You meant - Paul ;)
I'm not half as talented as Paul at putting words together.
When I read the description of the book, I was honestly thinking that it was going to be a much more one sided story. People love to take a side on an issue like the one this book deals with. They take a side and act like everybody else is stupid and everything gets so preachy that I'm on edge - because I have an opinion too and I hate to be told it doesn't matter!
Anyway - that didn't happen. So I was happy with that.
The story really gave me more of an unsettled feeling. More so than being scary. A lot of the book I had a sense of dread over what might happen. And the whole thing with the poison and the spaghetti - you knew that wasn't going anywhere good. And you knew that there was going to be some sort of reveal or something happening at that point. I don't know if it was tension - but I read a lot of parts saying "oh no!" in my head. haha
There were a few moments in the beginning where I was creeped out enough to be scared I suppose. The ending was definitely more unsettling and disturbing than anything else. Honestly (no offense, Paul, I truly loved the book), the whole poisoning thing felt a little forced to me, a little too pat, and therefore didn't strike me with that much visceral impact. That she hallucinated her rescue by her Aunt and was really under the kitchen table sucking her mother's thumb was so powerful and intense that it lessened that feeling of being forced, but it didn't completely remove the feeling.
What really struck me about this book was the examination of popular culture, horror, and reality TV. I felt like Paul used a tale of demonic possession as a vessel to explore modern society. It was this that made the book truly great to me, and not just another horror novel with an unreliable narrator and an ambiguous ending.
Finally finished, really loved it. The ending especially is upsetting. Reminds me a bit of Sara Gran's COME CLOSER, though yours is much more ambiguous. I love/hate the way you don't spoon feed us what happened. LOL I mean, how often in life do we just not get the answers? The only person who knows the truth, the KILLER. I have my own suspicions on what happened, about possession (something different, about how maybe demons don't stay in one place [or person] too long) but all I can cling to is that cold coffee shop and the slow dread that crept over me. While it doesn't scream she's possessed, it had a bit of that INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) moment for me when Donald Sutherland, SPOILERS AHEAD!!! is spotted and he turns to us, and makes that FACE, opens his mouth, pointing his finger and you know what's happened. So, kudos for the unexpected, or the way the book stays with us after it's put down. Always the best kind of horror movie for me, Twilight Zone episode, or dark book—when it shifts, and turns, the darkness spilling outward, not the happy ending we'd expected.
Richard said: Reminds me a bit of Sara Gran's COME CLOSER, though yours is much more ambiguous.
Richard said: Reminds me a bit of Sara Gran's COME CLOSER, though yours is much more ambiguous.
I had a few moments in the book where I thought the same thing.
I've been getting frustrated lately in the search for finding a book that actually terrifies me. AHFoG was definitely that unsettling type of horror, and I could tell there were a few parts that may be frightening to most readers ... But I've just been having trouble connecting to the terror in books. I can always find movies that scare me, but with books it's a different story. Maybe I'm just a visual scarer? Does anyone else have this issue?
There was a scene in one book I recently read that had me a little frightened, which involved the MC walking deeper and deeper into a hidden chamber beneath a building in pitch black, and being locked in there in the dark. Similarly, I felt a tad bit of fear in AHFoG when Merry was walking up to her cardboard house while Marjorie was inside. So it could also have to do with the type of horror (I'm probably most scared by building dread than gore and stuff like that).
If anyone has any suggestions on other books that might scare the life out of me, let me know! Though in the meantime, I might have to reread AHFoG ... It was too good to only read once!
@ Anna: Here are a few suggestions:
Naomi's Room by Jonathan Aycliffe is a classic ghost story that will definitely give you the heebie-jeebies.
Song of Kali by Dan Simmons about a strange cult in India is a truly scary book guaranteed to frighten and get the old heart pounding.
Brett Eason Ellis' Lunar Park is a terrifying and deeply profound book written in the guise of a horror story but is actually much, much more.
I find Cormac McCarthy to be scary as hell, particularly The Road and Blood Meridian, but Outer Darkness is pretty creepy as well.
While maybe not utterly terrifying, Kathe Koja's The Cipher is definitely spooky and strange enough to give you some chills. It is also a cult classic.
Of course House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
What really scares me is true crime. The Night Stalker by Philip Carlo about Richard Ramirez always freaks me out something fierce.
Stephen King's classic Salem's Lot, a vampire story written when he still wrote horror and not dark fantasy, is, in my opinion, his scariest book.
@Humboldt I will definitely be checking all of those out! Thanks so much for the recommendations :-)
Seconded on 'Salem's Lot and House of Leaves.
O'Nan's A PRAYER FOR THE DYING is more disturbing than scary, and it remains the only book that ever made me cry.
@ Paul. Going to buy A PRAYER FOR THE DYING right now, thanks for the suggestion.
Do you have any advice for an aspiring writer?
I'm not reading the other coments yet because I'm not done and I'm not sure if there's spoilery chat going on.
I'm about 3/4 of the way through. It's been fantastically creepy, and I'm doing most of my reading late at night, which has been problematic. The creepiness has taken a break, for me, though... I've gone several tense scenes without getting heebie-jeebied like I was for the first half of the book. I do hope to be unnerved shortly.
At any rate, and I hate to use the term "a real page-turner," but I haven't consumed a book like this in years. Do this handsome gent's other writings also lean to the creepy? Because he's earned himself at least a two-more-books grace period with me.
Done! All right, let's do some discussin'. I see the author in question is here so I'll direct this more at him than at the masses. I liked the book a great deal. The chills didn't come back for me- I didn't get a charge at all from the second half of the book, but the ambiguity of the situation, the spaghetti, and the who's-telling-the-truth stuff really overcame horror novel 3rd act-itis in my opinion. In so many horror novels, the protagonist has learned what's going on and how to best fight it. It robs the reader of the terror of the unknown and is what sends so many King books tailspinning into the sea for me. You dodged this and kept me engaged.
Now... at varying times, I was considering just about anyone for a 2nd / "the REAL" possession. Mom, Merry and Ken were all suspects and I was eyeing them hard, stacking up cases. The most delicious suspect I had, though, was Rachel. Within the last 30 pages, as the temperature dropped, I began to get excited that we were being set up for a THE BOOGEYMAN ending, wherein the killer's not only in the house, it's the one you've been confiding in this whole time. The last paragraph, where Rachel says "Merry! Don't forget your umbrella," I felt certain we were going to get that and I bunched up my shoulders. The demon was going to let Merry know it had pulled her worst memory to the forefront of her mind, just as a final turn to the screw. Not that the ambiguous ending wasn't more fun, because look at all this discussion, all these theories.
I was just as ready for Merry to take the umbrella, turn her back and finally release a pent-up smile. I was rooting for that mostly so I could reconcile why she'd ever ever enjoy watching possession movies.
I was also looking to reconcile the following, and it's more pressing- why is Merry insufferable when she's blogging? I hated Karen Brissette. Hated hated hated. When Merry was telling her story she was a smooth and natural writer. In blogging, she was an amalgam of everything I hate about bloggers / youtubers / Tumblr people and I was trying to theorize about it the whole way through. Was she hiding her identity by pretending to be a fool? Was she pandering to whatever Fangoria's readerbase might be? Was she the demon and Karen was a symptom of her splintered personality?
All said, I liked the book quite a lot and wish you continued success. The lights going off in the basement bit was a phenomenal chills moment.
P.S. I'm starting to feel pretty silly for being the only person here who doesn't know who Stephen Graham Jones is.
@HL Read, read, and read some more. Given that every writer is different, works differently, etc, it's the only piece of writing advise that applies to all writers. You cannot possibly be a writer if you are not reading.
Hi All, I took this book out from the library, read it, told everyone in my life how fantastic it was, made my adultish (23 yrs) daughter read it so I would have someone to talk to intelligently about it, she bought it for me for my birthday, she read it and she is really mad. Doesn't like the ambiguity of it all. I am going to give her Sybil to read because what she really wanted a "journey into madness" book.
**SPOILERS AHEAD****SKIP THIS POST IF YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED THE BOOK****YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED**
Am I way out in left field for thinking that Merry poisoned her family on her own with no "help" from Marjorie?? Why would Marjorie eat the sauce (she was feeling pretty sane to me by the end) if she knew it was poisoned? How would 8 year old Merry know about/get her hands on cyanide (other than she was obviously possessed) or from Marjorie (Dad?Internet?)? I just want to know how others feel about this particular subject and I can't find anything on this elsewhere. Ideally Paul will weigh in, not necessarily with the "right" answer, but maybe with some of his thoughts (though having read almost everything available on the web re this book, he is holding his cards very close, can't wait to see how the movie frames it.)
We both finished it weeks ago and a 2 hour discussion of said book interrupted of our viewing of the So You Think You Can Dance finale (Good reality TV - gotta love TIVO) last night, prompting this post. I am currently re-reading slowly to look for signs of evil from Merry and not really finding any....
Thanks to everyone for their insights and opinions.
Paul, I still LOVE the book. Had a bit of an epiphany in the middle of last night's discussion, maybe Merry re-arranged Marjorie's pictures, furniture, put her books in Marjorie's room etc....too many possibilities to compute...Mentat capabilities slowing down...
That's what's tricky when Merry is such an unreliable narrator. What do we believe and what do we not believe? I never thought that she might have added some stuff to the death scene to make herself seem more innocent though...
@ everyone. Tom says he hated Merry's alter-ego of Karen Brissette. I kind of liked her. She's like the nerdy horror geek who over thinks pop culture whose blog I'd probably follow and chat with for days on end- lol. What did all of you think?
And what about Merry in general? I feel Paul wrote her in a way that makes us want to like her. Of course we sympathize with her plight (or the plight she leads us to believe) but right from the get-go she is telling us she doesn't give straight answers and is more or less a liar. Why then do we feel compelled to like her? What tricks can a writer use to make the reader empathize with and like an unreliable narrator?
@Humboldt - I can't say I "liked" Karen Brissette, but I didn't dislike her either. I do think I feel the same as you in that I'd probably follow her blog in real life and that type of character would be a good fit for a friend. But from the perspective of the book, I found myself impatient while reading her rambling voice. I was eager to get back into Merry's point of view, lol! However, her excerpts were necessary to move the story forward and to add that pop culture spin to everything. I think that if maybe her sections had been trimmed down a bit I might have been more patient with her character, but then again we'd lose a lot of that perspective on Merry's alter ego and the pop culture spin!
I actually loved Merry's character, primarily because she was realistic and flawed in different ways. The child-Merry portions were my favorite because they were so realistic to how a child acts and thinks. I hate when main characters are too altruistic, just like I hate when people in real life act perfect, because no one is. And I think that is the heart of what made me root for her and love her even though she could very well be lying to us. Her lies didn't matter ... What mattered is that she was interesting! :-D
For me, I empathize with any character that says what's on their mind and is bluntly honest about even things normal people refuse to admit they think about. Perhaps that's why child Merry was my favorite ... Because children aren't yet taught that they should hide their true feelings.
Hey, thanks, Amy!
To play devil's advocate (pun SO intended), and briefly argue for a moment that Marjorie was mentally ill. During their final dinner together she goes to the bathroom, comes back out, her eyes red, as though she was crying/upset, and then puts the sauce on her own spaghetti.
But, then again this is all from Merry's POV, so maybe she's lying. ;)
I know, I'm annoying.
Paul, you hit on something that made me enjoy the novel even more: kids can lie.
Sure, they're innocent and yes, they more often than not will tell the truth, but sometimes they will STICK to a story. That's what makes Merry's fate so great. We have no idea if she's possessed, broken, in a state of arrested development by her own choosing or because of her exploitation and trauma, OR, hell, maybe she HAS to stick to the story. It's eaten her life whole. There's no going back.
It's a fascinating situation. Are we as much in Merry's thrall as she was under her sister's? Is it all bullshit?
Damn you, Paul!
Oh yeah kids lie. They lie when they don't even realize they are lying too. It's weird. Seriously. Having taught middle school and high school for longer than I care to admit, and two kids of my own. For some kids lying is a first response, no matter what, even if they don't need to.
You definitely nailed that feeling I get as a parent when I'm not so sure my kid's giving me the whole story.
I may hate you a little for that.
I finished this book a week or so ago and I have been searching the internet to find a discussion board on it, because I just need to get my thoughts out! If anyone would like to answer these questions with your own ideas, please do so because I just want to know your theories on them!
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
1. Why would Marjorie knowingly eat the poisoned spaghetti? Was her plan to kill her parents and self before he could do it? To beat him to the punch? But WHY would she do that? Or maybe she was angry at her parents and this was a way to commit suicide and also get rid of her harmful parents for Merry's sake. I believe she told Merry to suggest the spaghetti, knowing that she wouldn't be eating the sauce. And I think that Marjorie teasing her about not eating the sauce in a big sister way, was a way for them to have "one last normal" family dinner...before dying seconds later. That death scene will forever haunt me, btw. Thanks, Paul!
2. Where did the poison come from? From what I understand, Marjorie lied about their father having a scary altar down in the basement, which is what ultimately convinced Merry to go along with putting the poison in the sauce...but if that altar stuff wasn't true, then it's possible that Marjorie was making up everything about her father trying to kill the family. BUT THEN AGAIN, the emails that Rachel shows Merry at the end suggested something sinister with that line about telling the dad "you know what you have to do"
So like...I just don't know what to believe! Which I guess is the point, but I just want to hear some other's theories. Do you think that Marjorie's father really did get the cyanide and was planning on killing the family, or do you think that internet savvy Marjorie was able to obtain it (did the police ever check her computer history about cyanide/poison stuff?) and planned the murder suicide?
I am leaning towards the idea that Marjorie was suffering from mental illness, and was becoming very afraid of her father. She was becoming paranoid. I think she just wanted to save Merry from something terrible that she feared he might do (the growing things story suggests this, especially how many times Marjorie told Merry to remember it) and to stop her father from "killing them all", she killed them all...except Merry....um....
See, I still don't know what to think of this story! One thing that I never picked up on and was surprised to see that people did, was that Merry was the one that was possessed, or became possessed later. I completely ignored the temperature change in the cafe at the ending because I was so viscerally disturbed at the dying dinner scene and young Merry sucking her dead mother's thumb and hding under the table of her family members' rotting corpses for days...I am still disturbed by that, so bravo!
Sorry if this was extremely rambly, I just needed to get this all out. No one I know has read this book yet haha.
I just want to know why why why Marjorie had Merry put the poison in the sauce. Did she want to die that night?
This is incredibly late, and I'll be a little shocked if someone actually responds to it, but I finished the book this week, and have a different take on the ending that I haven't seen anyone suggest.
I have to admit, when I first finished the book, I hadn't considered anyone else to be potentially posessed other than Marjorie or their father, but the evidence for the father being possessed, as opposed to a man losing his grasp on the world, wasn't really there, so it was primarily on Marjorie. It never occured to me that Merry had been the one possessed, or really that she was anything more than a child trying to find her way through a horrible situation with her loyalties to her sister intact. I was shocked, then, when I saw this other theory floating out there, that Merry was possessed.
To be fair to that theory, I think there is a fair amount of evidence to support it, but on further reflection, I think that evidence is less physical and more thematic; Merry isn't possessed by an actual demon, she's possessed by her memories. Her head is full of the ghosts of her family, people she was horrificlly manipulated into killing.
Which is why, after thinking on it some more (and I fully admit, this interpretation could come from my stubborness regarding my initial impressions at the end of the book) I read the coffee shop scene and the temperature falling less as a reveal of a sinister presence and more a thematic echo of Marjorie's exorcism, where the room was also freezing. By telling Rachel of her part in the family tragedy (Merry says quite clearly she has never told anyone this before, not even therapists), she is unburdening herself, and her unburdening is her exorcism. By telling her story, she is casting out the ghosts of her family and the damage they did to one another. At the end she is finally willing to acknowledge her part in the death of her family and also to move forward with her life. The breath she exhales is not the sign of a demon occupying her, but instead the expulsion of the ghost of a tramautic past.
Like I said, I doubt anyone is going to see this, since it's two months after the original discussion ended, but if anyone does (and Paul, if you're still out there, checking this) what do you think?
I'm even later to the discussion! But I just finished the book, and I found your reading of the ending very persuasive, Paul J. Garth. I would add: Traditionally in an exorcism, as someone mentioned above, it was believed that the demon had to fly into another being (an animal, perhaps). When Merry unburdens herself, she is in a way expelling the demon of trauma from herself but passing it on to her listener, Rachel, who now must suffer from this dark knowledge, even if she isn't convinced that it is true. (And, to take it a step farther, she is also passing the demon to us, the readers, some of whom seem to have trouble sleeping!)
I've read a lot of horror but never a possession story. I've seen plenty of movies on the subject, including The Exorcist, which really messed up my young head. I have to say, reading about it was somehow more unnerving than watching a film. The exchanges between Marjorie and Merry instilled a true sense of dread and they kept me off balance, playful and sinister. Very effective. This was one of those books that ends too soon, I binge read it.
The author mentions several possession themed movies and books - here's one that's up for debate but instilled that same feeling of mistrust: The Invasion of the Body Snatchers - the 80's remake with Donald Sutherland - freaked me out - left an impression, Alien possession? Does that count?
Anyway, great book - Merry pulled a Kyzer Soze for sure.
I don't think Merry or anyone is possessed, but love that you don’t know for sure. You can tell the story both ways. We are left with has many ghosts in our head (stories that might or might not be true) and we can’t trust Merry, just as Merry couldn’t trust anyone.
It did read formulatic in parts and blog dragged during the blog. I worried where it was going, because it could have gone wrong but didn't. . But it's all part of the story in the end. The blog sets out to prove all the possession stuff was faked or fakable because it was so by the book. On the other hand making sure Merry is there at the exorcism, could be a way for the Demon to move to Merry and then make her kill her family. The story is best on the sister's relationships and her sister's threats are scarier than the possession acting out.
Mostly it's that the end doesn't feel supernature- that makes it more chilling. Yes a twist/twisted ending is expected but not quite that one. The idea that she made Merry kill her family and that thumb in the mouth is just gross. There are worse things than demons to fear. But, couldn't Merry the Demon (if demon passed into her during the exorcism) have killed her family and be leading all of us away from the truth again. I did nottice the cold air.
Like Merry we can't trust anyone and we can't trust anyone, including Merry. I loved it.
I doubt anyone will read this since it is two years after the initial discussion. But I am torn between two interpretations of the ending. The first, because I liked Merry as a character and was sypmathitic to her, is that Merry had nothing to do with the poisoning and that the story she tells Rachel is just that, a story, and that John killed his family, knowing that Merry would survive because she ate butter--not sauce with her spaghetti. Merry confesses to having read the police report, so would have known about the cyanide, the smudged fingerprints, the cross in the basement, etc. We know her memories are unreliable--not just in general--but specifically as to the poisoning because she already told us that she misremembered the way the police found her. My reading is that Merry was suffering from massive survivor's guilt and could not deal with the fact that her dad murdered his family leaving only her to survive. (But she does show a fair amount of repressed anger towards him when she is writing as the blogger.) So she deflects the blame off her father by constructing a false memory where Marjorie/the demon (whom Merry is clearly angry at) and Merry herself are the instruments of her family's demise.
The other interpretation is the 100% opposite of this and has been mentioned many times: the Merry possession theory. Merry was possessed or at least influenced by a demon and caused her family's death without Marjorie coercing her. There is a surprising amount of evidence for this. 1. The possession events happen only when Merry is around. 2. There are events that happen in Merry's room and there is no evidence that Marjorie is around. A good example of this is the choking scene--where we never actually see Marjorie; instead we just assume that she is under the sheet. 3. The "supernatural" events--the door opening and closing, the levitation scene--only occur when Merry is around. And notice how "defensive" and eager to debunk this theory Merry's Brissette alter ego is. 4. The temperature drop at the end. 5. Merry's obsession with movies and books involving possession. (A non-supernatural variant of this is that Merry was so messed up by the events that had occurred that she decided to kill her family to get it all over--but this seems a stretch for an eight year old.)
What I don't think happened is the story that Merry tells Rachel. It seems too implausible, and even 8 year-old Merry was pretty sharp. She had no reason to trust Marjorie given everything that had already happened and the fact that Marjorie already lied to her on several ocassions (or so Merry says) . .Also, beyond her recollection, there is no evidence from the police report or anything else to substantiate this. Part of the theme of the book is the unreliability of memory, particularly when it comes to traumatic events. So why should we expect thi spart to be true when so little of the rest of the narrative has been? Indeed, Rachel even asks Merry if she is telling her the truth, and Merry can't give her a straight answer.
This was a fascinating novel that will give me a lot to think about for a long time. Well done, Mr. Temblay.