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.    

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