Tag Archives: Horror Fiction

IMAGINARY FRIEND


The clouds always made him feel safe.
There was one cloud more beautiful than all the rest.
The one that looked like a face. . . And it was always there [every day] smiling at him. It was always there.

 . . . until the day he needed it most to feel safe.

PUBLISHER’S SYNOPSIS

Christopher is seven years old. Christopher is the new kid in town. Christopher has an imaginary friend. The epic work of literary horror from the #1 bestselling author of THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.

We can swallow our fear or let our fear swallow us.

At first, it seems like [Mill Grove is] the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six awful days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a tree house in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.

Soon Kate and Christopher find themselves in the fight of their lives, caught in the middle of a war playing out between good and evil, with their small town as the battleground.

BLOGGER’S REVIEW

Grand Central Press recently offered me a chance to read and review in Netgalley, an ARC e-book of Stephen Chbosky’s second novel, Imaginary Friend, in advance of the book’s October, 2019, release.

Chbosky’s first book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, was a coming-of-age teen drama of an introverted and friendless boy who struggles with issues from his past. Imaginary Friend, debuting twenty years after Perks, also features a child protagonist. This new book is less warm and fuzzy with a much darker theme – the eternal battle against good and evil centered in an out-of-the-way town. This book seemed to offer a diversion from the overtly religious themed books I have reviewed in the past weeks.

Christopher and his mother, Kate, are fleeing an abusive home life in the dead of night. Kate has chosen to move to Mill Grove, Pennsylvania; the typical out-of-the-way town with little to attract the attention of the outside faster paced world.

The story develops slowly at first, taunting, tantalizing the reader with a glimpse into the minds of the residents. Hidden behind the pleasant atmosphere lies the gray side of each person; lives lived on the knife edge of right and wrong.  Townsfolk and the school children, on the whole, are decent people. Each has issues. Some a hot temper. Others jealous. Most devote Christians. Typical small town.

Christopher suffers from a learning disability that places him in the special education program at school.  Typical of schools everywhere, bullies thrive and victims coalesce for support. His one comfort is the beautiful sky and the large smiling cloud that always greets him in the morning and follows him where ever he goes.

Christopher begins to hear voices and messages that he can’t decipher. One day he drawn into the densely forested and foreboding Mission Street Woods. Despite a town wide manhunt, no sign of Christopher is found.  Mysteriously, six days later, Christopher reappears and it is immediately obvious that something happened in those woods to change him. And the reader begins to note that the atmosphere in town is growing creepy and scary.

The story is hard-charging at this point and nearly impossible to put down. Supernatural creatures, seen only by Christopher, float through town screaming and battling one another. The deer in the forest seem possessed and appear in the weirdest moments; almost like stalkers. Christopher is aware that he can read minds and that his touch has a chilling affect on anyone he lays a hand upon.

Then the story reaches it climax before beginning to struggle.  No pun intended; all hell was breaking loose in Mill Grove. One particular character, a teen girl, the one that was making a deal with God when she was about to break her curfew and discovered Christopher standing in the middle of the street at midnight, begins to play a more prominent role.  A role with heavy religious themes; too much in my opinion.

All this happens by page 350. There are over 350 more pages to go. The book has a five star start and fizzles toward the end repeating the same violent scenes over and over. I found myself at one point wondering if I had inadvertently changed my e-book location back a couple of hundred pages. In my humble opinion, the book could lose those last 350+ pages. It is has the potential to become a best seller and there is plenty of time between now and October to stop the repetitive scenes.  The character development is believable and the central theme of good vs evil is well played out. There is so much to like here. Just not so much of the same over and over.

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THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE


Years ago, when I was a young girl, my family vacationed in a big city; an environment totally out of my element. On a walk with one of the older city children, we happened upon a spooky looking house. The boy whispered to me that the house was haunted and told me that we had to be careful not to get captured by ghosts and drawn inside. With that he turned and ran away, leaving me alone. To this day, I don’t know what triggered my fight or flight, fear of the house or fear of being alone and abandoned. I remember my world spinning out of control filled with overwhelming fear and terror; as fresh today as it was sixty years ago. Ironically, Shirley Jackson published The Haunting of Hill House that same year I was frightened to death; 1959.

Synopsis

Dr. Montague, an anthropologist by trade and an investigator of supernatural events as an addictive sideline, has signed a three-month contract to rent the infamously haunted Hill House. His purpose is to definitively document the existence of paranormal activity. He feels his best chance of stirring up the mysteries of the house would occur if other people having had brushes with abnormal events in the past were with him.

He locates twelve persons and issues cleverly crafted invitations specifically avoiding the word “haunted” to spend “all or part of a summer at a comfortable house… the purpose to observe and explore the various unsavory stories about the house…”. Three curious people respond and agree to meet him there:

Eleanor Vance, a friendless, angry, and depressed thirty-two-year-old woman looking  for “freedom, adventure, friendship and love” after years of caring for a mentally abusive invalid mother. Her life post-mother with her evil sister remains loveless and unfulfilling. Theodora, a free-spirit artist, arrives needing to spend time away from her roommate following a spat and hoping for a great adventure. Luke Sanderson, young heir to the house and a liar and thief, sent by his Aunt to represent the family’s interests and to get him out of her hair for awhile. Jackson tosses in a scary pair of caretakers, the Doctor’s haughty wife, and Hill House itself to the cast of characters.

Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more… [S]ilence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

The first character to arrive is Eleanor. Unlike the others, we are with her as she makes her first bold move away from her horrible life, steals her sister’s car, and heads on on her first road trip, alone. Along the way, she begins to see life in a new way. She enjoys collecting trivia and creates imaginary life scenes in appealing places along the journey. The newly freed Eleanor will continue to be the book’s narrator.

The first sign of danger in this strange opportunity hits her when she arrives at Hill House in the twilight hours of the first night.

She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile; … get away from here at once.

No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition…turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake… It was a house without kindness…

Things don’t seem as ominous to her when the others arrive and find the house ugly but fairly harmless. For the first time in her life she begins to relax around people. She begins to imagine a new life with these people that extends beyond this brief visit to Hill House; finally friends and people who care about her. She lies to the group to project an image of herself that is appealing and interesting.

Other than doors that shut by themselves and meeting the humorless housekeeper and her robotic mealtime directives, nothing happens that first night. Eleanor falls asleep thinking… this is home. It will be home for the group for the next week.

The group takes a tour of the house and they hear the house’s sad and malevolent history from Luke. They find the house’s atmosphere, dark, morbidly decorated, rooms and hallways oddly laid out with crooked corners, and as confusing as a corn maze. When they reach the library doorway in the eerie stone tower, the reputed scene of a tragic suicide, Eleanor recoils in fear. The reader is left with the sense that heartbeat of house is contained in the tower’s walls.

The story moves at a snail’s pace for the first 100 pages. It enables the reader to feel the creaks in the floor, the shifty lighting, the unsettling feeling of being swallowed by the house, becoming lost in its bizarre layout. We observe a transition happening within Eleanor as she experiences, often in the company of others, increasingly terrorizing nightly sounds that accelerate by the day. The story turns darker as Eleanor begins to fall apart. At the same time, the others ride out the house’s attempts to scare them without negative effects; no one, other than Eleanor, feels any real danger from the house.

Eleanor, rocking to the pounding, which seemed inside her head as much as in the hall, holding tight to Theodora, said,”They know where we are,” and the others, assuming she meant Arthur and Mrs. Montague, nodded and listened.

We slip into Eleanor’s stream of consciousness and feel the mental meltdown as it is happening. She sees, in her mind, that Theo and Luke are conspiring against her and feels they mock her at every turn. She sees them treating her just like her mother and sister. Outwardly she projects an affinity to the group while internally developing rage, hated and mistrust of Theo and Luke. The group, unaware of Eleanor’s degenerating mental condition, finds humor in her unease and proclivity to spout quaint quotes, most often cited, is a line from from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: Journeys end in lover’s meeting…

The reader, collecting clues from those tedious first 100 pages, realizes that there are parallels between the original homeowner’s tragic story and Eleanor’s life, real and imagined.

Near the end of that first week, Dr. Montague becomes aware of the effect the atmosphere of the house is having on Eleanor and repeatedly tries to make her leave. But she is adamant she will not be forced to leave leading to a highly dramatic conclusion. Hill House, with that evil grin, wins. Journeys end in lover’s meeting…

Reviewer’s Thoughts

I found it difficult to rate the book. I settled on a solid three star rating. Those first 100 pages seemed to drag with no action. In a 230+ paged book, I found it hard to imagine anything happening that would match the more contemporary horror genre. I was determined to stick with it and thought I would start over with the audio version and it made all the difference. Once I grasp the fact that is was really a psychological thriller, I started watching the dialogue more closely and was sucked inside Hill House.

Returning to my own haunted house experience, I could better understand Eleanor’s inability to extract herself from the creeping insanity. Who knows how permanently scarred I would be if I had wandered into my spooky house as a ten-year-old and spent the night listening to the old house groan against history and neglect. Has anyone else be scared witless? I’d love to hear from you.

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