A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

There’s nothing wrong with me, Merry. Only my bones want to grow through my skin like the growing things and pierce the world.

A Head Full of Ghosts

When Merry Barrett was eight-years-old, her sister Marjorie started showing signs of schizophrenia. The doctors couldn’t help. Her meds weren’t working. And eventually, her behavior became so shocking, it convinced her unemployed, religious father Marjorie’s problems were the work of demons. Her mother thought that was insane, but in the end she caved into his demand to allow an exorcism. They agreed to let a TV crew film a reality show about it, called The Possession. 15 years later, Merry agrees to team up with a biographer to talk about what happened to her family. Meanwhile, a blogger for a horror site begins recapping The Possession episode by episode to figure out what truly happened all those years ago.

What made Marjorie so frightening was that her moods could change in an instant. She could go from joking around with her little sister to threatening her. She told Merry she would sneak into her room and tear her tongue out and watch her choke on the blood. But she was also kind of a cliché-every “demonic” thing that happened to her sounds familiar to any of us who watched The Exorcist and its progeny-the swearing, the different voices, the blasphemy, and the aggressive and upsetting sexual obscenity (remember Regan and the Crucifix? Shudders).     

Her manifestations seem so plagiarized, the horror blogger has a hard time believing they were real.

“The inner demon getting its groove on for the benefit of the men (always men) of reason and science in the white antiseptic hospital room just might be the second most stereotypical scene in a possession movie (with the actual clergy-performed exorcism as number one). ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Rite,’ ‘The Possession’ (the 2012 movie by Sam Raimi, featuring a sneaky little dybbuk hidden in a Jewish wine cabinet box bought at a yard sale . . . SOLD!), season two of the gory and horny TV series ‘American Horror Story,’ and . . . you get the idea.”

She’s kind of annoying sometimes, but the blogger is a crucial part of the book. To go from an “Oh shit! She’s a demon!” moment in Merry’s recollection of her sister, to this blogger‘s belief that Marjorie was probably Netflixing horror movies to seem more convincing, the reader’s head starts spinning, not knowing what to believe.

I don’t want to say any more about the plot of this book. But it’s worth the read. Part of what makes this book so good is what’s left unsaid. Considering most of the book is told from the perspective of a child, it’s up to us to make something out of the looks she sees passing between her parents and the conversations she overhears. I actually reread the book to pick up on all the little clues I missed the first time around.

I picked up this book because Stephen King tweeted that it was one of the scariest books he’d read in a while. I don’t know that I found it that scary. But I was hooked from the first chapter of the book all the way to its final, bloody, conclusion and I took just as much pleasure reading it for the second time.

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