Welcome to Shelf Care, where I review three books related by a theme. These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.
This column’s theme: 9/10ths of the Law: Stories about (demonic) possession.
While the obvious symptoms of possession will be familiar to anyone that has seen The Exorcist, or The Evil Dead movies, or dealt with teenagers, there are a number of ways the condition can manifest beyond the obvious ones. You know, things like: discovering a victim’s bedroom has been redone in a nauseating pea green, or that their suddenly enriched vocabulary has you checking their phone for the long dead languages Duolingo course. Indeed, the horrors of the pit and finding independence from controlling influences are both apt metaphors for surviving one’s teenage years, which is explored in a few of the following books…
So if you like
Judy Blume style coming of age novels
80’s pop culture
You might like
In the 80’s, a girl’s best friend is either possessed by a demon, or she’s become a massive bitch.
For Abby, “friend” is a word whose sharp corners have been worn smooth by overuse. “I’m friends with the guys in IT,” she might say, or “I’m meeting some friends after work.”
But she remembers when the word “friend” could draw blood. She and Gretchen spent hours ranking their friendships, trying to determine who was a best friend and who was an everyday friend, debating whether anyone could have two best friends at the same time, writing each other’s names over and over in purple ink, buzzed on the dopamine high of belonging to someone else, having a total stranger choose you, someone who wanted to know you, another person who cared that you were alive.
She and Gretchen were best friends, and then came that fall. And they fell.
And the exorcist saved her life.
Abby still remembers high school, but she remembers it as images, not events. She remembers effects, but she’s gotten fuzzy on the causes. Now it’s all coming back in an unstoppable flood. The sound of screaming on the Lawn. The owls. The stench in Margaret’s room. Good Dog Max. The terrible thing that happened to Glee. But most of all, she remembers what happened to Gretchen and how everything got so fucked up back in 1988, the year her best friend was possessed by the devil.
So, this was the first book review where I asked for a second opinion. I’ll be honest- the book seemed a bit long to me as there’s a lot of setup before things start going all kinds of wrong, and knowing that had to happen at some point had me reading the first part of the book going ‘ok, when’s it all going south? I was promised an epic disaster here and I’m regretting not paying for the express shipping.’
However, I considered that I might not have appreciated the genre that Hendrix was going for, so I handed it off to my wife, who tore through it in two days. She related more to the relationships between the teenage girls, which she found to be absolutely spot on, and it resonated with her much more than me, for predictably obvious reasons.
However, when things do finally go wrong, the friend’s evil behavior we see walks a line between the supernatural and the totally believable explained through the supernatural. After all, it’d be a lot easier to believe your former friend was possessed than had turned on you for no reason.
The 80’s references, while spot on, will feel forced unless you consider it being more of how the 80’s are remembered than how it actually was. Though if you have any problems remembering them, or weren’t there to begin with, the ebook comes with a Spotify link that has all the songs, as well as some graphical animations.
Or if you like
Teenage Girls with Supernatural Friends
Stories that start with what happens after the exorcism
Stranger Things with a supernatural feel.
Teenage girls that aren’t going to be pushed around.
You might like
The Good Demon, by Jimmy Cajoleas
What happens after the exorcism if the demon that possessed you was your best friend?
I sat on the front porch swing, chain-smoking Parliament Lights, trying to read a book. I wasn’t supposed to smoke anymore, but what else could my mom and stepdad do to me? I was already grounded from everything imaginable, and now She was gone. There was nothing left for them to take away.
It had been one month since they cast Her out of me. It wasn’t an “exorcism,” because that’s what Catholics do, and the reverend and his son weren’t any Catholics. They were Charismatics, so they called it a “deliverance.” They said they came to deliver me from evil. What they did was bust down my door and steal Her away from me. They “rebuked” Her—that was the reverend’s word—to keep Her from coming back to me again. Since then it had been one miserable month of crawling through the days, weeping myself to sleep, yanking upright in the night to scream and holler. One month of being so unbearably alone.
I missed Her, was all. I missed my best friend. Closer than that. She was my Only. That’s what we called each other, our most secret name, ever since I was a little girl. My Only. Every time She called me that I felt a glow in my chest and I knew that I was not alone in the world.
But now I knew I would never feel that glow again.
It was like the way my dad used to talk about withdrawals, when he was coming down. He said it was like being on the edge of things, a hunger growling deep in his bones. That in his heart he felt like something was missing from him, something necessary and essential, and he would fight and claw and murder to get it back. It shook him with pain, it sucked all the water out of his mouth, it left him hacking and screaming and begging for it. That’s how it felt to be without Her. Like this long dark hallway had opened inside me that went on forever, black and empty.
The Good Demon pairs nicely with My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Here, however a teenage girl is trying to put her life back together after losing the demon that was her best friend, and is finding out there are things going on in town that are a whole lot weirder than having a demon as your co-pilot. While the writing is a bit uneven in spots (and I’d attribute that more to “first novel problems” more than anything else) the plot moves along nicely and is structured such that each answer leads to more questions, to the point where I was up too late reading the last few chapters. If you are intrigued by the premise, know that it is well executed, and The Good Demon is worth…possessing.
So if you like
Something a bit lighter than the previous two books in this article
Books with the main character’s job description in the title
The tone of Grady Hendrix’s Satan Loves You
Understanding Hell is just another bureaucracy
You might like
A demon has to team up with an exorcist in order on a mission so secret even he’s not sure what they’re doing.
BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, so allow me to introduce myself: I’m the Devil. Or at least, I’m his duly accredited proxy and representative, part of his organization, part of him in a deeply spiritual sense, flesh of his incorporeal flesh, spirit of his profoundly antisocial spirit. I do little jobs for him (actually, properly speaking, for them; he’s a body corporate, like a swarm of flies—see under “My name is Legion: for we are many”), such as occasional tempting, a bit of general legwork, but mostly bread-and-butter demonic possession. In that capacity, I’m your worst nightmare, the most horrible thing that can possibly happen to you in this world or the next. You couldn’t bear to look me in the face, something the sun and I have in common, but let’s not go there quite yet. You really don’t want me inside your head; trust me on this if on nothing else. It may therefore come as a bit of a surprise to you to learn that I’m basically on your side, or at least that we’re ultimately singing from the same hymn sheet, you and I.
This is a quick read that doesn’t quite rise to the level of Douglas Adams absurdity, but does riff on the insanity of working for a large organization where nobody quite knows why they’re doing what they’re doing any more, and a disillusioned demon is a good sounding board for that. The idea of a demon having to team up with an exorcist is an idea that I’d never seen executed before, and does play out in interesting ways, plus there’s a turn at the end that does conclude things nicely. If you’re looking for a different take on the Biblical heaven/hell dynamic, Inside Man is worth checking out.
So, what other books should be on this list? Leave your thoughts and get-rich-quick-spam in the comments, and stay tuned for my next column.