Paul Tremblay’s Head Full of Ghosts is based on a curious What if: What if the voices schizophrenics hear belong to ghosts? Demons? What’s scarier – the possibility that someone you love is having a violent psychotic break or is possessed by a demon? Would you rather descend into madness or share your mind, body and soul with a demon? That’s a toughie.
Even more horrifying, what if the afflicted person is your daughter or older sibling and you can’t help her?
Alternating between ambiguity and unquestionable specifics, this psychologically twisted story is steeped in family drama. Fans of thrillers and horror – and really anyone who loves a good page-turner – will not be disappointed.
Merry Barrett is a young woman living in South Boston consulting with a bestselling author about what really happened to her family. First she needs to fill in the blanks about events that led up to her parents agreeing to open their home and lives to a 6-episode reality TV show called The Possession.
The family lives in a dusty, old maze-like home in a New England suburb. Merry is an energetic, happy 8-year old who believes in big foot around the time her 14-year-old sister Majorie begins acting strange, aggressive and exceedingly scary. The doctor says she’s mentally ill, but that doesn’t explain how she physically manages to puncture and climb plaster walls. The stress of Majorie’s deteriorating state is compounded by the high cost of her failing treatment and father’s recent job loss. The father returns to the church for help and his priest’s interpretation of Majorie’s behavior is that’s possessed. What twists the tension to the breaking point is when the parents agree to capitalize on Majorie’s affliction by signing on to do the reality show.
Financial hardship, marital problems and other fairly common causes of domestic despair are often cited in demonic possession stories as a contributing factor because they leave people vulnerable. On the other hand, throw unemployment and the crippling fear of losing your home on top of a child having a psychotic break and the result is equally dramatic and frightening. Whatever is behind the chaos, young Merry witnesses the worst of it.
I loved so many things about this book. Grown up Merry is telling the story, but her memories are an 8-year-old’s. It feels like you’re there in this house with this child on cold autumn days when she’s kicking a socking ball around out back. She sort of knows what’s going on, but she’s at the receiving end of her sister’s version, her parents’ filtered stories and her own raw experiences and there’s no breathing room to process. Not to mention the television crew that cares more for ratings than what a young girl sees.
There are many moving parts here, but the story revolves around Majorie and Merry’s relationship and that’s what makes it so compelling. There are moments of tenderness, quiet pauses that serve the pace and tension. It’s a smart take on madness or demonic possession. Maybe it’s supernatural. Maybe Majorie is out of her mind and the circumstances push everyone over the edge.
In horror, well placed ambiguity invites the audiences’ imagination in. Tremblay orients the reader in Merry’s memories then leaves us room to poke around with little Merry. You know from the first few pages something terrible happened. Parts of this read almost like nonfiction. Page-by-page, the tone and cool language regardless of how hot the action gets make the events feel like real memories.
Tremblay’s a terrific writer. The high degree of realism and pure hell this family goes through is a powerful combination. The story is dark and scary, but it’s also incredibly fascinating, thrilling, entertaining and everything else you want in great horror.
Hot off the press and already Focus Features bought the rights. Hopefully we’ll have a thrilling horror picture soon. I’m excited for anyone about to read this book.