Friday, May 8, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 34

Full disclosure: I read to the ending of the worst book of the 1980's two weeks ago. What I read pissed me off so much that I had to force myself to finish this deconstruction. You've been warned.

The second-to-last chapter opens with Michelle at yet another therapy appointment, complaining that she doesn't feel like saying anything this time. This got my hopes up, but then Dr. Pazder convinces her to start describing her nasty, sordid, pointless ordeals again. Bastard.

Back in the impossibly gigantic round room, Michelle is still pinned to the floor in front of a very angry Satan because she refused to give his stupid bone back. The Satanists have tortured her by stuffing paper into her mouth (where'd they get paper from? I thought they burned all the Bibles.), poking some unidentified object into her ears (Um...say what?) and tearing out one of her fingernails and one of her toenails (I appreciate that having even one nail torn out* hurts like hell, but shouldn't they want to finish the job? They're eeeeeeeeevil villains who live to torture children, after all).

After an indeterminate amount of time, after which Michelle is explicitly described as being "on the verge of death"--though honestly with the way she's been treated throughout the bulk of this book, I'm amazed it took her this long to get to that verge--the Satanists remove the paper from her mouth and the stabby implements--chopsticks? Their fingers? Particularly sharp carrots? Seriously, what were they poking her with?--and let Michelle see how battered and bloody she is so she'll freak out. That's the wrong way to get her to spill the beans on where she put the bone, y'all. Has anyone tried just asking nicely instead of yelling at her and fucking her shit up? But of course you haven't, because Michelle Remembers Satanists are irredeemably stupid evil, the whole lot of them.

But apparently the cult isn't even going to look for the bone anymore, because her "sin" in taking it was somehow so unforgivable that she's to be cast out of Satanism forever. After the lovely way they've treated her, I'm sure she's crushed. Anyway, Satan begins the expulsion process by ordering Michelle to state her name and having her trace an X in the dirt to signify that she's been "crossed out" and no longer has an identity or personhood. Michelle mentions that the X doesn't look like an X from where she's lying, but like a Christian cross, and takes delight in her small act of rebellion. Which is a nice touch, though if she's in as bad shape as she claims to have been, I'm not sure she'd have enough energy or even be conscious enough to care.

     "I've been crossed out," Michelle cried. "He's telling my mom she has to take me back."
                You have to live with this ugly little one!
                Until you can bring me a dutiful son.
                It's your mistake, you'll have to pay.
                I give her back. You can't give her away.

     "I don't want to live at home!" Michelle said, wailing. "I don't want to." Dr. Pazder put her head on his shoulder and let her cry.

...Wait, living at home is worse than living with the Satanists? I mean, Michelle's mom evidently sold her/turned her over to them for whatever reason, so I could see Michelle having resentment and trust issues toward her. On the other hand, the people she was living with sexually assaulted her, hacked her up with knives, killed other children in front of her, and force-fed her dead babies on a regular basis. You'd think that a normal kid would just be so enormously relieved to be finally getting away from those people that the relief would at least temporarily obliterate any negative feelings for the person she was going to live with.

Having finished this very important boo-you-suck ceremony, Satan starts demanding his bone back again. Which is rather unfortunate, since Jesus chooses this moment to pop up and put the formerly safely buried bone back in Michelle's hand.

     Then she felt a hand on her head, and the touch was ineffably comforting.
     "Look," said a voice. "Just look there." It was Ma Mere's son. Lying on the ground, Michelle turned her head painfully and saw the crosses she had drawn in the dirt when Satan had asked her name. "Keep your eyes right there," said the voice, "and hang onto this."
     There was something in her hand. She opened it. It was the fragment of bone. Very small, very old, very fragile. She closed her fist about it again and held it safe...

And then Satan stopped farting around and forcibly took the bone out of the hand of the dying girl like any villain with half an ounce of common sense would have done long before now, because it was obvious from the very start that repeatedly shouting at her to give it back wasn't going to do shit.

Ha ha, just kidding. The Satanic rites end.


She looked over at the Beast. He was watching from the fire, supervising as his attendants packed the altar implements. Satan himself gathered the bones and wrapped them in the altar cloth. Then he turned. The ranks of high priests and worshipers filed toward him, and as each person approached he received a hissing shard of fire from Satan's hands. With that the hordes turned their backs to the altar and began to trudge away. The Satanic phantasmagoria had begun again, and through uncomprehending eyes Michelle saw the marchers pouring from the round room, some legions flowing out over the horizon like flocks of tattered vultures, some sinking into the earth itself.

And...that's it. Satan doesn't demand the oh-so-important bone again. He just finishes the rites, his followers--some of whom are apparently mole people--get his blessing and leave. Like high schoolers when the end-of-class bell rings. There's no explanation that Satan only has so much time that he's allowed to be in physical form and he's just run out, that the rituals are only effective if they're completed at a certain time, whatever. Everything just abruptly stops for no reason except--I strongly suspect--Michelle was sick of talking about her scary Satanic past but couldn't figure out how to end the story.

Does anyone else feel cheated?

And believe it or not, this wasn't even the chapter that made me want to throw the book across the room in fury. That dubious honor is reserved for the next (last) chapter, which I'll get to next week. Brace yourselves for expletives.

*PSA: If your car is ever stuck in the snow, and you're wearing a combo of boots that are slightly too big + slippery socks + toenails that have gotten juuuust long enough to catch on things? No matter how angry and stressed out the situation leaves you, for the love of God don't haul off and kick the car in frustration. It really does hurt like hell. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 33

In the next chapter of the worst book of the 1980's, we get to see the initiation of some new Satanic high priests.

Satan was announcing the initiation of new members into the high priesthood. Thirteen men left the second circle and, threading through the first, approached the altar. The thirteen men had removed their robes and now stood naked.

Wait, all I have to do to make hot dudes take off their clothes for me is start a religion based around myself and operate on insane troll logic all the time?! Why didn't someone tell me sooner? 

Hey, you know what? We haven't seen many naked men in this book at all. There's the orgy scene towards the beginning, and I think maybe a couple of other scenes where the whole cult, male and female, dances around naked, but this is the first scene that explicitly features only naked men, and it happens 33 chapters into a 35-chapter book.

Also? The book just sort of...mentions they're naked, like it's just another minor, neutral detail. I haven't really thought about it until now, but the only "characters" Michelle has described in any way that suggests sensuality were women. A woman character does most of the inappropriate touching she's subjected to, and she notices right away when a woman is pretty whereas she only seems to notice what men look like if they have some sort of unusual or grotesque feature, like the pointy-nosed doctor. I can imagine what the nurse looks like from her (admittedly vague) descriptions. I can't picture Malachi at all.

What does this mean? Did Dr. Pazder dominate the writing process, and make sure parts where women do freaky sex stuff got left in while men doing freaky sex stuff got left out because he was grossed out/afraid of catching TEH GHEY from/made jealous by the latter, while he found the former kinda titillating? Was Michelle struggling with some urges that would have been VERY much not socially acceptable in what seems like a fairly conservative community in the 1970's and she tried to explain them away by coming up with this fantasy where the Devil literally made her do it? Both those possibilities would add yet more unfortunate implications to this book's already overflowing unfortunate implications barrel. it just plain developmentally normal for a kid that age to pay way more attention to grown-up members of their own sex than to members of the other? I don't even know, you guys. Children aren't exactly my area of expertise.

ANYWAY. These thirteen guys go through the traditional Satanic initiation, which means it's time for some finger-choppin':

At [Satan's] command, the man picked up the altar knife. He placed his hand along the rim of the altar, the middle finger lined up on the edge. Then he brought the knife down just above the main knuckle. Incredibly sharp, the knife cut through effortlessly, and the entire finger fell to the ground. From the other side of the altar, Satan handed him a white cloth to stanch the blood: The cloth turned instantly red.

Yay, a specific and highly visible mutilation to signal to the whole world that something is amiss in your life! How strong and fearless must that guy be to chop off the whole digit, probably having to shear through bone, in one go, with no hesitation? Also, unless that cloth is really, really small and gauzy, if he's bleeding profusely enough that he's managed to turn the thing entirely red "instantly?" Yeah, he's gonna die of blood loss right there at the altar, and this whole display was pointless.

The other initiates repeat the process and the cultists gather up the fingers, presumably stepping over the exsanguinated corpses of the priest-initiates to do so, and give the fingers to Satan.

Satan, counted them, and put them in a leather box.

OH HAI EXTRANEOUS COMMAS. Professional proofreaders, what are those?

Then, apropos of nothing, Satan stops what he's doing, glares at Michelle, and demands she give back the bone she stole at the end of last chapter. Michelle is terrified by his angry reaction, but she can't bring herself to obey him:

Michelle felt certain that Satan would kill her now. But something made her determined to hold onto the bone. It was all she had to protect her. She clenched her fist more tightly. She was as scared as she had ever been.

Why does Satan even care? He has lots of bones to choose from--hell, he's just been handed thirteen fingers' worth more!--and it took him a whole pointless ritual to notice that this one was missing, it can't have been vitally important to the ceremony or anything. I guess you could argue that he realizes that she's deriving some comfort from holding it, and he doesn't want her to be comforted, therefore he wants the bone back. But that just makes me wonder why it doesn't occur to Satan that he's big and strong and mean enough to physically pry it out of her hand by force, or even choke her until she passes out and pick it up when she involuntarily relaxes her grip and lets it fall. Were all angels created without the ability to use basic common sense and the initiative to do stuff for themselves, or just Satan?

Then Michael shows up to tantalize Michelle with the promise of security at some point in the future and bless the bone she's holding, though I have no idea why because it won't turn out to have any significance or use whatsoever except making Satan irrationally mad. Then he buggers off and leaves Michelle to the mercy of the advancing Satanists. She runs around to confuse them, manages to bury the bone in the ensuing chaos, and runs around some more:

The black robes were everywhere now. She attempted to run by them--and saw Malachi.

You know, I'd been wondering what became of him since Michelle thought up better villains on the fly was handed over to the cult's higher-ups.

The cult drags her back to Satan, who yells at her and threatens to harm her mother if she doesn't give up the bone; Michelle insists that she doesn't have it anymore and offers to let him take one of hers instead. Unfortunately, instead of being a proper villain and gorily taking her up on her offer, Satan has his minions torture her for her transgression by...

Painting her up like a skeleton.

Whatever, book.    

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 32

Once the weird out-of-place chapter is over, we open the next one with the observation that Michelle has been reliving that part of the ceremony--the weird performance-arty crucifix-whittling part--for a week now.

I initially took this to mean that the memory was so fragmentary that it took her a week to assemble it into any coherent form. Which would go a long way toward explaining why the last chapter felt so incomplete and unconnected to the chapter before it.

Then I read on and, nope, that memory wasn't fragmentary:

     ...She had listened as carefully as she could, day after day, while he ponderously declaimed and harangued, laying out a vast scheme of evil intention, concealed within the drivel of the rhymes. 

So Satan's little absurdist theater routine literally took a whole week? While his followers just stood there like lumps and stared? Seriously, book, do they ever break to eat and sleep and poop during this ceremony? And what happened to the angelic armies that appeared at the end of chapter 30 and then were inexplicably gone in 31? Were they just standing there like lumps too this whole time? Why aren't they doing anything?

Satan suddenly looks upset and starts sniffing the air. (Hey, ever notice how everybody automatically ascribes regular mundane senses like smell, sight, touch, etc. to supernatural beings like Satan? Why does no one ever depict angels as having an entirely different set of senses too alien for us to comprehend?) He's apparently realized that there's someone hiding in the crowd "who was not one of Satan's own." Satan must be phenomenally unobservant if he's only just noticing this now after the weeks he's spent hanging out with these folks.

The high priests started rubbing against each other in a studied, formal sequence. They were watching for someone to make a mistake, someone who did not know the routine, the way to rub, the steps to take.

Ya know, if this group gets infiltrated often enough that they've developed a specific protocol to weed out moles, you'd think we'd have records of their existence from other sources than Michelle. Especially if Lucifer the Clueless routinely lets spies go unnoticed for days on end like this.

The cultists find the spy, who turns out to be one of the high priests. He gets stabbed in the back, the real high priests chuck his body into the fire, everybody's happy. Well, except for Michelle, who freaks out so hard she starts trying to dig her way to freedom through the dirt floor. (Predictably, Satan kicks the dirt back into the hole while she digs like that one asshole kid on the beach who goes around knocking down everyone's sandcastle.)

     The fire was growing bigger. As [Michelle] watched, the flames parted around a blazing chasm. From deep within, she could hear childish voices, the crying of infants:
     "Mommy! Mommy! Help!" a little voice called. There was the sound of running footsteps. A woman rushed up and pushed her way through to the center.

     "Mommy! Mommy!" The small voice was full of fright.

     "My baby!" the woman cried. "I've got to get my baby!" The fire grew higher and the black hole wider. Satan laughed.

Are you not even listening to the overused Admiral Ackbar meme, lady?    

     The woman ran over to the black hole and reached down. As she fell, there was a scream, an undulating howl. It stopped abruptly. And that was all.
     Satan laughed again.

              People will do anything for a child. 
              They will kill and steal and run wild,
              Fall into my pit.

He slammed his tail on the ground. It was like a thunderclap. The hole closed up.

So, book, are you going to use this incident to explain my long-standing question of why the Satanists don't use their own children for these rituals? Is it because even they, the evilest of the evil, feel love and attachment to their kids, and therefore wrangling reluctant strangers' children who weren't brought up in their ways is worth it to them, because it means their own offspring won't suffer? Are you going to *gasp* humanize your villains a little?

Nope. This nameless Satanist lady who cares about her kid is just another big-lipped alligator moment in a book that's already chock-full of them, and we motor right on into the next bit of the ritual.

The cultists start bringing loads of bones into the room. A footnote assures us that most of this supply of bones comes from church reliquaries that the Satanists broke into. It's okay, Satanists, a lot of those relics were probably counterfeits anyway. Then Satan spreads some bones on the altar and goes through some sort of numerology-style rite with them, in a long, boring scene where Satan seems to ignore his followers completely and focus all his attention on his bone-counting for an uncomfortably long stretch of time. Say it with me: Why does anybody worship this guy again?

We do get a brief indication that the heavenly forces are still watching, though. Michelle starts pretending to be a puppy during the bone-counting ritual, and the archangel Michael essentially steps in to tell her to straighten up, fly right, and pay some goddamn attention. Nice.

We end with Michelle attempting to escape once more, getting herded back by the Satanists, and swiping a small bone that falls from the altar after she knocks into it. Good for her. Maybe if she tries really hard, she can keep this moment from becoming one of the complete non-sequitur vignettes that make up a good third of this chapter.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 31

I think I have a post somewhere where I referred to the Satanic rituals in this terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad book as "bad performance art."

Well, welcome to the most bad-performance-artsy chapter yet.

We start with Satan delivering a long, rhyming speech about "his intentions and his wishes for the next twenty-eight years" while whittling away at a wooden crucifix. Which means that this chapter is going to be much heavier on the bad poetry than usual. Shit.

Oh, and there's also a footnote explaining that the Satanic counting system is "inclusive," which somehow means that what would be 27 years for us is 28 years for them. Sounds like an attempt to plug up mathematical holes in their precious "the Satanic calendar is perfectly attuned to the Christian calendar!" theory to me. Also that Michelle's remembering was probably triggered by "Satan's return to earth in 1977." There's something I find hilarious in the way the book just casually mentions this and takes it for granted that it actually happened. I wonder what the Lord of Lies made of disco and bellbottoms?

Anyway, on to the crap poetry:

              I write a Master Plan
              Of the destiny of man. . . .

Aaaannnd already I wish he'd shut up. Just stop, Satan. Nobody likes pretension.

Satan then picked up a large, wooden crucifix. During the course of the ceremony, he would whittle away at the carved statue of the crucified Christ until there was nothing left. Symbolically of the way he works in the world--undercutting--he would start his whittling at the foot of the cross and proceed upward.

So what exactly are the Satanist masses doing while Satan does this? Just standing there watching him? Whittling away at even a small scrap of wood until it's entirely reduced to chips takes a non-zero amount of time. Whittling away a "large" wooden crucifix (and some large crucifixes can be very, very large indeed) probably takes forever. And there's already been hours, maybe days, of ritual before we even got to this point. I hope Satan at least lets his followers sit down once in a while. Seriously, when do we ever see them doing the normal non-Satanic-ritual activities they'd need to function, like breaking for lunch or going to the bathroom? We don't, because they're all just walking, talking stage props. 

              First, cut away the feet;
              Make a man feel incomplete.
              Lose his footing, lose his ground;
              Lose the way to walk around.

              Pretty soon you have no knees;
              Then you can't bend, can't say please.

I give up. Satan's not even trying with these rhymes anymore.

We get three more pages of this. Three pages of the worst rhymes imaginable, describing childish "symbolism" that a kindergartner would be embarrassed to come up with. The most interesting thing I can point out about it is that the part where the hands and arms are whittled away comes well before the part where the head is whittled away--which makes sense in theory, but must have been a little clumsy in practice since crucifixes usually show Jesus with his arms stretched out against the crossbeam and his head hung low in sorrow, putting arms and head at roughly the same level. Some particularly melodramatic examples have Jesus hanging his head so low that the arms are noticeably above the head.

So if Satan follows the exact path the song takes (feet > knees > hands? WTF? That's an awfully big jump. > loins > stomach > arms > heart > head) then he can't whittle continuously. He'll have to change positions several times, probably losing his rhythm each time he does.

He'll also have to either stretch out each verse to accommodate the amount of time it takes him to whittle away the body part it correlates to, or have uncomfortable silences between verses.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Why does anybody worship this fool again? He makes them stand and literally watch him chip wood for three hours while he drones his inane ideas at them, and he doesn't even provide lunch. At least boring Christian churches usually treat you to coffee and doughnuts after the service.

On and on went Satan, reeling off his seemingly absurd, twisted, malign rhymes. Syllable by syllable he droned them out, until Michelle thought her brain would explode and her heart would stop.   

And...that's it. That's the end of the chapter. Five pages of Satan giving a weird pretentious rhyming sermon with a bizarre, impractical visual aid, a few mentions of Michelle being scared and sad and helpless, and the chapter ends.

Say, did this chapter leave you feeling like something was...missing?

Like there was something important that went un-addressed?

Something like, oh, maybe a shining legion of angels?

Remember the end of last chapter, when the heavenly forces showed up to save Michelle from the powers of darkness? I sure do; the text made a big fucking deal of what an epic, cosmically significant moment this was. Satan made a big deal of it too; remember how he went into challenge mode and shook his fist in anger at the intruders, and it all seemed like a setup for some sort of big exciting action scene?

Welp, that big exciting action scene didn't happen. Michelle didn't get saved. Satan jumped straight from angrily bellowing a challenge at the heavens to dry, boring sermonizing without any hint that he's aware of the intruders in the room. If the forces of light are still present, they're being awfully quiet; Michelle never notices or mentions them either.

So what gives?

Was this chapter supposed to come earlier in the book, and somebody at the publishers messed up and put it here instead? Were Michelle and Dr. Pazder just so damn proud of Satan's "clever" rhymes (God, that's the saddest thought I've had all day) that they just had to include this exchange in the book somehow, and failed to notice that they'd stuck it in a really awkward place?

Or maybe this iteration of Satan is just so close to an elementary school student on the developmental scale that having these uninvited angels crash his party has pushed him into "I'm not talking to you! Lalalalala I caaaan't heeeaar yooou!" mode? And now he's determined to continue the ritual as if they weren't there and look like he's having a grand old time with his followers, so those stupid party-crashing angels know exactly how hard he's snubbing them? Even if it requires, you know, discussing his battle plans in detail right in front of the arrayed forces of his enemy?

*sigh* To protect my faith in people's basic competence and ability to be recognize and be ashamed of bad poetry, I'm picking option C. Michelle Remembers Satan, you are hands-down the worst Satan ever.

Well, two can play your little game.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 30

The next chapter of the worst book of the 1980's is just as short as the previous two. Somehow, though, it manages to be more full of fail and creepiness than both of them put together, so it gets its own post.

From the present-day weirdness of last chapter, the narrative jumps back to where it left off in the interminable Feast of the Beast flashback, and Christmas must have come early this year, because the text starts dumping stuff that I can nitpick into my lap right off the bat:

     The circles grew quiet. They knelt on the ground. Satan took a large book and opened it but did not read. Instead he began to recite:

               Listen with attentive ears.
              All the evil ones must hear,
              How to gather at this darkest hour;
              How to multiply our power.

The wording here is pretty clunky. How does Michelle know that Satan is not reading from the book? How he's holding it isn't specified, but I would guess, since he doesn't seem to be the fatherly type who'd stoop down and let the little kid follow along as he reads, that he's standing up and holding the book open in his palms and Michelle isn't tall enough to see the pages. In which case I guess she assumes that what Satan is saying is not what's in the book because the words are in rhyme and that's how he normally talks. Or does she mean he's reading aloud to his followers, which is somehow different enough from "regular" reading that a different word is needed to describe it? And if he's not actually reading these words from the book, why does he need the book at all? Where did he even get it from? Did someone hand it to him, or was it already there? Editors are your friend, book.

We learn that the ritual has gone on so long that Michelle has just sort of resigned herself to Satan's presence:

She scarcely noticed now as a new vision began; she had grown used to the amazing fact that, whenever the Beast spoke, he also was able to project colossal three-dimensional images illustrating what he was saying, in the center of which were his listeners, and that his voice came from all four directions at once. Earlier, she had been baffled as well as frightened by his facility for issuing four different messages in opposite directions simultaneously. She had learned that one must listen to one message or to the other, but never to all, or one would go mad trying to make sense of the gibberish.

OH HAI THAR, NOT-MENTIONED-BEFORE SUPERPOWER. The image-projection thing is familiar, but I don't remember any mention of the voice-from-all-directions thing until right now. Which seems awfully weird, because if these events progressed at all realistically (i.e. if Michelle wasn't making them up as she went along) you'd think that she would have made note of something as unique and freaky as Satan being able to say four different things at once and told us about it earlier.

Also, Michelle understood what Satan was saying as soon as he appeared on the scene. If he were talking in stereo from the beginning, we should have seen her go through a period of not understanding what the hell he's saying and wondering if it is actually human speech at all. Learning to understand him should have been a possibly-lengthy trial-and-error process for her, especially while she's still too scared to think straight.

Oh, and this particular superpower strikes me as a pretty useless one. What good is being able to say four things at once if your listeners have to focus on only one thing you're saying, thus missing three out of four messages, or receive none of the messages at all? Does Satan have to divide his followers into groups and have each group listen to one specific speech at once? How are these groups divvied up? Or is his image-projection trick something he came up with to provide visual aids for human followers who can't understand him when he speaks? These are questions that would actually be interesting if the book cared enough to explore them, damn it.

Anyway, the ritual goes on, Satan recites some more shitty poetry that I think I'd personally rather go insane hearing the all-directions-at-once gibberish than listen to, and the cult welcomes a new initiate, a young woman in white who begins her initiation by standing before Satan and slashing her clothes off with a knife. A bit weird, but not too bad compared to a lot of the stupid, impractical rituals we've seen so far...until the book takes it to the next level:

She raised her arms and, holding her long black hair with one hand, sawed at it with the knife held in the other, sawing and hacking until the hair was gone. Then she lay on the ground--face down first and then on her back. She swung the knife over her head, around and around, and then, smiling lovingly, she began to slash her face, mutilating at random.

Oh, goody, another extravagant blood ritual that'll leave obvious physical marks! Seriously, how does all the finger-chopping and face-mutilating and likely zoonotic disease-contracting not make it super-duper easy to tell at a glance who in your community belongs to the Satanic cult? Unless Satan magically erases all scars afterwards, which doesn't seem like something he'd bother to do.

The tail uncoiled from Michelle's legs and writhed freely. It was a snake again now, a tail, a snake, a tail again. And then Michelle saw that it was not one tail but two. One of the tails began to slither into the circles, weaving along the ground among the feet of the worshipers. The figures would break rank and approach the tail, engaging it in an obscene, ritualistic dance. The Beast stood by the fire, watching his own tail perform with the celebrants. Now the fire shot up toward the ceiling; the dancing became more frenzied.

Because there's nothing creepy at all about a dude who a) obviously doesn't give a crap about boundaries and consent and b) has a semi-sentient, detachable schlong-like appendage that he can send out to violate, er, dance with anyone he pleases.

Then a mysterious light appears in the room and Michelle hears an unidentified heavenly voice (it's described as sounding a lot like Michelle's own voice, so maybe it's her imaginary friend who only exists when the plot demands it? Or the girl the cult murdered to make her think they were killing said friend? I don't even know anymore.) tells Michelle that Mary told her to say she was doing a good job with her poorly-defined mission because "The Beast doesn't usually talk so much." Yes, really.

First off, Michelle isn't doing much of anything. She's just standing there and being terrorized. Second, I wouldn't consider it a victory if I got this version of Satan to talk more than he usually does. If I had to listen to him, even for just five minutes, I'd probably give my left arm to make him shut up. Third, are you finally going to tell us why the forces of Heaven have been slacking off and allowing the poor kid's suffering to be prolonged?

Nope. The voice from the light tells her she must "stay--and then see and then find" and fades out. Then this happens.

The noise increased immensely--the NYUNG, NYUNGG, NNYUNGG below in conflict with the WHOOSSHH WHOOSSHH from above. The forces of light had come to save Michelle from the forces of darkness.

YAY! Finally they're doing their job!

She had become a trophy of sorts in the cosmic strife. Victory would be determined by whether or not she could withstand.

*face falls*

Sure, let's put all the weight and responsibility of this cosmic battle on a little six-year-old girl. Sure, we have the scary-ass monster-beasts that guard the Tree of Life with flaming swords and terrifying living wheels of fire and Jesus freakin' Christ on our team, but of course she doesn't need our help to defeat the angry rogue angel who's been dragging her around the room while she flails helplessly for days now and could easily kill her by accident even if he didn't actually mean to. She really seems like she's got everything under control.

You know those cutesy little winged babies from Renaissance
art? This is what they *ought* to look like. (via Fanpop)

Seriously, though, it's just really, really awful and shameful when adults drag children into their petty little quarrels. And it's even worse when one of those adults is God. I imagine Michelle and Pazder thought they were adding great dramatic tension to the story with this scene. I doubt they sat down to examine it and realized what a negative light that last line casts the ultimate forces of goodness in.

The chapter ends with Satan getting pissed that the forces of light interrupted him again, which I'm sure totally won't result in him violently taking his anger out on Michelle again while the "good guys" dither around just a little longer:

     Satan was furious. He roared so loud the sky seemed to crack, and he threw flame from his fingers.
     "How dare you interrupt the Feast of the Beast?"

I'm pleasantly surprised that Satan managed one more instance of saying something without making a trite little rhyme of it. Also, in my head, I couldn't resist imagining him saying this last line in a whiny teenage girl voice. "MOOOO-OOOM, how could you invite Chrystal to my party?! We haven't been friends since last month! GAWD!" Like I've said before, when you're stuck reading an irredeemably bad book, you take whatever small opportunities for amusement come your way.     

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapters 28 and 29

These two chapters are pretty short and pretty pointless, but I'll give you a quick summary anyway:

Chapter 28

Satan makes his face look like a pig's face, because he can, I guess. Then he forces Michelle to watch while an unspecified number of cultists approach the altar. These cultists are all carrying pitchfork-like implements--I don't know why, since they don't actually use them--and a dead baby. They offer the babies to Satan, who tears the bodies to pieces and smears his followers with the blood. Then, since Satan's apparently a greedy bastard who isn't satisfied with just one blood sacrifice, the cultists cart in a teenage girl tied to a large cross, whom he also hacks to bits. Then thirteen women in black come in and offer up "little black bundles," which Satan consumes with fire. We're not told what's in the bundles, and I think we're meant to conclude that they're also dead babies, but I'd like to think that these thirteen women were the only sane, practical Satanists in the group and their offerings were something useful. Maybe a honey-baked ham. I'd demand sacrifices of honey-baked hams if I were a monstrous god of darkness.

This whole baby business, by the way, shows just how unsustainable Satanism as Michelle Remembers describes it would be as a real-life religion. I doubt you can buy dead babies in bulk. Particularly not ones so freshly dead that their blood is still flowing. People who believed in baby-murdering cults seemed to recognize what a big plot hole this was and tried to explain it away with everything from wild stories about Satanic "baby breeders" to scaremongering about abortion, but none of these explanations can possibly account for the sheer number of babies you'd need to keep a giant cult for which a dead baby is an "object as necessary to the proper performance of the Black Mass as bread and wine are to the Catholic Mass" well-supplied enough to operate as we see them operate on the pages. Especially not abortion, since the majority of those are performed well before the "baby" is even recognizable as human.

Chapter 29

This chapter shows Dr. Pazder and Michelle taking up progressively more of each others' time (he only sees his other, non-special patients in the mornings now, and she sees him pretty much every day) and then Dr. Pazder has her take an EEG while "remembering" to detect possible anomalies in her brain waves. The neurologist reports that there's nothing at all unusual about the results. Dr. Pazder doesn't quite believe him and sends Michelle to have her skull x-rayed. The x-rays come back negative too.

Then Pazder and Michelle talk about her rash, which hasn't gone away. Michelle says that her dermatologist was surprised she hasn't been treating said rash with anything, which strikes me as a pretty good explanation for why it's not going away. Then there's this:

     "Contact dermatitis, mmh? That's what he said?" Dr. Pazder asked. She nodded.
     "Well, he's right, of course. It is a contact rash--but how could we ever make him understand that the contact was made twenty-two years ago?"
     Michelle smiled. "Or," she said, "that it wasn't a plant I contacted but the tail of Satan."

Two things:

One, Michelle's making awfully light of her experience here. I know humor can be helpful in coping with trauma, and far be it from me to tell abuse victims how to "properly" react to their abuse, but...well, if I was in her place, I know I wouldn't be acting all cutesy and "tee hee hee, he thinks I got poison ivy when I was actually molested by the Lord of Lies! Isn't that just precious?"

Two, Satan's tail is...pretty sensual. The way it's described and used in the book makes it seem really, really phallic. So a dude rubs his tail all over you, and you then break out in a livid, scabby rash...seriously, Michelle, you're doing no one any favors by leaving your hell-clap untreated. Go and get some penicillin before you pass it on to Dr. Pazder.

Like I said, pointless. Don't worry, things will get exciting (well, about as exciting as you can expect from this book) next chapter.          

Monday, April 13, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 27


Sorry, sorry. Tax week + trying to force myself to read more of the worst book of the 1980's for future blog posts = frustration, inaction, and deep, terrible, pitch-black hatred for all living things.

But my taxes are done and turned in and we've only got a few chapters to go, so let's just plow ahead and finish this shitheap. I've got a major treat in store for after we've finished it, I promise.

So. On to the nonsense. As the chapter opens, Dr. Pazder is setting up various video cameras to record Michelle's next session. He also thinks he's got the whole Satanic calendar figured out based on a combination of the incredibly vague, shaky details Michelle fed him and "facts" that Father Guy and "other authorities experienced in these unusual areas" apparently pulled out of nowhere. The calendar of Satanic festivals mirrors the Christian liturgical calendar, because of course it does; just like those sneaky, evil Satanists to appropriate other people's religious holidays, the bastards. He explains that the events Michelle describes in this book are part of something called "the Feast of the Beast" (you know, cultists, just because your loser god has a rhyming fetish, it doesn't mean you have to as well), a special "Black Mass" that takes place once every twenty-seven years. This special rite lasts for eighty-one days, and--

*record scratch*

Wait, run that by me again--eighty-one days?

I thought you just said that Satanists copied the Christian calendar for their devil-y devilish devil-worshiping calendar, book. What weirdo Christian holiday haven't I heard of that lasts for eighty-frickin-one days? Or only takes place every twenty-seven years, for that matter? Lent is the closest possibility I can think of, but it only lasts for forty days. And it happens every year.

Plus, the book tells us that Michelle's "Feast of the Beast" went on from September 7 to November 27 of 1955, which comes nowhere near to corresponding to the dates for Lent.

And that's not even getting into the hassle and disruption of work and everyday life and--for non-Canadian Satanists--complex travel plans and paperwork that taking part in a religious festival that eats up nearly three months would generate. No wonder they don't do it every year.

Anyway, before we get down to the nitty-gritty of Michelle's disturbingly sexualized hallucinations flashbacks, we're given a brief description of what the Black Mass entails: Satan leads a procession around the room, stopping periodically to give his followers mystical visions of Hell and deliver a speech about "the current status of evil" in the world, whittle away a crucifix and throw the pieces into the fire, and watch as new priest-initiates cut off fingers to prove their loyalty. And in case this is all starting to sound suspiciously like bad performance art to you, fear not--it's also strictly, pretentiously choreographed:

That's the Horns of Death, "the Satanic emblem used on the altar cloths and the backs of cloaks" which I distinctly remember being described as a thirteen-pointed star--which this thing looks nothing like--in earlier chapters, but whatever. The procession moves along a path that suggests this very sacred, ancient, and suddenly-appearing-for-plot-purposes shape. It makes me wonder, yet again, just how enormous this room would have to be for the vast multitudes of Satanists Michelle describes in previous chapters to be concentrated into those tiny circles in between the "horns" and still have acres of space to move about in. Also a shit-ton of unused space, if we're following Michelle's admittedly rather shaky continuity and assuming the room is still round.

Anyway, flashback time.

Michelle, weak and unsteady on her feet from pain, notices that the circles of Satanists are starting to form into lines, making a path for Satan who is now emerging from the fire. Which, of course, means bad news for Michelle:

Coiling his tail around her waist, he paraded along on monstrous legs, dragging her up one of the paths defined by the rows of priests. Gasping, Michelle saw that, wherever he stepped, his footprints were burned into the ground.

The more I read about Michelle Remembers Satan, the more I wonder why the Satanists ever bother to summon him into the physical world at all. People don't tend to like it when huge terrifying monsters roar at them and create storms in their houses and burn their property, no matter how evil and delusional said people are. Also, why isn't it within Satan's capability to take on a form where he wouldn't be wrecking everyone's shit without even trying, or scaring the crap out of the little girl whose cooperation is apparently very important to the ritual? Is it just that he can, but won't be bothered to? Remind me again why anyone puts up with this braying jerk long enough to worship him for eighty-one straight days?

Then Satan does something that is actually cool, which is rather out of character for him, but I'll take it anyway. He conjures up visions of his plan for the future, so real and vivid that Michelle feels as if she's right in the middle of them.

And you know what? I actually like those visions:

     Looking down, Michelle saw a city, in minute detail. There was a man standing at a window high in a skyscraper. Behind him she saw a luxurious office. The man was looking out over the city, but his vision was turned inward. He was in despair. That was all she saw. A glimpse of a man, of an emotion.
     The skyscraper and the man disappeared. Now she saw a nice-looking man, a good man who had made a mistake or come to the end of his rope...The man went to a telephone booth on the corner, and dialed a number. The telephone rang, but no one answered...He leaned his head against the glass side of the booth for a moment, and then he walked away into the night. He had given up. It was too late.
     Another scene was summoned up. A woman was sitting on a sofa in front of the fire. There was an empty glass in her hand. She was listening to a phonograph record. The music came to an end, but the record kept going around and around, wup, wup, wup...The woman did not move. She sat there holding the glass, staring into loneliness. The child felt her despair.

Wow. Wow. That is the setup for an evil plan far, far too complex and mature to have come from the villains of this book. Remember the banal evil fail in the last chapter? This is believable as the aftermath of an actual, viable banal evil villain's actions. How real and scary would this book feel if the "Satanists" were actually some sort of bland, suited-and-tied think tank or special interest group constantly coming up with ideas for breaking down institutions and social structures that encourage human connections, while perpetuating the ones that break down communities and relationships and push people into lives of isolation and depression? Not out of over-the-top, cackling, I'M A CARE BEAR VILLAIN WHO HATES FEELINGS evilluls, but out of some misguided sense that the "old ways" are somehow holding back progress. Or even just not fully understanding the importance of those ways, due to stunted empathy and a lack of imagination.

Ah, but it's hard to write a villain like this (and the book flushed the possibility down the toilet long ago when it started cramming insane troll villains and over-the-top supernatural events down our throats anyway), so our authors don't even try. Instead, Michelle closes out the chapter by informing us that all high priests of Satan cut off the middle finger of their left hand as part of their initiation into the cult. Given what a treacherous sea of impossible images and conveniently-suddenly-existing-for-plot-purposes characters, rites, buildings, and logic this book is, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the Satanists have morphed into the Yakuza. Or maybe Satan just got sick and tired of being flipped off. Given his lovely personality, I bet it happens to him a lot.     

Monday, April 6, 2015

Music Video Monday: Sacrifice

Next up on the "worst book of the 1980's" survival kit playlist: "Sacrifice" by Venom.

Seems appropriate, since it also features a bloody sacrifice to Satan--and although the victim is a "virgin," I don't get the impression that she's an actual minor child here. Nor does Satan speak in rhyme. I approve. I also approve of the moral-crusader-baiting nature of the song. Interestingly, the outrage factor was probably partially what saved Venom from obscurity. They weren't the most skilled or talented band out there and relied heavily on gimmicks to make their stage performances memorable (I love the idea of the portable fans to make their hair flow constantly. I may have to steal that for the Devil Music sequel.) yet that same lack of technical skills forced them to go for speed rather than proficiency in playing, letting them create something that was uniquely their own.

Not to mention that they made the perfect kind of music to get heavy-metal-fearing parents' knickers in a twist, thus further encouraging rebellious teens to seek out their work. And of course the fact that the band's "Satanism" is nothing but a gimmick (confirmed by the band members themselves, according to my trusty Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal) didn't register with those panicky parents.

By the way, anti-metal moral crusaders? If someone mentions using images of Baphomet in their eeeeevil rituals like this song does, they're almost certainly trolling you. Baphomet started life as a "deity" made up of whole cloth to make the Knights Templar look like filthy idol-worshiping pagans so the king of France would have an excuse to steal their land and money. The only group I can think of off the top of my head that seriously uses Baphomet as a religious/ritual symbol today is the Church of Satan, and they were pretty much formed for the express purpose of trolling you. Then again, if Michelle Remembers is anything to go by, trolling you is depressingly easy.   

Friday, April 3, 2015

Michelle Remembers: Chapter 26

After the smoke from the whole "He is called Satan" bombshell from the last chapter (except it wasn't really a bombshell; come on, the character all but showed up waving a big neon sign that said "I'm the Goddamn Devil" when we first saw him) clears away, we see a little more of the ritual. I won't discuss it at length because it's just more of the same old random, unexplained crap we've seen over and over again throughout this book--Mary popping down from Heaven just long enough to tell Michelle that oops, the time hasn't quite come for her to be rescued yet, but she should keep on praying and steadfastly watch all the horrid traumatizing stuff going on around her because reasons. An unspecified number of Satanists presenting naked, apparently drugged children before Satan as new "children of darkness" initiates or some shit. Said children burning Bibles at Satan's (long-winded, rambling, rhyming) command.

You know, Bibles cost money. I can't be bothered to look up what the price would have been in the 1950's, but nowadays the King James Version that you'd see in a church pew will set you back $10-14. That may not seem like a huge amount, especially if the cult isn't opposed to buying cheaper used copies, but I get the impression that there are rather a lot of children at this gathering. And they each have their own copy to burn. And we have no idea how often this particular ritual takes place, and it's not like you can re-use this particular "prop." And given that these people apparently spend all their time worshiping the Devil in the round room instead of earning money at those day jobs Michelle implied they had once and then never showed them going to wonder they couldn't afford to have their Satan idol made of anything more expensive than papier-mache.

Oh, and Satan says, "Look at me!" to Michelle, without following it up with, "and then climb a tree" or "cause I've gotta pee" or "Tee hee hee." First time in the whole book he hasn't spoken in rhyme. Good fallen angel. Have a soul.

The chapter ends with Dr. Pazder discussing Satan's obnoxious speech patterns with Father Guy. This conversation ensues:

     "On the surface [the rhymes] can sound foolish," Dr. Pazder commented.
     "Yes, on the surface perhaps," Father Guy said. "But underneath, there is a lot more. Double and triple meanings. Satan will not humiliate himself to speak like ordinary people. He considers himself too brilliant for that..."

Wait a minute--you're saying Satan isn't being all ironic and wink-wink-nudge-nudge with his terrible poetry? He's actually taking it seriously? Oooooooh Goooooood. I can't decide which would be more awkward--watching horrible full-of-fail pickup artist types of the kind mocked in this blog show no awareness at all that their techniques are terrible and won't work (even as they strike out with woman after woman all night), or watching Michelle Remembers Satan spout doggerel that a first grader would be embarrassed to come up with and strut around like he really thinks those weak-ass verses make him look like OMG TOTALLY A GENIUS in our puny mortal eyes.

Then Father Guy ramps up the clusterfuck factor by bringing the idea of "the banality of evil" into the discussion, and applying it to Michelle Remembers Satan of all people:

Banality, triteness, these are the superficial attributes of evil--and its principal disguise. We expect it to be big and flashy and glamorous. But it is small and mean and unoriginal. Nonetheless highly dangerous of course. Indeed, all the more dangerous for its apparent triviality, its unnoteworthiness..."

But...but...but...Michelle Remembers Satan is big and flashy and glamorous. Did you not see the fire? The weird shape-shifting? He conjured a storm in the round room. Maybe those things are boring and commonplace among other demons, I don't know. But Satan isn't among other demons here. He's among humans, and I'm sorry, if you can perform legitimately supernatural acts, humans are going to consider you flashy and glamorous.

Also, Satan's personality and mindset may be mean and unoriginal, but he sure as shootin' ain't small.

In fact, let's run our villains through the list of personality traits Hannah Arendt observed in the original banality-of-evil case study himself, one Adolf Eichmann:*

1. Based his world view on a grossly simplified version of Kant's categorical imperative.

Don't know. I can't tell you whether Michelle Remembers Satanists even had any philosophies to pervert or oversimplify, because Michelle doesn't bother to tell us about what they believe. Dr. Pazder seems to think that their entire religion is basically just a bizarro darksided imitation of Roman Catholicism, but for all we know he could be jumping to the entirely wrong conclusion based on superficial similarities, and the cult actually has its own complex set of theologies that have little to do with Christianity. There's just not enough data to say.

2. An "inability to think for himself" that manifested itself in "consistent use of 'stock phrases and invented cliches.'"

Could apply to Satan. As for the rest of the Satanists...I don't know. I've only just realized it now, but the Satanists themselves have very, very few actual spoken lines in this book--mostly just yelling at Michelle when she messes up their rituals. We are told that they're "chanting" and the like quite often, but we're never told what they're chanting, and we never, for example, have Michelle report on overhearing conversations between cultists. So...again, not enough data to tell.

3. "Constantly joined organizations in order to define himself, and had difficulties thinking for himself without doing so."

Maybe? I've no idea how or why any of the Satanists got into Satanism, because not a one of them is an actual character with a backstory. No real idea why Satan (I guess?) started Satanism either. The book seems to think--in the rare moments it thinks at all--that he did it because he's evil and hates God, but honestly he just seems like a petty bully who can't live without weak underlings to kick around. I guess that sort of counts as needing to be part of a group?

4. Made some claims to intelligence, but was not actually very intelligent.

YES. Nobody in this book comes off as very intelligent, actually. Especially the ones who take the most pride in their intelligence. In fact, I think Dr. Pazder and Satan have more in common than either would care to admit.

5. Lied about being responsible for atrocities which he was not, in fact, responsible for, possibly because he would have "preferred to be executed as a war criminal than live as a nobody."

I'm not seeing it in the Satanists, to be honest. Their evil is grandiose and attention-grabbing, but it's...well, pretty monolithically grandiose and attention-grabbing. We never see a mediocre Satanist try to lift himself out of mediocrity by claiming credit for an outstanding one's work of evil. We never see a mediocre Satanist, period. I guess maybe Malachi is sort of ambitious sometimes, but most of the time, they're all the same. I could see Satan being petty enough to steal credit for somebody else's work, but the book hasn't shown him doing that, so no banana on this one.

6. Felt that his moral responsibility for his role in the Holocaust was diminished by the fact that many other people--including members of "respectable society"--were taking an active role too.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that there's a lot of groupthink going on among the Satanists, but this doesn't really fit because they're not trying to ignore or explain away their evil--they're reveling in it. Also, I doubt Satan even cares about any human notion of morality, except as something he can amuse himself by poking at.

7. Psychologists noted that there was nothing psychopathic about his personality and that in fact, "his overall attitude towards other people, especially his family and friends, was 'highly desirable.'" 

Except for that one chapter where Malachi (unconvincingly) plays the poor rattled car crash victim, Satan and his followers all act like braying, unapologetic assholes to absolutely everyone in this book. The one character we see associate with them regularly who isn't a cult member (Michelle's mom) seems utterly terrified of them. I can't imagine any psychologist, even Dr. Pazder, examining them and saying, "Yep, that attitude of yours is totally normal and desirable."

*List courtesy of Wikipedia.

Not to mention the whole issue that a secret society which practices gory human and animal sacrifice, steals bodies from hospitals without the law being able to touch them, and dabbles in genuine, functional black magic and casually summons Satan in the flesh is the exact opposite of banal.

Damn it, book, the banality of evil is an interesting concept. If you must use it, is it really too much to ask that you actually portray evil that is banal? I should think it wouldn't be too hard for you. You already do boring so, so well.

I'm not putting a picture of Adolf Eichmann here to illustrate banal evil because
Nazis suck. Please enjoy this photo of two dull, unremarkable old evil guys who
suck ever so slightly less instead.    

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 25

In the next chapter of the worst book of the 1980's, Michelle and Dr. Pazder admit that this whole book was just a big trolling experiment, and we're free to forget about it and go on with our lives.

Hahaha, April Fools! We've still got ten chapters to go, and our authors will be deadly serious about it all until the bitter end.

Chapter 25 opens like this:

Dr. Pazder would often look back upon this day--he would think of it as the day the war began. It was a cosmic battle Michelle was describing, lasting many weeks, with the Devil and his followers on the earthen floor of the round room, attempting to proceed with their dreadful and apparently crucial ritual, and, somehow in the air above, other forces bearing down, disrupting the ritual with an interference that was not physical but spiritual.

He also mentions that Satan is using Michelle as a pawn in this spiritual "war." Which, okay, using children as pawns in war is a pretty solidly bad-guy move to make. Honestly, though, I'm more disturbed that the forces of Heaven are letting Satan do this.

We pick up the flashbacks where we left off last time: Mary has vanished off somewhere. The ritual is still in full swing, Satan's still (oh, piss) speaking in rhyme for no reason, and he still has his tail wrapped around Michelle's neck. Oh, and now that Michelle has talked to the Mother of God right in front of him, he's cheesed off to boot. Michelle tells us he is "raging" and "throwing flame everywhere" until the whole room is "filled with fire." He also moves his tail from Michelle's neck to her mid-section, where it burns and squeezes her so hard that she feels as if it's sunken inside her skin. He's so angry, in fact, that he seems to be causing a localized meteorological disturbance:

The child was almost speechless with terror, yet she kept pushing the words out, trying to tell Dr. Pazder what was going on. The air was swirling, gusting. She felt as if she were in the center of a maelstrom. The round room was full of deafening noise, but there were noises from on high too, and a turbulence somewhere far above. She was in a precarious no-man's-land--unprotected, vulnerable, frightened.

Well that sounds like a totally not dangerous or traumatizing situation to leave a six-year-old child in at all! It sure was nice of Mary and Jesus to show up juuuuust long enough to get Satan good and furious at their perceived interference, and then leave without depriving Michelle of the wacky, rollicking adventure of getting nearly squeezed in half and dodging literal Hellfire missiles.

But then Michelle recites the prayer that Mary taught her, and Mary shows up again. Then she whisks Michelle somewhere far, far away and gives her to a loving foster family, because cosmic war between good and evil or no cosmic war between good and evil, dragging kids into adult conflicts is just despicable.

Hahaha, April Fools again! Instead, this exchange happens:

     "Oh, ma petite. Shhhh," [Mary] shushed her. "Shhhh. I came back."
     "I'm tired," the child sighed. "Ma Mere, I'm tired."
     "You must watch just a little while. Just a little while more. I'm sorry it's so hard. My coming makes him angry. But you needed to know I'd come back."

Plus brownie points for wanting to provide emotional support to the abused kid. Minus brownie points for a) doing it right in front of the person abusing the child, angering him so that he inflicts even worse abuse and b) jerking the child around emotionally by briefly offering hope of safety and then disappearing again.

Then Mary tells Michelle that she ought to know just who is tormenting her. Michelle doesn't want to know--which seems perfectly fair. I mean, if you fell into the hyena cage at the zoo and the zookeeper was all, like, "I'll save you, but you'll need to memorize the names of all the hyenas currently mauling you first," wouldn't your reply be something along the lines of, ASSHAT IF I SURVIVE THIS I WILL PERSONALLY BEAT THE STUPID OUT OF YOU WITH MY OWN SEVERED LEG? I reckon it would!--but Mary insists. She says it's necessary for Michelle to learn her tormentor's name, for other peoples' sake as well as her own:

"Shhhh. Shhhh. It is very important. Many people do not know who he is. That is why so many people get hurt. They are afraid."

First, that makes no fucking sense. Do people get hurt because they don't know who Satan is, or because they're afraid? Or because they don't know who Satan is, and that makes them afraid? Or are they getting hurt because they're afraid of other, unrelated things, and coincidentally they also don't know who Satan is? All kidding aside, I think--I think--this passage is probably meant to imply that simply not knowing about the Devil (i.e. being ignorant of the true nature and depth and breadth of evil) equals being afraid/too cowardly to confront evil in the world at large, kind of a simplistic view, book. Just sayin'.

Second, maybe tell the kid her tormentor's name once you've gotten her safely removed from his clutches?

Alas, no such luck. The chapter ends with Mary telling Michelle what we've all guessed already--that the huge scary guy in the fire is called Satan. No explanation for why he talks like a brain-damaged Dr. Seuss character, though. She also assures Michelle that "our Father is looking after us" without even trying to justify our Father's apparent policy of letting the minions of Hell run riot among His precious creations and leaving the heavy-duty work of Satanist-cult-busting to a six-year-old girl. Michelle Remembers God could use about twenty centuries' worth of parenting classes. Hmm, maybe that explains why Michelle Remembers Satan turned out so weird. His negligent divine parent probably dropped him on his head multiple times. 

Still a better parent than Michelle Remembers God.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Music Video Monday: The Devil Cried

Next up on the "surviving the worst book of the 1980's" playlist, a rather tragically underrated song from Black Sabbath's Dio years.

It's okay, Satan. If somebody wrote a book portraying me as a blustering child abuser who only spoke in rejected Dr. Seuss verses, I'd cry too.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapters 23 and 24

Chapter 23

When Dr. Pazder and Michelle start their next therapy session, interestingly, we see a little bit of tension between them. He still hasn't quite accepted her claim to have seen apparitions of Jesus and Mary, and she's convinced that what she's saying sounds utterly crazy and couldn't be real, even though it feels real to her. Unfortunately, their moment of self-awareness doesn't last and they plunge right back into the least beneficial therapeutic regimen since Little Albert.

But they get over their moment of self-awareness pretty quickly. In less than a page, we're back to the remembering.

Michelle is still standing before the fire with Satan's burning-hot tail wrapped around her neck. Jesus has buggered off, who knows why or where to, but...he's leaving his mom to look after Michelle, so that's okay, I guess?

     She reminded him that the figure in white had called his mother. "She was very far away," Michelle told Dr. Pazder. "Like a star way off in the distance somewhere. And then it got closer."
     "And he was telling me that he couldn't stay there. But his mother could. Does that make sense to you?" she asked. She had broken down in tears again.

Hmm, no, dereliction of duty and reckless endangerment on the Son of God's part doesn't make much sense. But hey, his leaving the Virgin Mary to watch over Michelle is still better than nothing, right? Maybe she can help somehow.

     "You have got to stay here." Michelle's voice had changed. Now there was a new tone. It was a woman's voice, warm and gentle, but very firm.
     "I don't understand," the little girl cried. "I didn't understand the lady. She said she could be my Ma Mere. She took my hand and said to hold on really tight. She couldn't be there always. Not like that, like standing there. Only for a little while. But she'd always know where I was..."

Wait, what? Michelle has to stay where she is, and Mary can only be with her sometimes? But...she can at least do something while she's there, right?

     "I wanted to hide behind her. No," the child said unhappily. '"No. I guess not." Dr. Pazder could feel the little girl's desire to hide and her sad realization that it was impossible.
     Michelle was quiet again. The next time she spoke, she sounded motherly. 
     "No," said Ma Mere. "Not hide. Not hide."

Well, WHY THE HELL NOT? Is there anything you can do for the poor abused little kid who desperately needs and wants your help?

Sort of. Michelle says that Mary holds her hand to comfort her, which is nice, but would be nicer if the personification of all evil weren't still essentially molesting Michelle right in front of her. The tail around the neck, remember? It's still there. Maybe smack his tail off her neck first? No? Oh well.

Mary then explains that she isn't doing more to help Michelle because the time hasn't come for her to break free (she does, I notice, at least have the decency to punctuate this with an "I'm sorry." Unlike her son.) and that Michelle mustn't fight back or speak about her experiences until the time comes. Okay, I'll bite. What mysterious divine plan are you following that's so delicate and important that you can't remove a child from a horrendously abusive situation that may kill her for fear of ruining it?

     "We have to be human," Ma Mere told her calmly. "You want to help your brothers and sisters."
     "I don't have any," the child cried.
     "No, you have many."
     "How can I help. I can't even help myself. I can't even get out of those circles."
     "You will," Ma Mere promised, "but only if you stay. Or else too many people will be left in circles."

So...Michelle has to stay and be the Satanists' chew toy for an unspecified period of time, so she can rescue other children being abused by the cult? We see no mention of children at this ritual, we saw the cult murder at least one kid in cold blood. Michelle now seems to be the only living child in the whole cult. Is there even any other kid left to save? And if there is...that's a big, big responsibility to put on the shoulders of a scared, beaten-down six-year-old. Hey, Mary, I have a better idea: How about you tell your son--who actually has a proven ability to prevail over demons--to do his job and protect those children instead? His pub crawl can wait. Little girls getting inappropriately touched by Satan can't.           

Chapter 24

This chapter is super short and its only purpose is to have Michelle show a rash that's developed on her neck to the bishop, who acts shocked and says that the mark looks exactly like Satan's tail tip. He makes this determination based on the fact that the Devil's tail looks like that in medieval pictures. Never mind that it wasn't like the Devil posed for medieval painters, and Michelle hints that he's a shapeshifter anyway so his stereotypical appearance shouldn't be the concrete piece of evidence they're treating it as. We're also told that Michelle's rashes are her body's way of "remembering" what her mind remembers. There's a close-up of her neck rash in the pictures section of the book, and it honestly looks more like what would happen if you had anxiety issues and scratched your neck too much as a nervous tic.

Hey, speaking of anxiety issues, one thing about Michelle's description of Mary really stood out to me:

"...You knew she was a mother. She had sad eyes. They hurt her baby. She'll always have sad eyes because of that."

So Mary was traumatized by watching her son's crucifixion (which is one of the most horrific forms of creative murder ever dreamed up by the human race, by the way. Zero stars. Would not recommend.) and now she has to watch more children being tortured.

I really, really hope she's doing this out of the boundless goodness of her heart, because she wants to help Michelle and other suffering children, and not because her son is making her. Because if she wasn't on board with this idea, then we'll have to add "doesn't understand or care about PTSD triggers" to Michelle Remembers Jesus' list of sins.

I hate this book. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 22

In this chapter of the worst book of the 1980's, we get to meet Satan! Aren't you excited?

Don't be. Michelle Remembers Satan is really, really annoying, for reasons that will become obvious as soon as we see him in-text.

Michelle comes in for her next therapy session and starts "remembering" very reluctantly, convinced that something big and unusual is going to happen in her next memory. She finds herself in the round room in time for some sort of major ceremony:

Everything was black. And the black was moving. Surging like a stormy sea. The people were all wearing black monklike robes, girdled with black rope. There were many, many more people--a huge crowd--and it seemed that they had gathered from all the corners of the earth. Their voices carried foreign inflections, and as alike as they were in their attire, their varied postures and movements gave the sense of a great mixture of humanity.

Gee, that round room must be pretty darn big if it has room for a tacky 70's bed, candelabras, a stage with a life-sized Satan statue on it, and every Satanist in the whole world (a population, remember, which probably includes literally every human being who lives in Africa if Dr. Pazder is to be believed). Now I really want to know where this building is, and how in the flying fuck Pazder and Michelle think it can exist without anyone but the cult knowing about it. Towering, ominous, windowless stone domes aren't generally the kind of structure people just forget about seeing, you know?

The fire is still burning in the middle of the room, and Michelle is sitting near it. Meanwhile, the cultists split into three groups and form three circles around the fire--enclosing Michelle as well, and begin an intricate dance around the fire. Michelle mentions that one group is composed entirely of women, one entirely of men, and then the third has both men and women in its ranks. She also says that each group has a different function: One is primarily concerned with casting curses on enemies, for instance. This sounds like interesting information, so of course it isn't explored any further. Instead the cultists abruptly pick Michelle up and begin passing her around their circles, doing that weird cardinal-directions-pointing ritual whose purpose won't be explained in this chapter either. Michelle's wording suggests that every single cultist does this to her separately, which must take a long goddamn time considering how many people are in the room. Like, five full Catholic Masses long.

Seriously, don't these people have jobs and family obligations to attend to in the real world? How does nobody who knows them ever notice that they routinely disappear on five-day-long child-flinging binges?

Michelle then interrupts the narrative to have some sort of spiritual experience for three and a half pages.

Look, I have nothing against spiritual experiences. But they are very much not a one-size-fits-all deal, and one person's transformative, healing event may very well be bizarre, or even nightmarish, to someone else. That's why they're so difficult to do well in books. You've got to be a very, very good writer to pull one off in such a way that it won't bore or freak out your audience, and as I've stated before, our authors just aren't up to the task.

Dr. Pazder engages Michelle in a long, halting recitation of what sounds like an abridged version of the Nicene Creed, and Dr. Pazder is amazed that Michelle was able to repeat a bit from a popular Catholic and Anglican prayer in French after having grown up in a country where 22% of the population are native French speakers. True, Michelle and Dr. Pazder live on the other side of the country from Quebec, the province where most of the Francophone population is concentrated, and Michelle claims she's so bad at languages that she couldn't pass her required French classes in college. Still, my husband is terrible at languages too--he's convinced that his professor gave him a passing grade at the end of his fourth attempt at Spanish class because she felt sorry for him--and even he was able to (mostly) memorize a short poem and recite it in front of the class for extra credit. I'm sure Michelle was capable of getting a simple phrase like "Au nom du Pere et du Saint Esprit" down pat enough to repeat it, even if she can't figure out the grammar of it or tell you which word means "Father."

Then we finally get back to the ritual, where Satan himself has just manifested in the form of a dark, constantly shifting, vaguely humanoid figure within the fire. I like that image; it's appropriately creepy and unsettling. So of course Michelle has to have him open his amorphous mouth and ruin everything.

He talks in rhyme.

Here are some examples of how Michelle thinks Satan--a fallen angel, a being with greater intelligence, wisdom and wit than any mere human could hope to have--might talk:

Out of the fire.
A man is born.
And he walks. 
Behind, the path is born.

It burns out the way.
It burns out the way.
Of destruction and decay.

And this:

You come from fire,
And to fire you return.
You come from fire,
The only way out is to burn.

I CANNOT TAKE YOU SERIOUSLY, MICHELLE REMEMBERS SATAN. You rhyme words with themselves, you use too many periods, you repeat yourself unnecessarily, your metaphors are confusing, and your sense of meter sucks. Now go sit on your skull throne in the bowels of Hell and think about what you've done.

Oh, but it gets worse. Michelle is forced to stand before the fire, and Satan wraps his long, sinuous tail around her neck, caressing her with its bifurcated point. Mmm. Kinky. Where do I sign up? I mean, uh...things sure look bad for our hero! Who will save her?

Jesus Christ will!

No, that's not a joke. Despite the terrifying predicament she's in, Michelle's mood suddenly shifts for the better:

"All of a's like morning, and it's not scary anymore. It's not bright light, but it takes the scary away. And there's a man and he's got white on. He's really far away. Then he starts coming closer. When he gets close, then I can't see the bad man that scares me anymore...I don't seem to need to say anything to this man in white...I started to cry. It seems like every time a tear came out, he understood. He patted my head and put his arm around my shoulder. He's being my friend. He didn't talk to me, but I knew he had a mother. He said that she could be my mother too."

Having made this promise, Jesus--and the text does make it pretty clear that this is Jesus--poofs off somewhere and leaves Michelle exactly where she was before, facing down the Prince of Darkness with a gang of murderous Satanists at her back.


Yeah, thanks for that, Jesus. I mean, it's very kind of you to send your mother to comfort a poor abused little girl and all, but...YOU WERE RIGHT THERE. And I'm pretty sure you outrank Satan. What were you late for that was so important* that you couldn't take two seconds to teleport the kid to a safe place?      

The chapter ends with Dr. Pazder sitting at home, being completely freaked out that Michelle is apparently having visions of Jesus and Mary and the Devil, but not quite for the reasons you'd think:

He believed that some people had seen the mother of God. He believed that some people had seen the Devil. But in Victoria? The Devil?

I think he's trying to convey that he's just startled that all this could be happening so close to home. But the way it's written, you could also infer that he thinks Victoria is such a boring little backwater town that not even Satan wants to visit. I'm sure the Victoria tourism board appreciates your glowing recommendation, sir.

*My guess? He's off to have a pint with those cops who couldn't be arsed to investigate a highly suspicious car crash in chapter 6.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Music Video Monday: Mr. Krinkle

For today's installment of the "powering through the worst book of the 1980's" playlist, I have officially given up making sense of any of the cult's weird rituals as Michelle describes them. So please enjoy this infinitely more coherent Primus video instead:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapters 20 and 21

Chapter 20

On June 30 Michelle called Dr. Pazder. For the past days, she said, she had been afflicted by strange distressing urges. She had felt a repeated impulse to get in the car and drive--somewhere, she didn't know where.

Hey, I think I've felt that impulse too! It passed as soon as I stopped reading this book.

Michelle shows up at Dr. Pazder's office without an appointment, agitated because "remembering" is taking an emotional toll on her and she doesn't want to continue. I imagine a good, caring therapist would encourage her to take a break and spend some time processing what she's just discovered, but not Dr. Pazder. Dr. Pazder persuades her to soldier on because obviously the Satanists who we haven't seen trying to stop Michelle from speaking out before they kinda-sorta-maybe left her a scary bench in the last chapter are trying to stop Michelle from speaking out:

Dr. Pazder knew that the Satanists had used sophisticated techniques of psychological manipulation to try to inhibit Michelle--not merely to make her forget but, if she should remember, to make her not tell.

HAHAHAHAHA NO. I seriously doubt any of the bad guys we've seen so far would know a "sophisticated technique of psychological manipulation" if it mugged them at the bus stop. Their methods never came off to me as subtle or clever or well-thought-out, just randomly, pointlessly cruel.

Such mind control techniques had unbelievable power, he knew. In Africa he had seen the influence of the juju dolls; if a person believed in juju, the dolls could be used to make that person roll over and die, on the spot, without any other intervention.

Again with the darkest primitive Africa talk. Dr. Pazder, your cultural superiority complex is showing.

Now Pazder told Michelle that it was desperately important that she not yield to the Satanist suggestions, that she resist them, that she allow herself to ventilate the fearful memories. The Satanists had tried to fill her with guilt--it was one of their techniques.

Oh, what a lowdown move on those filthy, filthy Satanists' part. I'm sure good Catholics like Dr. Pazder would never resort to a dirty fighting technique like filling people with guilt over bad stuff that isn't actually their fault.

And then he did something he very rarely did with a patient: He commanded her to continue.

And then Michelle walked out of his office and found a psychiatrist who actually put her mental well-being before getting as much of her lurid backstory down on paper as quickly as possible and wasn't a braying racist.

Sadly, no. We get a long-ass section of Michelle's memories, mostly taken verbatim from the transcripts of the therapy sessions because there is no justice in the world. Interestingly, though, we start to see hints that one of the Satanists may actually be halfway competent.

In her memory, Michelle is taken to the room where the doctor performed the pointless operation of pointlessness on her. The book explains that they get her there by way of a tunnel, which answers the question of how people were getting into and out of the doorless, windowless round room, but raises a ton of others. The room is full of dead bodies on stretchers. Michelle is strapped to an empty stretcher, and the doctor forces her to watch as he dismembers the bodies, sews parts from all the bodies together into one Frankenstein body, and makes it jerk around by running an electric current through it. Then he shocks Michelle with electricity as well. actually properly terrifying. Then he pulls all her teeth, which is also terrifying (though given Michelle's age, I would assume all or most of those teeth were her baby teeth and her regular teeth will still grow in, but the violation and the terrorizing factor would still be there). He also regularly drugs Michelle with what appears to be some sort of sedative to coax information out of her and implant ideas into her, and presumably to get her addicted to the drug so she'll have to be docile and good, because the cultists could withhold her fix at any time (that's my conjecture, anyway. The book Satanists seem entirely fixated on the information-getting and idea-implanting aspects, though I'd like to think at least one of the members of The Most Powerful Evil Organization In The World has the mental capacity to plan more than fifteen minutes into the future).

Unlike anything the nurse or Malachi has done so far, these actually seem like they could be effective breaking techniques.

Anyway, Michelle's "pretend friend" shows up during these breaking sessions to comfort Michelle. Remember her? I sure didn't. The pretend friend is a sort of idealized version of Michelle who occasionally pops up to help Michelle through a difficult moment. She made a handful of appearances in the first few chapters, and then she was MIA for many chapters after that. I didn't mention her in any of the earlier decons because she didn't seem important enough. Keep that in mind for the next chapter when...

Chapter 21

...the Satanists gather in the round room and bring in a little girl who very closely resembles Michelle's pretend friend, so closely that Michelle believes they're one and the same. Michelle is forced to watch in horror as the cultists pull her teeth like they pulled Michelle's, chop off her hair, and dismember her. We learn later that the doctor wormed information about her inner life out of her while she was drugged, and that was how the Satanists managed to find out about her imaginary friend and got enough details on her appearance to find a child who looked like her. At the time, though, Michelle thinks that her "friend's" death is entirely her fault. She is left horrified and guilt-stricken, wondering if her captors have the ability to reach into her very thoughts.    

This scene has a great deal of emotional potential. It could be a real kick in the gut to see Michelle agonize over supposedly having betrayed her only comfort to her tormentors. It could show how powerful, evil, and utterly ruthless the cult is. We could see some humanity on adult Michelle and Dr. Pazder's part as they comb through whatever missing persons databases Canada had back then and search old newspapers for articles about missing little girls, trying to put a name to the victim and, if possible, give her family closure by helping them find her remains.

Unfortunately a lot of that potential is lost, largely due to the fact that we don't see much of the pretend friend. She gets less page time than the unnamed, dead-for-all-her-scenes "lump woman" from the earlier chapters. I honestly forgot she was even in this book for fifteen or so chapters, so watching Michelle "lose" her just isn't the gut-wrenching experience it should be, no matter how hard the book tries to handwave the lack of connection with this:

And now Michelle realized that her pretend friend had never left her. She'd always been there, on one level or the other, always on hand to fan the little spark of courage, to say the funny, sassy thing that would amuse Michelle and take her mind away from the horrors, or give her a fragment of understanding that made the ghastliness comprehensible...

Well, then, maybe you should have put more effort and time into SHOWING her doing that, book. Sorry, doctor. Your master-act of villainy has been undermined by the incompetence of the writers.

And this is all Our Heroes have to say about the little girl who was brutally murdered for resembling Michelle's imaginary friend:

     "...Who was the little girl they cut up?"
     "I know that it was a real person. It wasn't all my imagination. There was a little girl there who looked just like my friend, but they messed her up. She wasn't an imaginary person."

Then they go back to talking about how this was just another one of the Satanists' brainwashing techniques and how Michelle still has the inner goodness her imaginary friend represented despite it, and they never mention the murdered girl again. It's passages like these that make me hope that Michelle and Dr. Pazder both secretly knew that none of these horrors actually happened and their therapy sessions were all just a big, long-running roleplaying game, because they come off as fucking monstrous people at these moments. Yup, you witnessed a little girl being torn limb from limb and her body is probably rotting in a shallow grave in the woods somewhere, but we've got your inner goodness to talk about! S'cool, s'cool, it's not like that dead girl could possibly have a family who've been lying awake at night wondering what happened to her for the last twenty years or anything.

The chapter ends with the beginning of another ritual, which the Satanists kick off by ceremonially burning the effigy of Satan (once white, but now completely reddened with blood) in a big bonfire. Ah, so that explains why it was white and made of papier mache. Still doesn't explain why it never fell apart under the repeated blood soakings, though. Or why it's red. Hate to break it to you, Satanists, but blood doesn't stay red when it dries. Unless you wanted your chintzy effigy to be that rusty brown scab color, any middle schooler could tell you you'd have been better off just shelling out for some red acrylic paint. You know, if you hadn't sacrificed them to Satan first.