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If You Want your Stomach Twisted into a Pretzel...
on February 22, 2011
...read Dead Spell. Then see if you can get to sleep. I couldn't. Every little noise jarred me awake, heart racing. I kept getting up to check the doors, the closets, behind the shower curtain. I lay awake, mind churning over a novel with a relentless and terrifying grip.
After three hours of nonstop reading, I felt like I'd stepped off a thrill ride that was part world's most bad-assed rollercoaster and part insane house of horrors. Dead Spell carved itself into my muscle memory and won't be shaken off. It's akin to a furious nightmare that electrifies you every time you think of it for the rest of your life.
The technical skill it took to craft such a complex, layered story leaves me awe struck. Frisch wrote from several different perspectives and the shift always felt right and seamless from a technical perspective, gripping and dizzying from an emotional perspective. And the writer sank me into some truly frightening psychologies.
Being inside Harmony's mind was both awful and riveting. What Frisch accomplished, creating this complex, believable "bad girl", is stunning. All too often "bad girls" are rendered cartoonish, as exaggerated caricatures. Harmony is disturbing and compelling because she's real. She's fierce and vulnerable and full of rage and also brimming with need like a terrified little girl. She is so skillfully rendered that part of the heart pounding suspense of the story is waiting to see what Harmony will do or say next.
And you know what's amazing? The beauty of the writing in a story of horror. "She dug her toes into the mud and the surface roots of weeds that she briefly imagined were the tendons and sinew of some half rotten soul." That's exquisite, and also gut-wrenching, and there's something in that contrast that renders it unforgettable. The novel is infused with gorgeous imagery even as it reads like an unstoppable slam against one atrocity after another - and it's the beauty of these details, contrasted with the horror, that contributes to a richly complicated narrative that won't let go.
Yes, this is a story brimming with masterful contrasts. Harmony and her mentally ill mother, Charity. The stark contrast of those gentle names against a backdrop of misery and grotesque despair. Then Brea and Harmony. Brea's fear only serves to intensify Harmony's recklessness. For instance, when Harmony gets arrested for stealing a car. "Harmony was silent, unshaken, cuffed and defiant, and Brea wondered how she could be so strong when she, the innocent one, was scared shitless." Brea's growth from timidity to ferocity for the sake of her friend rivets you to the page. Her whirlwind absorption into the madness adds a mystery element to the thriller/horror/paranormal/romance.
The scenes with Tom are a ghastly nightmare. Try to guess what he's all about. I dare you. The twists come out of nowhere and it's like being on a rollercoaster in pitch black darkness...you never see them coming and you just rise and drop and your soul screams.
The ending was a revelation I never guessed. The most horrifying, exquisitely rendered drop of all, leaving my stomach a tightly constructed pretzel of fear wedged in my throat.