems to manifest just for her, and Marjorie's midnight visits to Merry's room are among the most chilling moments in the novel. Maybe the demon is interested in the little one, too?
Finally, for us nerds who love the whole meta-thing, the book is laced with fun horror references and shout-outs, from contemporary to classic. Hommage is paid without imitation, for the most part. (There is one major plot twist you may face-palm yourself for not picking up on beforehand -- I know the work being referenced, and still didn't twig to it. Made for a nice "Oh no you di'n't!" moment, though, before the face-palm and creeping shame at my own obliviousness, that is.)
The only part of this book I wasn't overly fond of were the scattered blog entries from a horror site doing an in-depth re-watch and post-mortem of the resulting TV show (called "The Possession"). I'm not sure they added much to the story, and the verbiage was annoying -- probably like a real teenager's blog, now that I think of it. But enough of that.
Overall, I'd give A Head Full of Ghosts 4.75 stars. It's entertaining, creepy, and really hard to put down. I'm about to go order a copy of my own, because this one might benefit from additional readings. Wonderfully done!
I liked The Black Church well enough -- great creepy premise (who doesn't love a cursed object?), and what might have been a very interesting historicI liked The Black Church well enough -- great creepy premise (who doesn't love a cursed object?), and what might have been a very interesting historical frame -- but it didn't feel fully fleshed-out somehow. Too long for a short story, but not long enough to deliver enough detail to do the premise justice. I liked it enough for a solid 3 stars; I just wish Tate had gone deeper into the history and mystery bits....more
Quick and dirty review, here. I really enjoyed this, my first Clegg novel (although I do love the creepy little illustrated story Isis). I see a lot oQuick and dirty review, here. I really enjoyed this, my first Clegg novel (although I do love the creepy little illustrated story Isis). I see a lot of comparisons to Salem's Lot in the reviews here, but beyond a surface similarity involving creepy kids (among others) terrorizing a small town, I didn't get that vibe. Also take note of the cheesy stock "creepy kid" cover on this edition. It's right out of the John Saul school of the 1970s, and doesn't do much to dispel those kinds of comparisons.
Although this novel was written in the 90s, Clegg's approach is all bleak 21st century horror, and far less sentimental than King's.* Though the characters are well-drawn, and the flashbacks to their youth key to the story, there's very little romanticizing of childhood, or small town life, or of anything really, in The Children's Hour. (Okay, there is a lost first love subplot, but even that is mostly a catalyst for some seriously disturbing sh*t.) It's pretty relentlessly grim, even nihilistic at times, and comes with a vastly higher body count than any King novel I can recall.
Also, the entities that haunt The Children's Hour? Are. Not. Vampires. They are more like horrible meat puppets, vampiric in some ways, yes, but definitely not your standard-issue bloodsuckers. This menace is a lot more unsettling, unearthly, demonic. (My comparison: in an upside-down and backwards way, this book recalls Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror," and freakish Wilbur Whateley hiding that nightmarish entity in his farmhouse.)
I don't want to telegraph much more of the plot -- suffice it to say I was actually unnerved by some of the imagery in The Children's Hour. One night I left my bedside lamp burning after reading. That's one of my highest compliments. It's a good thing he's prolific, because I'll be reading more Clegg.
* For the record, I love King and his elegiac, nostalgic, sentimental side. This just isn't that. ...more
The tale of a mysterious and deadly "Curse" that ravages the upper crust of Princeton society in 1905 and 1906, Joyce Carol Oates' newest novel playsThe tale of a mysterious and deadly "Curse" that ravages the upper crust of Princeton society in 1905 and 1906, Joyce Carol Oates' newest novel plays with Gothic conventions masterfully. An attempt to patch together the story of those dark years, The Accursed is the manuscript of amateur historian (and descendant of a "Cursed" family) M.W. van Dyck II. He presents a series of excerpts from journals, letters, newspapers, even a coded diary, written during the time of the "Curse," in an attempt to piece together the strange and horrible events that appear to have begun with the abduction of the innocent and beautiful Annabel Slade from the church on her wedding day.
Between the covers you will find demon lovers, murderous jealousy, miscegenation, beckoning apparitions, even a fairy kingdom. Also, an absolutely enormous cast of characters, some entirely fictional, like the sorely afflicted Slade family; others "real," like Woodrow Wilson (at the time President of Princeton University); ex-U.S. President Grover Cleveland; and Socialist writer Upton Sinclair. What I did not expect to find was a darkly satirical commentary on Christian piety, ivory tower backstabbing, gaping class division, the rise of Socialism, and, of course, the "Gothic novel" itself.
The premise may sound wacky, but "The Arcanum" was much darker and more disturbing than I expected (a definite plus for me!). Wheeler's first novel isThe premise may sound wacky, but "The Arcanum" was much darker and more disturbing than I expected (a definite plus for me!). Wheeler's first novel is a thoroughly entertaining alternative history/steampunk/horror concoction, which would indeed make a great action film. It probably helps to know something about Biblical apocrypha, hermetic occult circles, voodoo and Lovecraftian horrors . . . but if even one of those is your bag, dig in for a rollicking read which also delivers several serious cases of the creeps....more
This was my introduction to Neil Gaiman. I have a first edition hardback, thanks to my dad, who, browsing in a bookstore one day in 1990, picked it upThis was my introduction to Neil Gaiman. I have a first edition hardback, thanks to my dad, who, browsing in a bookstore one day in 1990, picked it up and thought: "This is something my daughter would like." He had no idea. He subsequently read it himself, and to this day nurses a crush on War.
This past March 12, the date on which you might remember Sir Terry Pratchett took one last walk with an old friend, I had the improbable good/bad luck to attend an evening of conversation with Neil Gaiman. It was clear Neil was tired, and sad, but he was there. He didn't cancel, and he very gracefully took time to chat and pose for pics at the reception beforehand. He was exactly as charming and approachable as any fan could hope.*
The talk itself, with Gaiman's close friend Michael Chabon acting as interviewer, was meant to support his new story collection Trigger Warning, but we were in for an unscheduled surprise when it turned into a sad, funny, moving eulogy for Sir Terry. Gaiman, as he does so well, told stories. He told us about how, as a young journalist, he met his early mentor and lifelong friend Terry Pratchett. He talked about long phone calls during their pre-Internet collaboration on Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. He told funny Terry stories. And he spoke proudly about Pratchett's brave struggle with Alzheimer's and his very public campaign for death with dignity. And finally, he read from this book.**
Which is a round-about way of getting to why I decided to reread Good Omens when I have a giant stack of new books waiting for me. This book -- the story of the coming of the Antichrist (a spunky boy called Adam who's maybe a little too rebellious for the position), and of an angel and a demon who team up to thwart the Apocalypse because they kind of like things just as they are, thank you very much -- is just as delightful as it was in 1990. And from here in 2015, it gains unexpected emotional heft as a Bradbury-esque fable of that not-so-long-gone time when kids actually went out to play and make trouble of a summer day. It's still Douglas Adams-level silly, but there's nothing wrong with that, and its influence on the fantasy genre is undeniable. And under the comic veneer is a keen study of human (and angelic and demonic) fallibility, and the joys and responsibilities of exercising our freewill. Upgraded from four to five stars. A classic.
*In case anyone is interested in what happened when I had my chance to chat with Neil-freaking-Gaiman, I have to admit I was a little star-struck. I managed to blurt out how much I loved his screenplay for the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Wife." (view spoiler)[ In it, the TARDIS is enabled to manifest in a human body, and for the first time actually "meet" the Doctor. There's a moment, after she's been embodied for a while, she points out how humans are rather like a TARDIS -- much bigger on the inside. (hide spoiler)] Neil's eyes -- I swear -- actually twinkled, and he replied: "Yes . . . that was one of those moments when I thought -- yes, I've done something clever right there." That episode won the 2011 Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.