Friday, January 30, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 6

In the sixth chapter of the worst book of the 1980's, our intrepid heroine comes to the conclusion that the people abusing her were witches. Her not-so-responsible psychiatrist encourages this idea.

Then they go to church.

This is part of her treatment. Despite supposedly having no religious upbringing in her background, Michelle fears that her soul is "threatened" and compromised by the actions of her captors, and she asks to see a priest. Luckily for her, Dr. Pazder happens to know a good priest.

I'm uncomfortable with this scene, for several reasons. First off, I don't mind religion (practiced responsibly) and I have nothing against psychiatry (practiced responsibly). But combining the two? Not good. Has a long history of very unsavory practices that have ruined many an innocent person's life and have even driven some to suicide. Seriously, don't let the twain meet. Even done with the best of intentions, they can make a nasty, toxic combo.

And in case you think I'm just being a big old anti-religion meanie, Dr. Pazder even admits in-text that he knows it's such a not-done thing among reputable psychiatrists to bring "a priest into the psychiatric situation" that there's "almost a taboo against it." Then he does it anyway. Professional ethics, what's that? Sounds like something for boring people who don't scar their patients for life.

So. They go to church and Pazder's priest friend, Father Leo, says Mass for them. On the way there, Pazder gives Michelle a gift: "a small cross he had bought in Rome along with others just like it for his wife and children." I think this is supposed to paint him as an attentive and caring therapist who's really attuned to his patient's needs, but it really just comes off like he's getting way too invested in her emotionally. The church service scares Michelle a little--because the altar and fancy ceremonial trappings ostensibly remind her of Satanist rituals--but she also feels relief, because of her inexplicable inborn Jesus-dar.

After church is over, we get more therapy WTFery. Michelle remembers Malachi being angry and stressed about the possibility that the police will come and find the dead body now festering in the house (Hmm...apparently these people aren't as unknown to the police as I got the impression they were last time an officer of the law showed up. Makes you wonder how Malachi was able to get rid of the guy so easily). She's sent off to clean up and go to bed. The next day, she happens to walk in on Malachi re-dressing the corpse of the murdered "lump" woman (Why bother, Malachi? Aren't the clothes just one more identifying feature that could get the body traced back to you?) but she only gets a glimpse because her mother appears and angrily orders her to go to her room.

Then things get stupid again.

Malachi and her mother awaken her in the middle of the night and drag her along on a car ride, ordering her to "stay on the floor" of the back seat. Then Malachi carries out the dead woman, who Michelle now clarifies has been re-dressed not in her own clothes, but in clothes Michelle recognizes as her mother's. a corpse for a body-dump still seems like unnecessary effort, but I've got to give Malachi points for at least having the foresight to make sure that if she's found, the clothes she's wearing won't be the same as the ones in the "last seen wearing" section of her Missing Persons report.

Malachi puts the dead woman in the front seat--no mention of where mom is sitting; I guess she wasn't invited to come along after all. Michelle is understandably creeped out by riding in the car with a dead person, but there's nothing she can do about it. Malachi drives for quite some time. Then, just as they begin to head downhill on a steep mountain road, he jumps out with a "cruel laugh" and lets the car careen driverless down the hill:

The car gained speed, and Michelle saw that it was headed for a rock embankment. The car smashed into the rock wall. The lifeless body in the front seat shot forward, then came violently back [...] The car had burst into flames. Michelle clawed at the metal till her hands bled. The car was full of smoke and she began to cough uncontrollably.

I know gasoline is volatile stuff, but do cars really burst into flames that easily? Admittedly I don't know much about cars, and I guess 50's cars could well have had a combination of less sophisticated engineering and fewer safety measures that made engine explosions and electrical malfunctions more likely but...this still feels too convenient to me.

Anyway, police and firefighters show up, and we find out that his brilliant plan to dispose of the body involved making it look like the woman had died in a car crash accidentally caused by Michelle:

He told them...he told them I was playing in the back seat. I couldn't believe it. He told them it was because I put my hands over his eyes...that's why.

Malachi, this is an idiotic plan for a body disposal. Let me explain to you but a few of the reasons it wouldn't work in real life (or even really on a TV show):

1. That woman did not actually die in a car accident. That means she's bound to have some injuries that are inconsistent with a car crash victim's, and those will probably be discovered during the autopsy. You might have gotten lucky with the fire possibly obscuring some of those, but unless you tampered with the car somehow, you didn't even know it was going to catch fire.

2. So the car was totaled and caught fire. The woman's corpse is utterly mangled, Michelle is lying on the ground severely burned and gasping from smoke inhalation, and you're apparently standing there in perfect health and strength, without a scratch on you, telling the police that you were involved in the Epic Accident of Fiery Death too. You smell of bovine excrement, Malachi.

3. I'm sure now that you've registered on the police's radar before this happened, Malachi. If you were so worried about them coming back that night--just hours after you'd sweet-talked them into leaving--then the local PD has probably paid you quite a few visits concerning noise complaints and other minor grievances. There's probably at least one officer who has a hunch about you. Who sees you as a guy who seems to get trouble following him around everywhere he goes, and who always has way too ready a response to wriggle out of said trouble. Your extremely suspicious car accident ought to be sending up some serious red flags for more than a few officers.

4. You willingly brought a witness along. One who doesn't like you. What if someone gets Michelle alone and coaxes the real story out of her?

5. The cops are going to ask you some basic questions about your dead passenger, like who she is and why she was in the car with you. Do you even know? It really reads like you don't, and this woman was randomly kidnapped for the purpose of sacrifice. I guess you could say that she's a hitchhiker you picked up, but that only works if you actually did originally pick her up as a hitchhiker and the cops can't say, "Nice try. She was last seen gardening in her front yard, and she had a functioning car and no history of hitchhiking."

6. Seriously, why didn't you just quietly dump the body somewhere remote? Your plan attracted too much attention, and cost you a car to boot.

But since this is the Michelle Remembers world we're talking about here, of course the police totes believe Malachi's shifty-eyed explanation and even let him ride to the hospital in the ambulance with Michelle. Because this is a bleak and desolate land populated by a million people who share one brain among themselves. An old, threadbare, worn-out brain. Which I'm pretty sure one of them mistook for a moldy dish sponge and threw out about ten years ago.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Music Video Monday: Miracle Man

So. #4 on the "slogging through an awful book" comfort playlist.

"Miracle Man" by Ozzy Osbourne.

Because this book is rapidly turning into an advertisement for Christianity (of the creepy Medieval kind where you're supposed to exorcise demons from people and see witches around every corner), it's nice to listen to a song taking the piss out of a certain prostitute-loving televangelist who was so uptight about popular music that he paradoxically hated even these guys.

Also, cute piggies make everything better.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapters 4 & 5

(Note: Chapter 5 is quite short and pointless, so you're getting 2 chapters for the price of 1 this week. Aren't you lucky? SPOILER: No, you're not. This book continues to be terrible.)

Chapter 4

Dr. Pazder sat in his office, staring out the window and thinking of Michelle.

Inappropriately romantic vibes and it's only the fourth chapter! Of course, it doesn't help that the cover of the edition I'm reading looks like the cover of a bad 70's romance novel.

Dr. Pazder felt sure, somehow, that in future sessions, that "warm spot" would always be there...It was critical for a therapist to have that when working with someone. If you could find that place and touch it, then everything else would melt away.

Call me immature, but I giggled like a maniac at this. While simultaneously squirming with discomfort. I've got to wonder if either of them had any idea how...orgasmic...this comes across when they were writing this book.

It was also critical, he knew, that he maintain his objectivity. Had he accepted her story unquestioningly, it would have been impossible for him to give her accurate help.

Unintentionally ironic statement is unintentionally ironic.

So Michelle arrives for her appointment, and she and Dr. Pazder end up cuddling on the sofa with her head resting on his shoulder for the session. For "closeness and security." Welp, that got intimate fast.

Then Michelle starts "remembering" again.

She picks up where the last memory "fragment" left off: With the cultists finishing their ceremony and abruptly exiting the room, leaving Michelle behind. Without cleaning her up, dressing her, or even--as the book will make clear in a moment--locking the door behind them so the traumatized, panicked six-year-old can't get out and tear through the house breaking stuff and getting greasy ointment all over everything. They honestly strike me as sloppy and careless and very likely to get caught, although the book will insist over and over again that they're untouchable evil masterminds.

In fact, they don't even close the door. We know because Michelle peers through it and sees Malachi at the front door talking to a policeman who has apparently come to investigate a noise complaint. Michelle has a brief moment of hope that the policeman has come to save her:

But Malachi, talking smoothly, persuaded the officer that there was nothing amiss, just a party that had become a little boisterous; he would have the guests quiet down. The door shut.

Fair enough; of all the things police are called upon to investigate every day, I get the feeling that noisy parties are pretty low on the list of priorities, and they're more likely to let you off with a warning for a minor noise complaint. Especially if you're polite and apologetic about it.

Predictably, Michelle foils the Satanists' brilliant plan of imprisoning her in an unlocked room and leaving the door open. She sneaks down the stairs, in search of someplace to hide, but becomes transfixed by the sight of a wild orgy the Satanists are having in the living room. She describes the men's dangly bits as "knives" protruding from their bodies and the actual act as people "thrashing against each other as if they were animals" and groaning as if in pain, which I guess is also fair enough considering that enthusiastic sex between adults probably would, in fact, look antagonistic and scary to a little kid who doesn't understand what's going on. Still, it's another unfortunate addition to the pattern of "sex = evil, painful, deviant grossness" that permeates this book.

Instead of running away from the scary sex party, Michelle plunges in looking for her mom. Not sure what it says about her that she just immediately assumed her mom was somewhere in the violent orgy, but there you go.

Then we get a few paragraphs of imagery that I think could actually be distorted from a real memory:

I've got to find my mother....Where's my mother? I don't understand. I don't understand! I want my mom. I want my mom! [...] Because I knew...when I found my'd be okay.

...I thought one of them [the women at the orgy] was my mom, because she had hair like my mom...but she turned around and it wasn't my mom. Her eyes were funny. I hated them! I didn't know what to do.   

Michelle tried to wave at her mother without attracting the attention of the others, to get her mother to see her. She couldn't. She tried and she tried, her heart breaking, desperate for her mother.

Ever get separated from your parents in a public place as a little kid?

I know I did once. I have no clear memory of where we were, or how long I was "lost." I just remember the terrible, crushing feeling of perfect alone-ness, and the panic that just kept growing as I gazed up at stranger after stranger and realized they weren't mom or dad.

That's the kind of experience that stays with you. Even if your mind wasn't quite mature enough to make fully formed memories of the event, you still hold onto the fear. And I could see fear like that manifesting later in life as an element of nightmares brought on by stressful events.

Like, say, losing a parent to cancer.

You know, I'm just gonna call it. This part of the fantasy is a symbolic representation of Michelle watching her mother die of cancer and feeling powerless to stop it, and Dr. Pazder did her a huge disservice by just sitting back and letting her take it literally.

Then we come to one of the most WTF images in the book.

Michelle finally finds her mother slumped half-conscious in a chair, wearing a familiar "black and dressy" skirt. She doesn't respond to Michelle's greetings. Meanwhile, Michelle notices a mysterious moving "lump" (actual size unknown) bulging under her mother's skirt. Thinking that the lump is a snake and is probably hurting her mother, Michelle grabs a bottle from a nearby table and hits it.

For some reason, this gesture makes all the Satanists in the room go ballistic. They converge on Michelle's mother and start viciously battering the lump with their fists while Michelle screams in terror. Soon the lump is a wet mass of blood, and Michelle starts singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" because why the hell not. (Wait, you wanted to know what Michelle's mom was doing while a couple dozen people were using her as a punching bag? Why, she just sitting there and not reacting at all. The book says diddly squat about her reaction.)

And then we get the big reveal.

Are you ready for this, you guys? This might just knock you right out of your seat!

Michelle gets a look at the "lump" and notices that it's wearing...

Red shoes! And is in fact a grown-ass human being, who was still inexplicably small enough to be a small unrecognizable lump when hidden under Michelle's (as far as we know, not a 700-pound gargantuan she-beast) mother's skirt!

Book, I feel like I actually got a little stupider just reading that.

Chapter 5

This chapter feels like it was hacked off of the previous one so the whole ZOMG THE LUMP HAD RED SHOES DUN DUN DUNNNN dramatic twist could serve as a chapter ending. There's not a whole lot to say about it. Pazder reassures Michelle once more that she's not crazy, that she simply split those memories off from the rest of her consciousness in order to keep her sanity. Yeah, reports of that actually happening in real life are greatly exaggerated. No thanks to you two for popularizing the idea.

Then there's a bit where Michelle describes the Satanists getting upset with her because she smeared blood from the "lump" on them. The blood made her feel clean somehow and she thought it might "wash" the adults too.

And of course she smeared the blood in the shape of a cross.

Because, despite never going to church or having any education in the Christian faith whatsoever, Michelle instinctively knew the power of the cross!

Yeah, no. Religion doesn't work that way. Religious symbols only have the power we assign to them, and faith/devoutness is a learned behavior, not an innate one. I call bullshit on Michelle's never-exposed-to-Christianity-before routine. She wasn't born with the impulse to wash away evil people's sins with the Blood of the Lamb and the inherently magical cross symbol. Those are theological concepts that kids have to be taught.

Oh, and Michelle says that cleansing these people with the blood was an intensely happy experience for her, so much so that it "felt like a birthday party." It's meant to show how cutesy and innocent she was.

So the serial killer-y vibe I picked up from that phrasing was probably completely unintended.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Music Video Monday: Dayzed

Still reading the worst book of the 1980's.

So. #3 on my "the fuck did I just read?!" playlist: "Dayzed" by Piranha!

I chose it because:

1.  Rather like the book, it's weird and creepy and disjointed.
2.  Unlike the book, these things do not make me want to throw it across the room. Good song. Have a cookie.

Also, Piranha is based in Minneapolis. As a Midwesterner myself, I'd like to give some Midwestern metal a shout-out. Stay tuned for more.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 3

Let's have a brief chat about repressed memories.

In the 1980's, the idea that memories of traumatic events could be "blocked" from conscious memory was very much in vogue in the psychotherapy community. This blocking process was thought to be an unconscious and automatic defense mechanism to protect the mind from undue suffering and stress. These memories were supposedly recoverable through specialized therapy, usually involving hypnosis or mind-altering drugs.

The only problem with this theory is the fact that human brain =\= camera or computer hard drive. Memories are actually pretty fluid and malleable, especially in highly imaginative people, and it's distressingly easy to create false ones through the power of suggestion. A lot of psychologists don't support the idea of repressed memories anymore for this reason.

Keep this in mind while we discuss the next chapter.

Michelle comes in for her next therapy session and continues the process of "unblocking her memories." We get our first explicit description of a "Satanic ritual" from her. She recalls being in a dark room where robed women are setting up candles and an altar. She calls the women "mommies," assumes it's a birthday party because of the candles and hopes a birthday cake will appear, and talks in general like an overly sentimental adult's yuckily cutesy and cloying idea of how an innocent little five-year-old talks, and it makes my teeth hurt.

Then we meet an unnamed woman in a black cape who seems to be in charge, and things get strange:

She's being like a mommy. And then she kisses me! She's kissing me and sticking her tongue in my...mouth! [....]
They started to talk about getting me ready...preparing me...She started rubbing me...Some of the people grabbed my wrists.

The women strip Michelle and rub her down with some sort of foul-smelling ointment. Then they produce a number of different-colored sticks from somewhere. The caped woman begins to dip these sticks (size unknown) one by one into a silver chalice containing...some substance (name and chemical composition unknown). Once she has anointed each stick, she briefly inserts it into Michelle, first into her rectum and then into various other body parts (purpose of ritual unknown).

Then the women (apparently) perform some sort of divination with the sticks. At least, that's what Dr. Pazder seems to think they were doing, which is odd given that Michelle hears them saying "Try this...see if this works" to each other during the ritual, and that seems like a more appropriate utterance for people ineptly trying to assemble an IKEA bookshelf than for future-gazing witches.

This passage is incredibly incoherent. It is so very vague and disjointed that it took me a while to figure out that the witches removed the sticks from Michelle before divining with them. But I've already talked about that issue, so I'd like to focus on another one. Specifically these passages:

I don't want them to hurt me! I can't stand being pinned down!...Someone's rubbing something on me, on my chest! It smells icky. It's mucky...

They stuck them everywhere I had an opening! They just kept poking and rubbing...The inside of me hates them [...] They are putting ugly in me.

Along with the creepy kiss from the caped woman, don't those passages sound weirdly sexual to you?

Like a fantasy an excitable, highly imaginative young woman whose formative years were mostly within the simultaneously lascivious and repressed, double-standard-riddled 1950's might concoct out of her anxiety about sex and her conflicted relationship with her own libido?

Now, I am not a mental health professional. I am quite possibly very wrong about this. But my gut feeling is that Michelle's "witches" were projections of her insecurity with her sexuality, and Dr. Pazder was not equipped to help her with what was really the problem.

Or, since he eventually ended up divorcing his wife and marrying Michelle, maybe he helped her too well in that department.

I would also like to note that this chapter just has to sneak in one more awful thing before it ends. Once the session is over, Dr. Pazder thinks about the work he's done in Africa and points out "that the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria (among others) used cola-bean pods in a fashion similar to the way these people appeared to use sticks: to predict."

Which carries the unfortunate implication that those people in Africa are all filthy child-molesting Satanists. And I'm told that this isn't the last time Pazder will bring up his experiences with the religious practices of Africans in conjunction with Satanism in this book. Damn it. Stand by for rants about the harm done by the demonization of indigenous religions and White Man's Burden crap.



Monday, January 12, 2015

Music Video Monday: Dance Of Death

Okay, I just forced myself to finish another chapter of the worst book of the 1980's. Can I listen to a song now?

#2 on the "please, God, just let me get through this pile of garbage with my sanity intact" playlist: "Dance of Death" by Iron Maiden.

Why this song belongs on the playlist:

Iron Maiden manages to create a more convincingly creepy scene in an 8-minute song than certain people who shall remain nameless because they know who they are manage to create in the 300-page entirety of Michelle Remembers. I want someone to just write a novelization of this song so I can read it instead.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 2

The next chapter opens with Michelle coming in for another therapy session. Also another trite attempt to imbue the story with extra drama:

She could not seem to get comfortable at first, but finally she propped one of the pillows behind her back. That seemed to be better. It was as if she needed to have her back protected.

I have a pillow propped behind my back as I write this. Know why? Because it's comfy. Stop hanging unnecessary significance on every little detail, book. A trained psychotherapist of all people ought to recognize that sometimes a pillow is just a pillow. I don't think a pillow would offer much protection from Michelle's fantasy Satanists in any case. Besides being able to summon Satan in the flesh, they have daggers (which I imagine look something like this).

We then get some more standard (and dull) therapy stuff. Michelle talks about gaining lots of weight recently, and how this is similar to her childhood when she suddenly put on lots of weight in grade 2 despite being very skinny the year before. Dr. Pazder decides that the weight gain is probably due to something awful happening in her life during this time because it's not like people's metabolisms sometimes just naturally fluctuate or anything. I think I'll have to give him a pass on this one, though, since it was the 1970's and we didn't have a lot of the health/nutrition knowledge we do now and people do occasionally overeat as a response to stress.

After establishing that she has a memory "in bits and pieces" that she's trying to put back together, Michelle spontaneously regresses to her child-self and starts screaming and pulling up fragments of this memory. And here's where we get to another problem with this book.

Michelle's descriptions of her memories--as well as a lot of the dialogue--are all taken verbatim from transcripts of her therapy sessions. I understand why the authors made that choice, but the problem is that the words of people just talking in their everyday lives are rarely as clear and concise as carefully crafted character dialogue in a novel. I'm sure that they thought it would feel more honest and intimate for us to hear Michelle's real words instead of a "fake" version that was edited and sanitized for publication. Sometimes that kind of thing works, and can produce a significant emotional impact.

Here, though, it often just leaves me with no idea what the hell is going on.

In her distraught state, Michelle is not very coherent:

It'''s all black. Black. It's black! It's all black[...]I'm on this bed...I'm in the air. I'm in the air, and I'm upside down...There's this man and he's turning me around and around!

"This man" is Malachi, by the way. He's one of Michelle's main fictional tormentors, and we will run into him again. More on him (and believe me, there's plenty) in a later post.

He says he's pointing me...He says, "North...west..." and he points me real hard. He turns me over and grabs my neck and points me. I don't want to be all pointy. It hurts. Why is he hurting me?

I'm having a devil of a time* picturing what's going on here. I'm pretty sure that it involves Malachi beating her up and throwing her around before (apparently) performing some sort of ritual that involves forcing her to face the cardinal directions, but the finer details of the scene are fuzzy at best.

It was black and I could see my teddy bear...First he was really far away...down...he was in a tunnel...I could see him coming closer, and the closer the bear got...the more I floated...   

I've omitted the rest of the roughly three pages' worth of this rant. It goes on like this, for what seems like forever, interspersed with endless repetitive interjections of "help me" and "I hurt" without ever making things any clearer. Damn it, book, editors are your friend. Dialogue cribbed from a disturbed woman's therapy sessions is not.

Michelle comes out of her fit and, interestingly, confesses that at least part of her "memory" is false: her teddy bear, which she supposedly clung to for comfort during her abuse, was a figment of her imagination. She asks Dr. Pazder if he thinks she's crazy. Here's his response:

"...Crazy would be if you believed you had turned into a bear and went around thinking other people were crazy because they didn't know you were a bear."

...which seems a rather arbitrary place to draw the crazy line. I wonder what Dr. Pazder would make of Otherkin.

We conclude with a note that the session has lasted four and a half hours, which makes me feel a lot better about the 20 minutes I spent slogging through this chapter.

*tee hee, puns. When you're stuck reading a book this shitty, you make your own fun.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Music Video Monday: Mother

So I'm currently about six chapters into the worst book of the 1980's, and I'm having trouble reading further because of how badly written and preachy it is, but I promised I'd deconstruct it, so too bad. I've put together a playlist of appropriately themed music to reward myself for doing my homework, but it's only partially working because now I want to just listen to the much better and more pleasant songs and blow off the book. So I'm only permitting myself to listen to one at a time.

I just finished a chapter, so here's #1 on the playlist. "Mother" by Danzig.

I felt this one fit the theme for several reasons:

1.  This song will never not fit anywhere. It is brilliant.
2.  The fact that the video is shot in black and white is a nice touch. The use of light and shadow is nice too; it gives the whole thing a dreamy, surreal feel. If Michelle Remembers had been written by a good writer (and preferably labeled and marketed as the fiction it is, rather than disguised  as non-fiction) I think this is roughly what the movie adaptation would look like.
3.  The video features the sacrifice of a chicken. Which seems to have little to do with the actual song, but still makes a thousand times more sense than any of the Satanic rituals in Michelle Remembers.

Well, I've had my fun. *sigh* Back to the Satanic-Panic-generating bullshit mines with me.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 1

Chapter 1 opens with a brief description of Victoria, British Columbia, where the events of the book take place. The way it's written reminds me of a twee old-fashioned travel guide and it seems vaguely inappropriate considering the book's subject matter, but this sort of setting-the-stage opening paragraph is pretty much de rigueur in non-fiction, so it doesn't bother me much.

Then we meet one of our two co-authors, Dr. Lawrence Pazder. He's...interesting. This is literally how he's introduced in the book:

A handsome man in his early forties, Dr. Pazder was warm, manly, soft-spoken--what people who live elsewhere consider the typical Westerner. He was lithe and athletic, a tennis player and skier, and had earned a brown belt in judo. His hair was brown, beginning to turn silver.

I've got to admit I chuckled at this. We were just told what a pretty man you are not three pages ago, Pazder; we really don't need you to remind us. Also, I don't think I've ever heard a man refer to himself as "manly" unless he was being hipster-level ironic.

But the late 70's/early 80's were rather a different time, I suppose.

Anyway. Next we meet our second co-author/afflicted patient Michelle Smith. She recently suffered a miscarriage and has come to Dr. Pazder for therapy. There's some description of how pretty she is too, but thankfully it's not as blatant as Pazder's.

Then the book fills us in on her childhood and family background. There's a footnote informing us that the names given to her grandfather, mother, and father in this book are pseudonyms--even though the authors both use their real names. And that honestly struck me as shady right off the bat. We're told that her mom and grandfather are both dead and her dad is no longer a part of her life, so why the need to protect their identities? It reads like an attempt to make it harder for potential skeptics to track down people from Michelle's past.

Michelle's backstory has its share of personal tragedy and heartache (emotionally distant parents, mother who died of cancer) and I could absolutely see those issues compounding her grief and stress over the miscarriage, but the narrative isn't satisfied with that. It does this weird thing (get used to it, because we'll see it again and again throughout the course of this book) that I can only describe as injecting drama and mystery into details that really aren't all that dramatic or mysterious, in an effort to make the story suspenseful and hint that something uncanny is going on. For instance:

Michelle attended school in Victoria...there was one small problem: She ate erasers, the headmistress reported. One day Michelle was sent home from school when they discovered she had stolen a whole box of erasers from the supply closet. She could not explain why she had stolen them.

This is a perfectly fine detail, but I'd have more respect for Pazder if he'd noted this as a possible sign of underlying mental problems instead of just letting it hang out there for readers who aren't mental health professionals to make their own inferences. Pica has been documented and studied in Western medical science since the 1500's, and it's known to be a possible symptom of OCD or schizophrenia,* so there's no excuse for obliquely leading readers to believe that eating erasers was something the Devil made her do.

Then Michelle becomes agitated and shuts down. She knows that she has something she desperately needs to discuss with the doctor, but she can't right now because the memories are somehow "blocked," (No. Just no. More on "repressed memories" in a later post) and we're treated to two more pages detailing her next few fruitless sessions with Dr. Pazder. My attention began to wander at this part, and I realized that I'd discovered the fundamental flaw in the way this book is structured.

It's basically a recounting of one woman's psychotherapy sessions. No matter how many grisly death-rituals the patient describes, therapy basically consists of two people sitting in a room talking to each other. For 300 pages. Which is awkward and boring. And not even an appearance by Satan himself (spoiler alert: this actually happens later on) can change that.

Oh well. At least we'll get bizarre fantasies in the next chapter.

*In most cases, though, it's apparently just the body's attempt to correct a mineral deficiency, which makes sense.