A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Genre: Adult Horror
Publication Date: June 2015
The Good: I appreciate that the author is trying to tell a unique exorcism story. There isn’t much that can be done with the exorcism genre that hasn’t been done before. All the stories are pretty much the same. This story centers on Merry, who is eight years old when her sister becomes possessed (or mentally ill, it’s not really clear). Since Merry is a kid, her parents keep her at the fringes of everything that’s happening. She knows that her sister is sick, and she knows that there’s a TV crew in her house to make a show about it, but she’s still in her own child-world. She often cares more about soccer games and watching Finding Bigfoot than about her sister’s demon possession. It’s an unusual way to tell an exorcism story.
In the present-day part of the novel, Merry is a young adult who is trying to figure out what really happened to her sister. Was Marjorie actually possessed? Was she schizophrenic? Was she faking it to get on TV and help solve her parents’ financial problems? As a reader, I enjoyed uncovering the truth with Merry.
“To be honest, and all the external influences aside, there are some parts of this that I remember in great, terrible detail, so much so I fear getting lost in the labyrinth of memory. There are other parts of this that remain as unclear and unknowable as someone else’s mind, and I fear that in my head I’ve likely conflated and compressed timelines and events.” – A Head Full of Ghosts
The Bad: I know that this is a black sheep opinion, but I didn’t like this book. I found Merry annoying. Since she’s a kid, we get to watch her playing games and badgering the TV crew. She’s probably the least-interesting character involved in this situation. Sometimes I wanted to see the possession stuff that was happening, but we’re stuck with Merry and her kid games.
We mostly get to know adult Merry through her blog posts. In them, she critiques the horror genre and analyzes the reality show that her family participated in. It’s very meta. The book is basically criticizing itself. The blog posts are so long that they pulled me out of the story. Merry’s “voice” in the posts is irritating. She’s basically writing academic essays, but there are a lot of uninteresting personal asides in them. There’s a reason that real-life blog posts are rarely over 1000 words. Bloggers are irritating people. (I can say that because I am one.) Bloggers are best in small doses. Trust me.
Then, there’s the ending. I like that I didn’t predict the twists, but I also didn’t believe them. The characters (especially the father and Marjorie) aren’t developed well enough for me to accept that ending. My reaction when I finished the book was “Um . . . okay? I guess it’s over?”
The Bottom Line: Too meta for my tastes. I would have liked it more if it had been told from a different character’s point-of-view. I wasn’t interested in Merry’s life.
Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
Genre: Prose Poetry
Publication Date: August 2015
The Good: This quick read is perfect for people who love intertextuality. The title is a modified Emily Dickinson quote. The father in the story is a Ted Hughes scholar. It’s fun to spot all the references to other books. After the death of his wife, the father lets his research consume him. That’s when Ted Hughes’s character, Crow, enters his life and starts messing with his family. Crow is a personification of grief. He does awful things, like tricking the kids into thinking they can bring their mother back to life. You don’t have to be familiar with Crow by Ted Hughes to understand this book, but it probably helps.
The author captures grief perfectly. Parts of this book are way too relatable. I love the poems written from the father and sons’ points-of-view. It’s especially heartbreaking to see the kids acting out while their father mostly ignores them.
“I missed her so much that I wanted to build a hundred-foot memorial to her with my bare hands. I wanted to see her sitting in a vast stone chair in Hyde Park, enjoying her view. Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is.” – Grief is the Thing with Feathers
The Bad: Poetry and I will never be friends. Some parts of this book are just too abstract for me to appreciate. It reminds me why I don’t like Ted Hughes’s Crow. For me, Crow is mostly just weirdness written in an angry way. Crow—the character—is one of the point-of-view characters in Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which I didn’t know before I started it. I’m not a fan of the poems written from his POV. They’re more angry weirdness, just like the original.
The Bottom Line: I love two of the POVs and hate the third, but I think this book would be perfect for fans of Ted Hughes.