Demon: A Memoir

Demon: A Memoir - Tosca Lee Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 0
boobs: 0
bombs: 0
bondage: 0
blasphemy: 1
Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

I'm not a christian. I'm not a big fan of organized religions at all, and I harbor more than a little scorn for all the variations of abrahamaic religions. Obviously I started this book with the expectation that I wouldn't like it, but I wanted to try something different just for the visceral reaction. I'm so jaded on horror and gore these days, I figured a treatise on the nature of divinity and the christian god's role towards humanity would get the ol' ticker racing in self-righteous indignation.

That didn't happen. What I found was Interview with a Fallen Cherubim. Following nearly the same formula as Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire, (Anne is even mentioned by name early in the book) the book is a narration of cherry-picked interpretations of parts the judo-christian tradition as a metaphor for a human writer who gets involved in a plot much older and bigger than he thinks it is and learns to think of himself as a small piece of a bigger puzzle by the end of the story. Just to put the tone of this book into perspective, our human narrator is named Clay - and Lucien (formerly of Elohim's heavenly host and lately of Lucifer's fallen legion) never passes up a chance to refer to humans as "mud people" in reference to Elohim's creation of the first person. The author set some very ambitious goals for this book, and while I don't think they were all achieved, she gives most them a good run for the money.

This book could have easily slipped down the long and steep slope into shrill proselytization, and while I think the author presented a disappointingly limited argument for her position, she did not sound preachy. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of theologians from judaism, christianity and islam all making comfortable livings out of interpreting the surviving texts of their religions. This book (thankfully) doesn't try to repeat all their work nor (disappointingly) reframe the connotations around "soul", "choice", "goodness", "evil" or "redemption". Our narrator, staged as a contemporary everyman who vaguely believes in the christian mythos simply because he never bothered to put any critical thought into his upbringing goes through the typical crisis-of-faith, is tested a la Job, goes through his "oh poor me" phase and comes out on the other side full of compassion and acceptance. Yeah, I couldn't have seen that coming either <*snerk*>.

I think Lucien was portrayed with a depth and sensitivity I did not expect from a christian author who is so forthright in her aims for the book, and that effort deserves applause. Unfortunately, while great pains are taken to explain the angelic experience as being entirely beyond humanities experience of space and time, Lucien's motivations are entirely human and petty. The anthropomorphication of the demon was so painfully obvious throughout the book that the attempts to show Clay freaking out when his worldview unravels seemed forced and unrealistic. Lucien's folk look upon humans the way humans look at mice - interesting, fragile, tiny creatures with tiny little lives spent running around in tiny little mazes and making even tinier babies. I never felt like Clay (and by extension myself) were scaled to mouse size next to Lucien. Lucifer and Lucien's motivations for interfering with humans since the first day in Eden were so pedestrian I couldn't take him seriously. As mighty as the host and legion are purported to be, I was expecting some deeper motivations to be explored - especially around the nature of time, space and free will.

I tried a few edits of this review to slide this observation in, but I'm not able to do so gracefully. So here's a whole new paragraph that covers my biggest problem with this book. While Lucien is able to recall the history of his kind, before during and after the fall, through the creation of mankind and the birth of the christian messiah and on towards contemporary times, the little incident between Gabriel and Muhammad during the seventh century CE never came up. This glaring omission from the history of the abrahamaic tradition completely ruined the book for me as any kind of thoughtful tract. There were two specific places I thought Muhammad was especially relevant, but I guess the author doesn't consider the koran to be important enough to bring into her world. Even when it would be entirely appropriate and the omission is glaring.

There's a minor subplot around Lucien and Clay being stalked by agents of both the heavenly host and the infernal legions, but that part of the plot never fully realized itself and nothing came of it. One wonders if those are the remnants left from a major culling of a whole layer of the book, or if those were artificially introduced to create more words that weren't specifically Lucien trying to explain something to Clay. Either way, I felt it didn't add to any part of the book that I was interested in. If, however, that subplot had been expanded, it could have elevated my rating from "ho-hum" to "exciting".

Make no mistake, this is not a "horror" book. This is contemporary christian fiction. If you're looking for a story about demons walking around in present-day Boston and wrecking havoc until someone comes along to save the day by banishing them back to hell you'll want to avoid this. It is, however, a better-than-most story of redemption and salvation, thoroughly wrapped inside late 20th century christian tropes. There are no points of view or ideas about humans and our role in the world that haven't been covered in detail in a million other stories, but the vocabulary, pacing and cadence are excellent and it did put me in a position to exercise my critical-thinking brain muscle.

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.