Just in time for Halloween, here's a review of one of my favorite horror novels, Son of the Endless Night by John Farris (1984). At it's heart Endless Night is a tale of demonic possession, which the Liberty Journal refers to as, "The first really worthy successor to Blatty's The Exorcist". Having read and enjoyed both books, I can tell you which is more in-depth and truly haunting, and it's Endless Night.
Farris is unlike other horror novelists whose work I've read in that he begins by creating a world of deep basic humanity before getting down to the real horror. His characters are not flat walls of opinions and identifiable quirks; they are complex and changeable. They are not simply hand puppets used to present two sides of an argument; many of them seek to understand the world around them, and be just to others These characters have motives and desires and interact fully with their counterparts. Above all he creates characters we feel we understand; even when we don't agree with them, we sympathize with them. We want them to succeed. In other works, the ability to create such engaging characters is often used to cover inadequacies in plot, pacing, and structure, but not here. This is a meticulously researched and carefully executed novel, always sensitive to the religious nature of exorcism even in its darkest and most disturbing moments. I'm not saying it will effect you so dramatically, but while I was reading it late one night I woke my wife when I went to use the restroom, so I wouldn't be totally alone walking around the house.
|An excerpt from the book with important character names removed.|
The included excerpt is, admittedly, a little melodramatic, but it gives the distinct impression that Farris knows exactly what he's going for, knows how to make it happen, and isn't embarrassed about it. These are qualities I find lacking in a lot of art, especially from the last fifteen years or so. Of course artists should be able to view their artwork objectively, but I feel they are sometimes too self-aware, too afraid of scrutiny.
I would also like to mention that Farris has a strange ability I've never run across before, with any writer or genre: he tells or shows the reader something important, something vital to the story, then (and I have no idea how he can do this) he makes the reader forget what he just told them or showed them, only to have it resurface in their mind at the most intense possible moment.
He also takes the time and effort to make the ideas of possession and exorcism both credible and plausible, as if the people in the world who are really in-the-know all accept the reality of possession and the recognized modes of treatment. He adds even more reality to the tale by showing that an exorcism is almost as bureaucratic as it is spiritual.
|It's hard to tell here, but that demon has a very lumpy head.|
The book is fun, but quite dark and often disturbing. It's a long, but fairly easy read, carrying the reader from one tense and fascinating scene to another. There are a lot of ideas in the book, but also a lot of action, perfect for a long plane ride. It is also the kind of book that stays with the reader long after finishing it as it is interesting to rethink the events and their meaning. It is an adult work, with adult language and situations, so keep that in mind if your interest is piqued. Personally, I edited mine as I went, but I know a lot of people are against that. Pshh.