Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism’

Over the past couple of months, people in the horror-themed Facebook groups I belong to have been raving about this particular book. I looked it up and it sounded up my alley, so when I had an Audible credit, I downloaded the audio book. But before I started it, I found out the book was written by the same guy who wrote the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, as well as wrote/directed its movie adaptation. Really? Isn’t that a sweet, YA rom-com? How do you jump from that to horror? (looks up what that book is really about.) Oh. That’s pretty dark. Yeah, I can see how the dude transitioned to horror.

Imaginary Friend follows Kate Reese and her son Christopher as they leave Kate’s abusive boyfriend and move to a small town in Pennsylvania. However, soon after they move there, Christopher disappears in the woods near his school. He reappears a week later, unable to remember what happened to him, except being led out of the woods and back to civilization by someone called “The Nice Man.” While Kate is happy to have her son back, and things start to improve after he returns, Christopher has changed. He’s smarter now, unable to sleep, and suffers from headaches a lot. And he’s in contact with the Nice Man, an invisible being who instructs him to build a treehouse in the woods he disappeared in, and to do it before Christmas. If he doesn’t, something bad will happen. To the town, to his mother, and to him.

This one was hard to put down. I normally only listen to audio books while at work, but the story was so intriguing and out there that I listened to it while checking email and cooking dinner. Imaginary Friend feels a lot like Stephen King novels like It or Needful Things, these huge stories based around weird concepts that are both scary and hard to put down. I mean, you got a kid who goes missing in the woods, and then when he comes back, has to build a treehouse to save the world from the Apocalypse. And that’s just what I feel I can tell you without spoiling too much.

I also have to give Chbosky credit: I had a hard time predicting what was going to happen as we got further into the story. Every little piece of the puzzle had the potential to surprise me, and quite a few did. During the “darkest hour” of the book, when things are at their most pessimistic, you felt the misery and the tension as the situation deteriorated. And that climax! Woo-boy, that was epic. Like, the final battle of an Avengers movie epic.

Not only that, but the characters are very well-developed. Also like some of King’s books, especially earlier ones, just about every character is well-developed. I felt like I’d known some of these characters my whole life, from Kate and Christopher Reese to the two or three old ladies suddenly regaining their faculties after years of dementia.

I do have one major gripe about the book: as the story goes further on, the novel takes on an…evangelistic air. It’s not like the Left Behind books, where it’s trying to get people to become born-again, but the story leans more in that direction than in the direction of The Stand or Supernatural. I don’t think the goal is to convert me: rather, I think Chbosky is using his Catholic upbringing to give the story a particular authenticity and philosophy other non-evangelistic Ultimate-Good-versus-Ultimate-Evil stories don’t have. There are some interesting ideas on the nature of guilt, our relationship to God, and how to find different kinds of salvation presented in the story.

Still, there were times when I was like, “Dude, scale it back a bit. I’m starting to get how people feel when I start ranking villains in horror, and they’re not horror fans.” That’s happened before, and it’s gotten awkward.

On the whole though, Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky is an engrossing horror novel that’s weird in the best of ways and full of terror and twists. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give it a 4.4. Pick it up and see for yourself. You’ll never look at treehouses and deer the same way again, but you’ll have a hell of a ride thanks to it.

Recently I read an article about eleven recent novels that Stephen King apparently found scary. Being the fan of His Royal Scariness that I am, I checked out the article and found this book at the top of the list. The premise sounded interesting, so the next time I had a credit for an Audible audio book, I got A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, which is about a young woman who tells us her memories of when her elder sister started showing symptoms of schizophrenia, but when treatment after treatment seems to fail, the family comes to the conclusion that the sister is possessed, and somehow a reality show documenting the family’s attempts to exorcise their daughter evolves.

Like I said, it sounded interesting, and it was, though I wouldn’t call it scary. I mean, there are a few moments that can be terrifying, but even imagining them as a horror movie in my head, I didn’t really feel that it was as scary as King hyped it up to be.

Still, A Head Full of Ghosts is definitely not a dull read. In fact, it’s quite entertaining. The main character and narrator, Meredith “Merry” Barrett, is one of the most enjoyable types of narrators, the unreliable kind (see my post on unreliable narrators). Eight years old at the time of the events of the novel, she tells them anew to a writer for a new book in the year 2030 (which apparently still values paperbacks and blogs. I find that reassuring). As she tells us early in the novel, she misremembers a lot of what happened, due to the passage of time and of course what everyone has told her has happened.

To a certain extent, most of the characters in this novel is unreliable to a degree. We can’t tell what’s up with the older sister: is she possessed, is she schizophrenic, is she something we don’t have a word for? The things she says and does, you get a lot of conflicting signals. I have my guesses, but you really don’t know at all, right up to the end. The father is struggling because of unemployment (I sympathize) and has recently rediscovered God and begins to see everything through a religious lens with disastrous results. The mother seems to be perpetually grumpy and wavering between trying to be in control and trying to be responsible as her life unravels. The priest from the Catholic Church seems priestly, but underneath that you get a sense that he’s milking this situation for his own reasons. It’s amazing how little you can actually trust these characters.

My favorite parts of the novel involve segues into a blog by a horror fan (a woman after my own heart) where she gives us an idea of what watching the reality show was like, as well some good ol’ scholarly examination of some of the show’s deeper meanings. And all with a snarky voice too. These segments are hilarious and fun, but they also help us as readers put the story and characters into context and prepare us for future events in the novel.

Another part I enjoyed about the novel is just seeing Merry and her family experience her sister’s illness/possession/whatever and then the craziness that is being the subject of a reality show, how fame has its downsides, how the show and the ordeal brings out the worst in her family, how her relationship with her sister becomes strained by all these events. It’s a very engrossing evolution.

One problem I do have with this novel (besides the fact that I never really found it scary) is that we never really see Merry outside of the context of her family or the show. Not even when we see her as an adult, because it’s fairly obvious that her family and the show has affected the adult she’s become. I would’ve liked to see Mary outside of the context of the family or the show, maybe in the company of friends or her soccer program. Those aspects of her life are mentioned, but they’re not really delved into, and I think she would’ve been a fuller character if we saw that her family and what’s going on around it isn’t entirely what defines her.

Oh, that and I didn’t particularly care for the audio book’s narrator. I mean she was good, especially when she was voicing the older sister, but when she does male voices, especially the father character’s voice, it sounds like every daughter’s impression of her embarrassing father or teacher. Just not convincing at all, more comical than anything.

All in all, I give A Head Full of Ghosts a 3.9 out of 5. It’s not as scary as I’d hoped it would be (or maybe I just listened to it wrong), but it’s psychological, it’s entertaining, and you want to see it through to the end. If you’re looking for a book that’s like The Exorcist with a modern twist, this might not be for you. But if you want to read something with dark subjects but you’d like to sleep at night, I think you’ll find this book fits the bill.

I think, now more than ever, I like Pope Francis.

In a stunning reversal of traditional Catholic policy, Pope Francis I took a more positive approach to homosexuality than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. While speaking with journalists on the plane ride back to Rome, the Pope was asked how he would react if he were to learn that there was a cleric in his ranks who was gay but not sexually active. His reply: “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord? You can’t marginalize these people.”

God bless the Pope!

I’ve always been a little wary of the Catholic Church as an entity, though I know and I am friendly with regular Catholics. There’s a deep-rooted history of animosity between the Church and Judaism, exacerbated over recent years when Holocaust-denying clergy were allowed to continue practicing in positions of power. That, plus their views on LGBT and  women’s rights, mixed with pedophilia scandals have really made me and other people, if not detractors, then angry with it.

But with the election of Pope Francis, who sets out to be a reformer of the Church like his namesake St. Francis, I have had some new thoughts. This pope seems much more down-to-Earth and of the people, and he’s already instituted a number of reforms in Church policy. This latest change really makes me happy. Not only does it signal a possible change in the Church’s policy towards the LGBT community–which has regarded homosexuality as a disorder, and in recent years barred gay clerics from practicing–but it also signals a change for the Pope, who as a cardinal wrote a few papers condemning people who were LGBT.

If this is an indication of which direction the Pope might go in terms of the Vatican’s relationship with the LGBT community, it could signal a major change around the world. In several nations, from Iran and Russia to Uganda and Zimbabwe, there are laws in place or in process that would seek to rob the LGBT community of their human rights, and in countries where laws support the LGBT community, such as England, France, and certain areas of the United States, there is still an uphill battle to give the LGBT community the same rights as their straight neighbors. If the Pope’s statement signals a reversal in policy, several countries may face a rise in support for the rights of LGBTers.

And another thing that I’ve noticed is that the Pope said “You can’t exclude these people.” While I do note that calling an entire community that spans the globe “these people” sounds a little exclusionary in itself, to me the greater message sends out more powerful vibes. For years, exclusion of those unlike yourself or the main part of a group has been a too-widely accepted policy. It was believed that if you excluded someone unlike yourself–because of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.–they would either change their ways, learn their place, or go away. But nowadays most people don’t bow so easily to the majority, and everyone from women to gays to Hispanics to everyone in between is speaking up for their rights, and it is working for the most part.

Something like this in the future would be nice.

If the Church is going to end its exclusionary policies, then that could lead to better relations between them and gays, particularly those who want a relationship with God and the Church. And it also shows that those who want to exclude gays from society or outright ban them may have lost a powerful ally in the Church. Which if you ask me, can only be a good thing.

I look forward to seeing where the Pope goes with this. Hopefully it’ll lead to more pro-gay reforms in the Church policy, making Catholicism and possibly Christianity in general more accepting to the LGBT community, and to people in general.

In the meantime, I’d like to say a prayer from Judaism that is said when something that hasn’t happened before happens for the first time: Baruch atah Hashem, Elocheinu Melech Ha’olam, Shehechianu v’kiamanu v’higi’anu lazman hazeh. Blessed are You, Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

An occasion I hope will lead to something good.

Okay, I’m a little confused. Why, in the name of God, are men the ones who seem to be the only ones we’re listening to on television about this? Men?! Just a reminder folks, men can’t have babies. I know it’s hard to believe, but men can’t have babies. So should they really be telling women how they should use their bodies or whether or not they can prevent themselves from getting pregnant? My answer: no! (And I’m saying all this as a guy. Then again, I’m a feminist and I grew up in a house full of women and girls, so I guess I’m an exception).

Also, the Catholic Church is making a huge fuss about the birth control option in Obama’s policy. Once again, the people getting upset are the male policy-makers of the Catholic Church, who cannot get pregnant, even if they wear gowns while praying at the altar. And apparently ninety-eight percent of Catholic women use birth control and feel guilty about it. Ladies, don’t feel guilty; feel enraged! I mean, you can’t get birth control but apparently guys can get Viagra. There’s something wrong about all that!

And to all those religious institutions who feel threatened by the birth control policy of the Obama administration, please stop using Nazi Germany references for your plight. The Obama administration is not preventing you from going to school, to public areas, taking away your property or forcing you to wear humiliating yellow patches on your clothes. They’re requiring your insurers to pay for birth control. When all the other stuff I listed starts happening, then you can start complaining about the government barring your religious liberties in a fashion similar to Hitler! The people who should really be complaining about having their religious liberties barred in front of Congress are the Muslims living in France. Have you seen the situation over there?!

Finally, I’d just like to mention that although you object to paying for women’s birth control, you should know that when you pay your employees, they can use that money for whatever they want, even condoms or strip clubs or stuff you guys find abhorrent. Just something to think about.

That’s it for my rant, talk to you later.