A Door That Shouldn’t Be Opened

SPOILER warning!

I finished Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris a couple weeks ago, which is the first fiction book I’ve read in a long time. The only reason I’d give it even 2 out of 5 stars is because I was so desperate to read fiction that it seemed excellent. Kind of like when you’re really hungry and even that cardboard-like leftover pizza from five days ago is wonderful.

Anyway, Behind Closed Doors is the typical domestic violence thriller, pitting husband against wife. Grace is a 30-something woman, and her younger sister, Millie, has Down syndrome. Grace is finding it difficult to get a decent guy who accepts her and her sister. Her dreams appear to have come true when Jack Angel appears out of nowhere, dances with Millie at the park, then asks Grace out. Of course, is the perfect guy: good-looking, intelligent, and makes a ton of money as a highfalutin lawyer who defends battered women. Naturally, Grace falls for him, and in a matter of only three months, he asks her to marry him. She accepts. Her life becomes hell.

My first thought upon learning that the villain’s name was Jack Angel was “well, that’s a screamingly obvious technique to reveal that a seemingly good guy is in fact the bad guy.” Turns out that Jack is not actually his real name but a “clever” alias he developed for himself after he murdered his own mother. Classy guy.

I found it a bit unbelievable that Grace would end up marrying Jack in the first place. She supposedly had a lot of experience with dating, so you’d think she would know the warning signs, or her “creep radar” would start going off. But if you read the literature about psychopaths, which Jack revealed himself to be in short order, you know that they are initially charming and adept at fooling people. The entire time I was reading the book, I was picturing Jack looking something like Ted Bundy.

Behind Closed Doors is the kind of book in which you want to reach inside the fictional world and and kill the character yourself. It was also the kind of book that makes you feel uncomfortable the entire time you’re reading it, because you’re waiting for the next horrible thing to befall the protagonist. I didn’t particularly care for that kind of suspense vibe because everything that happened to Grace was just plain sick. Jack ended up wanting to get to Millie because she would be easier to scare (being that she had Down syndrome), and he apparently lives off the feeling of fear that he invokes in his victims. Fortunately nothing happened Millie, but just the thought that Jack would hurt her was very off-putting, like the author was making a cheap shot at people with disabilities.

Most suspense novels are incredibly fast paced and don’t have much description of settings and characters. Both applied to Behind Closed Doors, which I finished in less than 24 hours. Because there was so little description, it was hard to picture anything beyond Ted Bundy in an immaculate house torturing Grace, who I vaguely imagined to look like Gwyneth Paltrow. At a couple points in the book, the characters traveled to Thailand, but I couldn’t picture it at all from the author’s (lack of) description.

Other reviews have made comparisons to The Girl on the Train, but Behind Closed Doors was not as good or as memorable. What would have been more interesting is if the story had been written from Jack’s perspective; I would have liked to know more about his backstory. I suspect he was lying when he told Grace that he killed his mother. It is also rare to read a book from the perspective of the villain, especially a book in this genre.

Basically, I’d recommend this one if you have a few hours to kill or if for some reason, you want to feel very uncomfortable. Other than that… stay away from it.

The Teenagers of America

If you want assurance that the teenagers of America are not all mindless zombies walking around with phones in hand, totally oblivious to anything of beauty or substance, look no further than Scholastic’s annual compilation: The Best Teen Writing of 2017. The book’s editors have gathered the best award-winning writing from the most talented among American middle and high schoolers and arranged it into genres (poetry, personal essay, journalism, memoir, short story, novel, etc.). The result is a hodgepodge of hard-hitting pieces that make you feel, in Emily Dickinson’s words, “physically as though the top of my head were taken off.”

The works have so much wisdom that it doesn’t seem like they were written by teenagers at all. The descriptions are evocative, the word choice nearly flawless. Honestly, it’ll make you jealous that you don’t have that kind of talent, even when you’ve been slaving away as a writer for years before these kids were born. Speaking of which, some writers are born, and some are made, and it seemed from reading the pieces, that these young writers were mostly born with this talent, which was honed and cultivated by dutiful parents and teachers.

Of course, you can’t write an (interesting) book review without a couple of complaints, so here are mine. “Diversity” seemed to be a major factor in choosing the pieces, but I would have no way of knowing if the pieces chosen for the compilation were chosen because they were actually the best or because the editors wanted to make sure that all races and ethnicities were represented equally.

Many of the essays and journalism pieces seemed to be biased toward the political left, but I suppose that’s a mark of the newest generation—they are supposedly more liberal than past generations, and they’ve grown up in a world saturated with media that is mostly biased toward the left. You are what you eat, I guess.

Regardless, this compilation is a worthwhile read and provides insight into the thoughts of the best and the brightest, which may not actually be representative of the thoughts of all teenagers in America—just the tiny fraction of those who can express themselves through words.

My Blasphemous Exorcism

SPOILER ALERT!

My Best Friend’s Exorcism. With a title like that, how could you not want to read it? I thought the book would make an excellent indie movie with weird Tarantino-like special effects. The library classified it as horror, but I wouldn’t quite put it in that category; it was actually fairly difficult to categorize. I would’ve called it chick-lit with some comedy, gross-out moments, and the right amount of suspense. The horror only came through in about the last quarter of the book, but the first part was fast-paced enough to keep readers interested. Like Ready Player One, which I read about a week ago, this book was full of 80s references because it actually took place in the 80s. All of the chapter titles came from lyrics of popular 80s songs.

The author (Grady Hendrix) absolutely nailed the teenage dialogue. He did a far better job of this than many YA authors, and I was disappointed that this book wasn’t categorized as YA. I think I know why: because it was too genuine. YA is normally watered down and offers a mere simulacrum of what the teenage experience is actually like. As far as I know, he captured the essence of Charleston (South Carolina) pretty well, too, but what was really impressive was his successful use of a female main character when he is not a female. I had to keep reminding myself that the author was in fact a man.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book (and this is totally biased and says more about me than it does about the book) was that the exorcism was not performed by a Catholic priest. Some motivational speaker/weight-lifting preacher performed it, but he bailed out halfway through, leaving the main character to perform the exorcism herself, using the “holy symbols” of the friendship rather than the typical holy water and prayers. As a matter of fact, the whole “ritual” was actually pretty blasphemous. That being said, the book also did a great job of portraying the undying love between two best friends, which is not something you read about in most novels or even in real life. Many times, women and girls feel as though they have to compete with each other, so they lie and backstab and generally act like bitches to stay on top. (Some of this bitchery did happen in the novel, but it was all cleared up at the end.)

Highly recommended if you want something that’s purely entertaining. You won’t learn a darn thing from this book, but it’s a ton of fun. There are some disgusting scenes, so I wouldn’t recommend reading it while eating or if you get grossed out easily.