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.  

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