Review: Grady Hendrix's MY BEST FRIEND'S EXORCISM
In 1971, William Peter Blatty unleashed The Exorcist upon the world, the seminal novel of demonic possession that has terrified and thrilled audiences everywhere. While the disturbing story of Regan MacNeil and the demon Pazazu led to William Friedkin's famous film (along with its sequels, prequels, a new TV show, and countless other exorcism movies), there have not been nearly as many well-known "exorcism" novels over the years. For that reason, I enthusiastically devoured My Best Friend's Exorcism, the second novel by Grady Hendrix (Horrorstor). Although the book has its fair share of humorous and lighthearted moments--especially in its nostalgic and heartfelt depiction of 80s' pop culture--My Best Friend's Exorcism is filled with many scenes of full-blown horror, ghastly imagery, and sinisterism. The paperback edition of the novel, with its incredible, VHS-inspired cover, will remain on my bookshelf as one of my most favorite novels of all time.
My Best Friend's Exorcism centers on best friends Abby and Gretchen, two high school sophomores who have known each other for years and who support and love one another through all the personal conflicts of childhood and adolescence. Hendrix depicts their friendship in realistic ways; the girls bond over movies (especially E.T.), music, schoolwork, gossip, and countless other fond memories and experiences. But during a weekend party in which Gretchen goes missing for several hours and endures some kind of bizarre, catastrophic event, the tone of the novel shifts. The mood turns darker as Gretchen begins to change--both physically and emotionally--and suddenly both girls find themselves caught up in a terrifying whirlwind of violence, betrayal, and satanic influence.
As Gretchen's strange illness heightens in intensity and as the relationships around her begin to shatter, My Best Friend's Exorcism increases its horror and gruesomeness. Two sequences in particular--one that will remind readers of Regan MacNeil's projectile vomiting and another involving a family dog and an enormous slithering tapeworm creature--are off-the-charts horrifying. Hendrix's language and word choice is lean and sharp, which keeps the novel moving at a fast pace and makes for jolting scares. Eventually, Abby manages to contact an exorcist whom she believes might be the answer to Gretchen's problems, but even then the novel defies expectations and takes readers into a gut-wrenching climax that is impossible to forget. (another scene, this one involving the aftermath of a field trip to the local morgue, will permanently stamp the nightmares of anyone who reads the book.) Though there were times that I wanted the novel to maintain the more serious tone of The Exorcist, Hendrix's work mixes horror and comedy to great effect. Along the way, many scenes (especially at the very end) will tug at the heartstrings of every reader and speak to the very meaning of courage, love, and lifelong friendship.
I urge every horror fan to pick up the new paperback version of the novel, published by Quirk Books this past July, with the ghoulish and fantastic cover art. It fits perfectly along with all the literary classics of the genre, including The Exorcist, Ray Russell's The Case Against Satan, and Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby. I loved Grady Hendrix's My Best Friend's Exorcism and cannot recommend it enough.