When it comes to possession, those pesky demons seem to only have a limited repertoire of tricks. In fact, it’s as though they work through a checklist. My Best Friend’s Exorcism hits all the standard demonic possession tropes: Projectile vomit? Check. Sudden lack of hygiene? Check. Weird sexual behaviors? Check. Change of personality? Check.
Anyone familiar with Hendrix’s previous work, Horrorstör, a terror-infused version of an Ikea catalog, expects there will be some gimmick. Bracketed with the conceit of a high school yearbook, within the pages there are very few non-traditional novel elements. In one chapter, increasingly dire fragments of a food journal effectively ratchets up the dread, but exists mainly in a vacuum.
The protagonists and even the so-called demon vie for the spotlight with Hendrix’s clearly favored character, THE EIGHTIES! Each chapter is named after an 80’s song, stirrup pants and roller skating rinks are in full force, and the “Just Say No!” and War on Drugs rhetoric of the decade loom large in the novel, playing a pivotal role in the interpretation of the unfortunate best friend’s demonic possession. This abnormal fear of drugs influences the “adults” to behave in nonsensical, paradoxical ways, simultaneously dismissing a generally normal character as a drug pusher while ignoring clear signs of disturbance in another. The blase stupidity of every single adult in this book defies belief, even in a book with a demon possession. The only character that seems to behave with a modicum of sense is the possessed girl.
This book had me constantly thinking of A Head Full of Ghosts, to the point I was consistently confusing the authors. Although the source of the possession in each book differs dramatically, as do the themes (drug paranoia vs. mental illness), but it landed me on a specific question regarding possession narratives in general: Why do demons typically possess women?
All of the demonic possession stories seem to share another checkbox in the list in common: Young female victims. Both books and films in general align with this trope. The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Conjuring 2, The Last Exorcism, Paranormal Activity, The Possession, The Devil Inside – all of these star young women as victims of malevolent demons, along with My Best Friend’s Exorcism and A Head Full of Ghosts.
Why? Why female? Most of the suspicions I have are not flattering to women or progressive; the idea that young women are most susceptible to possession, that they are vulnerable, easily invaded, easily controlled, victims in a world hunting for vessels to manipulate. It plays to a patriarchal fear that our young women can be influenced by whatever the devil happens to represent: drugs, sex, feminism, the right to choice, control over her own body, education, trousers.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism doesn’t elevate itself above the cliche, and towards the end it devolves into some treacly sentimentalism regarding FRIENDSHIP, yet it remains a compulsive, nearly single sitting read. For a fun time (+demons).
- The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty was inspired by a case in Maryland, where the reported possessee was a young boy, changed in the novel to a girl.
- Working title: The Girls with all the Demons.
- Another gimmicky conceit that never pans out: scraps of a Seventeen style quiz about best friends. The questions sound genuine, like they were ripped from the pages of a teen magazine, but they don’t illuminate, and don’t devolve into the queasy horror that made Hendrix’s Horrorstör simultaneously hilarious and sickening.