Pairing the Pages: Mr. Splitfoot and A Head Full of Ghosts Are Bona Fide Sock-Rockers

February 12, 2016

The awesome reading streak continues! Julianne and Emily were my bookish fairy godmothers this week and pointed me toward two very different but equally excellent novels. One brought the creepy, the other brought the magic, and both were an absolute joy to read.

A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay

"I tell Rachel that there is no starting point or ground zero for what happened to Marjorie and my family. If there was, the eight-year-old me cannot find it with the supposedly clear lens of hindsight. ... In a way, my personal history not being my own, being literally and figuratively haunted by outside forces, is almost as horrible as what actually happened. Almost." - pg. 13
Sarah and John Barrett and their two daughters, Marjorie and Merry, have fallen on hard times. John lost his job a year ago, and Marjorie has just started showing frightening signs of acute schizophrenia. Desperate for answers (and for money), John and Sarah agree to have their family filmed for The Possession, a reality show about—you guessed it—demonic possession and to have Marjorie's "demon" exorcised on camera. We hear about all of it from eight-year-old Merry, a precocious, athletic child who can't quite tell if her sister is faking everything or actually coming apart.

I could tell from early on that Paul Tremblay knows his horror. I would expect nothing less from a Bram Stoker Award winner and the former president of the board of directors of the Shirley Jackson awards (thanks, dust jacket!). There are a lot of tropes here, but it's entirely self-aware and surprisingly fresh; part of the story is even told in the form of blog posts about The Possession series, pointing out that the show creators used every tired trick in the possession/exorcism book. I loved watching the relationship between the two sisters unfold as their home dissolved around them. I adored the nods to Shirley Jackson's work, especially in our maybe-not-so-reliable narrator Merry. I loved that there were moments that literally made my stomach turn and my mouth gape.

I didn't even know that I was craving horror when I picked it up, but it couldn't have scratched that itch any better.

Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt

Ah, what's there to say that hasn't already been said (and spoiled) in my video review with Julianne?

Nat and Ruth are seventeen, just a year shy of being unceremoniously kicked out of their foster home called Love of Christ! (yes, with the exclamation point). The good news? Nat can speak to the dead, and the business of getting people in touch with their late loved ones is booming.

Fast-forward about thirteen years, and Ruth's niece Cora is stuck at a dead-end job and in a dead-end relationship, and she just found out she's pregnant. Her long-lost and newly mute aunt Ruth shows up and quite literally helps her to walk out on all of it, taking only her baby along for the ride.

Much like Bats of the Republic, this book completely defies a quick summary. Much unlike Bats, the numerous elements—multiple séances, a mysterious cult, and a box full of money being just a few—work in tandem to create something bigger and more meaningful.
"Before I was pregnant, I thought carrying a baby meant knowing a baby. That's not true. I don't know anything about this child. Pregnancy is a locked door in my stomach, all the weight of life and death and still no way to know it. The baby gives me a small kick, taking what's delicate—lung tissue, tiny see-through fingers, hair fine enough to spin webs—and hardens it into a tough thing, a thing that likes it rough. It'll grow and I will be the only one who remembers when it was unmarked and delicate as a moth." - pg. 219
It took some time to settle into the story, but eventually I was getting lost in Samantha Hunt's sentences. She never quite gives you the full picture, and yet she says so much: about the family you're given and building your own, about motherhood, about the universe, about taking a long walk and maybe, just maybe, finding yourself as the end of it.

This book is confusing and surreal and absolutely glorious. Read it.

If you're looking to bust a reading slump or, like me, want to keep good book trend going strong, you can't go wrong with either of these.  Have you read them?

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