Book Review: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay

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Thanks so much to the folks at HarperCollins/William Morrow for sending me an advanced digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

3.5/5 Stars.

Paul Tremblay is undoubtedly one of the best horror writers out there right now, and as a huge fan of A Head Full of Ghosts, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Disappearance at Devil’s Rock.

Fourteen-year-old Tommy Sanderson disappears without a trace in the nearby woods of his small suburban town, leaving his mother, his sister and his two best friends reeling. As the investigation into Tommy’s disappearance unfolds, it becomes clear that his best friends — who were with him that night — may know more than they are letting on. Meanwhile, his mother and sister see strange shadows lurking around the house and begin finding Tommy’s eerie journal entries on the floor, prompting them to wonder if he (or his ghost) is trying to tell them something.

Like A Head Full of Ghosts, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock teeters that fine line where creepy events could just as easily have a supernatural or logical explanation. And also like its predecessor, it uses horror as a vehicle to explore the American nuclear family. Whereas AHFOG uses the possession sub-genre, DADR uses zombies.

I’m not the kind of reader who needs everything to be tied up with a nice bow, but I do wish the pieces of this story came together in a more satisfying way, as they did in AHFOG. I wanted a little bit more from the resolution, and I had hoped that Tremblay would provide more commentary on the metaphors he planted.

Overall, this is a genuinely creepy novel that takes some unexpectedly dark turns that even had a total gorehound like me grossed out, but for the most part the horror is psychological; there were a few scenes that had me terrified of what would happen next, and that’s alway a fun experience as a horror fan.

If you enjoy the horror genre, make sure Tremblay is on your radar. His smart, thoughtful writing and his impressive knack for authentically embodying the minds of his characters — in this case a teenage boy — place him a step well above most of his peers.

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A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

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4/5 Stars

This book was awesome! Possession is one sub-genre of horror that has definitely been overdone, so going into this I wasn’t expecting anything new, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Much like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, A Head Full of Ghosts is about a teenage girl named Marjorie who begins exhibiting behaviors that could be demonic possession or could be a psychotic break; depends who you ask. Marjorie’s parents, desperate to help their daughter, turn to a local priest for help. The family is struggling financially, so when the priest suggests that they bring in a production company to document the process and turn it into a reality TV show, the family reluctantly agrees.

Flash forward to 15 years later: Marjorie’s little sister, Merry – now in her early 20s – is being interviewed by a best-selling author writing an account of the family’s story. We soon come to find that not everything happened the way it appeared, and that Merry has some secrets of her own.

One of the things that makes this book so good is that it’s very meta. Not only is this amusing for horror buffs, but it makes the book feel reactionary rather than derivative.

Interspersed with Merry’s recollections of what happened are blog entries from an edgy horror blogger who’s re-watching the reality series. Her blog posts reference all the major books and movies about possession (from The Exorcist to Paranormal Activity) and provide analysis of demonic possession, exorcism and their place in a patriarchal society.

While it’s not over-the-top terrifying, this is a smart, sad, creepy, fascinating psychological thriller that keeps you hooked until the end while delivering sharp commentary on reality TV culture, the myth of the traditional American family, misogyny and the fallibility of memory.