Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Michelle Remembers, Chapter 19

Don't get me wrong. The worst book of the 1980's is a bad, bad, bad book, and it is painful to read. But it is also mind-numbingly boring in a way that a book featuring an ancient super-secret death cult really shouldn't be, and for a long time I had trouble putting my finger on exactly why that should be. At first I thought that the problem arose from the way they chose to present the material. Page after page of two people talking in a room doesn't tend to make for a gripping thrill ride of a novel, no matter how interesting the things they're talking about should be.

This chapter, however, made me realize that the problem goes deeper than that.

The book has no compelling conflict to keep the story afloat. Or even to keep it believable.

Think of what we're told Michelle is up against. We're given no indication in the text that the evil secret cult isn't still around while Michelle is undergoing therapy. And an organization like that shouldn't want to be exposed. It should also be powerful and resourceful enough to keep itself from exposure. Think about it. We're told that this cult can somehow persuade the police to look the other way even when their crimes are painfully obvious, they include respected and educated professionals in their ranks, and they seem to have no qualms whatsoever about killing people.

Michelle should be living in fear now that she's started revealing their secrets. Dr. Pazder should be living in fear now that he knows their secrets. They should both be getting harassed by the police (who are on the cult's payroll, naturally), finding dead animal/people parts and blood smeared on their respective properties, and receiving anonymous threats in the mail. We'll soon see that it's probably within the cult's power level to summon demons to torment their enemies too. There should be a lot more suspense and tension, a lot more demonstrably at stake, than the book ever leads us to believe there is. 

We never see any indication that the cult is actively working to keep Michelle from revealing their secrets. Michelle and Dr. Pazder--who both seem old and wise enough in the ways of the world to know better, by the way--don't seem particularly concerned about the prospect. Not even enough to shell out two bucks for a lousy magazine. They only times they worry about the Satanists' continued influence over Michelle are the chapters (like this one) in which they seek religious intervention as part of Michelle's therapy, and then they only worry about her soul being compromised.

So I was a bit surprised when, nineteen chapters into this garbage pile, we finally, FINALLY saw some indication that the cult may be working against Michelle's therapy physically as well as spiritually.

Their timing is pretty good. Well, if you don't count their faffing around for eighteen chapters while Michelle and Dr. Pazder bored us all to death, that is. Michelle is about to be baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church. Now is the time to send her a strong message, to show her that they know she's fleeing into the arms of the enemy and have marked her as a traitor. That there are terrible repercussions in the works for her and for everyone she cares about. You'd think that such a scene would be thrilling to read, right? These people chop up corpses and kill kittens; surely they'll be able to put together a spectacular threat display.

Let's see what they came up with:

On June 24 Dr. Pazder and Michelle went together to Sacred Heart Church. As they sat in the pew, listening to Father Guy celebrate Mass, Dr. Pazder noticed that the sacristy light, a little candle burning in a glass cup suspended by a chain from the ceiling, had suddenly grown dim.

Okay, okay, we're off to a decent start. A bit of an overused horror technique, but an effective one. So...what happens once the lights go ominously dim and the real show begins? A shower of blood? Human skull with curse-runes painted on it smashing through stained glass window? Church suddenly filled with shrieking demons?   

Nope, nope, and nope. Michelle notices something odd in the shadows:

     A few feet away was a small wooden bench. Neither of them had ever noticed it in the church before--and they would have; it was very out of place in the simple modern decor.
     "Those symbols!" Michelle said, and Dr. Pazder, looking closer, saw that the bench was covered with ornate designs. His heart skipped a beat. They were precisely the symbols Michelle had described as being sewn on the cloaks of the inhabitants of the round room.

A wooden bench.


That's it. The "Satanists" supposedly left a wooden bench with funny symbols on it in the church for Michelle to find. Not an evil possessed bench; just an ordinary bench. They didn't even leave a note with it or anything. Come on, Michelle Remembers Satanists, breaking into a church and leaving behind a piece of furniture that clashes with the decor slightly isn't scary. It's just mildly irritating. At least spray paint some pentagrams and the words YOU'VE BEEN A VERY BAD GIRL in red on a nearby wall along with your pointless menace-bench.

Not to mention, once again, the fact that this is the first time we've seen any sign of cult opposition to Michelle's therapy in nineteen freaking chapters. If these people exist and are so powerful, what were they doing for the entire first half of the book? And why is their first grand gesture of intimidation a weird, random non-threat?

From the writers' standpoint, I know why. They couldn't tell us about all the terrifying shit the vengeful Satanists subjected them and their families to during the therapeutic process because the Satanists only existed in Michelle's mind (or if they had actually existed, they would all have died of rabies by now) so there's no way they could have intruded into the real world to derail Pazder and Michelle's grown-up legend tripping sessions, no matter how much our intrepid spiritual warriors (probably) secretly wanted them to.

From the standpoint of a reader, though, it's a mistake to have no active antagonist. I suppose an excellent writer may have been able to make a compelling work of fiction out of Michelle's inner conflict, in a psychological thriller, did-this-really-happen-or-is-it-just-in-her-head sort of way, but our authors are not particularly good writers. And they are trying to pass Michelle's delusions off as non-fiction, which only serves to make the unrealistic bits more unbelievable.

The chapter ends with Dr. Pazder, Michelle, and the priest chopping the bench into pieces and burning it, while Dr. Pazder talks about African juju ceremonies (I said SHUT UP about Africans and their "primitive" beliefs already, Pazder, African indigenous religions are not devil worship) and takes pictures. Some of the pictures have what looks to be a low-light version of a lens flare in them. Dr. Pazder shows them to his mother, who identifies the glowing figure as "Mary with the child."

I thought it looked more like a huge waffle cone full of drippy French Silk ice cream. But that's the beauty of pareidolia. It lets everyone perceive images of the things that are most sacred to them personally.   

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