Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Best Friend's Exorcism

* spoilers *

In 1988, Abby and Gretchen have been friends since elementary school and inseparable ever since. To be rebellious teens, the pair and their friends take acid. All of them feel no effects except for Gretchen who runs out into the forest. They find her in the morning, but no one knows what really happened to her. Afterwards, Gretchen starts to act strangely. First she stops sleeping then she stops bathing and insists people are whispering around her and touching her. Abby investigates into it and decides that Gretchen's possessed, but can their friendship be strong enough to save her best friend?

My Best Friend's Exorcism is a uniquely packaged book. It looks like a yearbook complete with messages from friends in the book cover and family ads at the end. Each of the chapter headings is the title of an 80's song. It put me in the right state of mind for the story that is equally different. Based on the title, I had a lot of expectations. Most possession stories draw directly from The Exorcist and don't do much that's different. It's why I'm usually bored with these types of stories, but this one manages to break the tropes and stand as something different.

The possession starts fairly typically with Gretchen exhibiting strange behaviors and claiming to hear whispering and being touched by something unseen. Her appearance suffers and all of her friends except Abby shun her. Abby feels helpless because nothing she does can help her friend. She's tried talking to authority figures, but seems to just make it worse. When Gretchen finally seems to improve, Abby is now shunned. Gretchen's appearance and demeanor have improved, but she's a completely changed person. She's suddenly so helpful to her friends, helping one lose weight with mysterious shakes and passing along another love letters from a teacher. No one realizes anything is wrong until both girls' lives are destroyed irreparably. I love that the possessed girl actually does evil things. She doesn't hurt herself or exhibit grotesque sexuality as is usual. The aftermath of her actions are horrifically memorable.

As with most possession stories, an exorcism is used to try to draw out the demon from the afflicted. A religious exorcism is tried for hours, but it doesn't really work. Abby finds a guy who spoke about body building for Jesus to do it, but he has no real experience. He eventually abandons them, leaving Abby with a tied up Gretchen. Abby exorcises the demon herself by calling upon things significant to them like artifacts from their friendships and songs they love. I found this to be the most refreshing because religion didn't save them. Things they actually had faith in and meant something to their every day lives saved them. Abby and Gretchen didn't need a priest or anyone else. Abby saved Gretchen by herself. The aftermath is suitably realistic.

Overall, My Best Friend's Exorcism is a unique story that actually has the demon hurting people around them. The exorcism and the aftermath cemented it as the best possession story I've seen or read. The novel throws off a lot of horrible tropes invented by The Exorcist and copied in every other possession movie. This book shows that you don't have to follow the same formula over and over to be a part of the genre. I hope more stories follow suit in the future and I will be looking out for more books by Grady Hendrix.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

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