Check Your Head: Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts Will Haunt You

AHeadFullOfGhostsAfter spending most of the summer working on a writing project, I decided to reward myself with the book that everyone on Facebook has been talking about – A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay. I’m often leery when there’s a lot of hype about something, but in this case I have to agree that the book definitely delivers.

The main character of this book is Merry, who recounts the experience from childhood that significantly changed her life. At the age of fourteen, Merry’s older sister, Marjorie, began going insane, and when their parents couldn’t find any medical solutions, their father turned to a priest for help. The priest suggested an exorcism, and the family subsequently became the focus of a reality TV show tracking the progress of the situation.

At face value you might be inclined to dismiss this as just another exorcism story, but you would be wrong. Tremblay knows his genre and he knows how to tell a story. There are layers and layers in this book and often more questions than answers are raised. For example, how reliable are our memories from our childhood? What are the myriad ways that financial difficulties can affect a family? And, most importantly, who gets to decide what the truth really is, and when and how do they get to tell it?

Tremblay uses several successful techniques in the book, one of which is integrating blog posts following the reality TV show. These posts critique the situation as it unfolds and are paced in such a manner that they somehow manage to both foreshadow and explain without giving much away. This is also a remarkable way for Tremblay to address any “holes” that the reader might be attempting to poke in the story and has the effect of saying, “Nope, wait – I thought of that!” The integration of the blog posts works to further engage the reader and keeps them turning the pages to see how Tremblay will address these aspects. It’s pretty genius.

Additionally, as an avid reader of the works by a certain circle of authors I was delighted beyond reason to come across several Easter eggs in the book – places where Tremblay refers to a familiar author by name, or uses a phrase or tagline from another author’s work. I loved this and thought it was such an unbelievably cool addition!

The thing with this book, though, is that you just have to keep reading it until the end. And, as good as the book is overall, the ending is simply killer – you will never see it coming. Even better, once you get there and the whole story is laid out in front of you, you may see another of those little Easter eggs … a twist and a turn and then you see that it was placed, so perfectly, throughout the rest of the book without you even realizing it.

It’s been a really, really long time since I found a book that I wanted to just read until I was finished – I didn’t want to stop to eat, or sleep, or go to work, or get a drink, or anything until I got to the end. This is that book. You should go get it. And, while you’re there, maybe check out some of the other stuff that Paul Tremblay has done.

Giallo Fantastique is Dark, Lush, and Irresistable

Cover of Giallo Fantastique One of my favorite film genres is, without a doubt, the giallo. The giants in this area – Argento, Bava, Lucio – provide such an interesting mix of mystery, murder, noir, and always just a touch of something a little more. Usually it’s something twisted or paranormal or just outright frightening. So, when I saw that Word Horde was going to be putting out Giallo Fantastique, a collection of stories in the giallo genre, I was definitely excited!

Ross E. Lockhart has edited directed a collection of twelve stories by some of the best names around. In his introduction he discusses his choice for the title, as well as the use of the color yellow, which he explains became connected to the idea of decadence in the early 19th century. Decadence, weird crime, and fantastic horror weave through each of the stories, and there is something here for everyone.

I found “Minerva” by Michael Kazepis and “In the Flat Light” by Adam Cesare to be the most closely related to the feel of giallo that I am used to seeing on the screen. Twisted murders and protagonists who are faced with nightmare-like circumstances play a part in both of these stories, and leave the reader with a sense that the world has been moved bit by bit out of the norm until it careens disturbingly out of control.

Orrin Grey’s “The Red Church” was also one of my favorites. There is a nice mixture of horror elements in this story. Grey’s protagonist is a reporter on a quest to interview an elusive artist, and several of the stories in this collection involve individuals who are interviewing or writing biographies, a plot device that works well and differently in each situation. I enjoyed seeing how each of the authors using this technique went about creating their story.

Possibly the most original take on the genre was “Hello, Handsome” by Garrett Cook, which introduces us to both an unusual protagonist and killer. I also enjoyed Anya Martin’s “Sensoria”, which brought in a bit of the gothic and used fantasy and suspense to weave a darkly beautiful tale that will haunt me for some time to come.

John Langan’s “The Communion of Saints” works from the point of view of a detective who is plagued with a series of murders by some extremely interesting criminals, a case which ends up taking him somewhere completely unexpected. I loved the various elements that he brought into this story – horror, weird, giallo, mystery – they are all combined and melded together in a really ingenious way.

I don’t want to say too much about these stories and give all the goodness away. I will say that there are also stories that pull in some science fiction, move more into the dusky recesses of the erotic, dip their toes into true-crime, and test the borders of a variety of different genres and worlds. In short, Giallo Fantastique is special, original, and impossible to put down. You’re going to want to curl up on a rainy evening with your glass of bourbon, turn the lights down low, throw something from Goblin on repeat, and just dive right in.