Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full Of Ghosts is a beautiful novel, a post-modern tale of demonic possession that leaves you questioning where truth lies in our surreal/unreal world.
Publisher William Morrow sums up A Head Full Of Ghosts:
The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.
To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.
Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface—and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.
Like a brilliant gem, A Head Full Of Ghosts looks different from different angles. Overall, it’s a story about the bonds of sisterhood. It’s also an indictment of our reality TV culture and the toll it takes on reality itself. Viewed from another angle, it’s a straight-up tale of demonic possession packed with genuinely scary moments, suspenseful scenes, and plot twists that leave the reader satisfied—and a bit haunted—after reading.
That’s how good horror stories work and Tremblay has crafted a great one. He freely pulls from pop culture influences—from Richard Scarry books to Lovecraft’s Elder Gods mythos—and deftly weaves them into a plausible framework for his story.
At one point Tremblay describes the older sister’s disheveled appearance:
Her black hair was a dead octopus leaking and sliding off her scalp.
Conjuring images of both Lovecraftian monsters and the pale she-demons that stalk modern Japanese horror, like The Ring.
What kind of demon is at work here? Tremblay implies it’s the vengeful ghost of the Internet itself when Majorie reports:
I was born with all of the universe’s information hidden in the infinite folds and wrinkles of my gray matter, and the information itself decides when it wants to come out and be known.
At times Tremblay implicates the readers as voyeuristic sadists, as we watch “the terrible and systematic torture of a mentally ill teenage girl under the guise of entertainment.” Then he flips the script so you feel like you’re no more than a morsel of food slipping into a monstrous gullet.
“I could eat the world. Merry, pass the sauce, please,” Majorie said, and winked at me.
All the characters are fully realized and accessible. Your heart breaks for the Barrett family as outside forces—perhaps demonic, perhaps dogmatic— tear their lives apart.
What if you awoke one morning to find your wife — your soulmate, the love of your life, the person you know better than anyone else — is no longer herself? Instead, she insists she’s a seven-year-old named Lily.
This is the simple-yet-effective premise that drives I’m Not Sam by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee.
Narrator Patrick Burke (a nod to fellow novelist Kealan Patrick Burke) wakes after a night of passionate lovemaking to find his wife, Sam, is gone, and Lily has apparently taken over her body. What do you do when your wife breaks from reality and insists she’s a little girl? Take her to a doctor … then take her toy shopping!
The horror of caring for a loved one who is “gone, yet still here” lies at the heart of I’m Not Sam. The relationships we cherish most in life are frail, and without warning a loved one can suddenly become a stranger. Don’t think so? Talk to anyone who loves a person with mental illness or Alzheimer’s disease.
Patrick is able to “cure” his wife using a chilling and disturbing brand of therapy. Unfortunately the cure may cost them their marriage, and will forever change Patrick and Sam’s perceptions of one another.
The novella’s close, told from Sam’s point of view, feels a bit forced, but Ketchum and McKee deliver with the meat of the story, and its haunting look at the inherent frailty of our most cherished personal relationships.
BOBBY’S BOTTOM LINE: This terse thriller will leave you wanting to hug your loved ones!