Friday, November 4, 2011

"Mamma, do angels..." (Missy. The Amityville Horror (1977) by Jay Anson)

A Review of "The Amityville Horror"

     I'd seen the movie, and I was hoping for an interesting read as I picked up this novel and started reading through the pages.  The novel, I thought, was supposed to be fiction. It wasn't until after I completed reading it that I found out the controversy behind it. Reflecting on it, whether intended or not, the controversy was genius. The story was touted by the author, and by George and Kathy Lutz. to be true.  And although the accounts in the novel are lauded as a hoax for various reasons, both George and Kathy maintained they were true, and passed a polygraph to the fact.

     Am I convinced one way or another? No. Do I believe everything happened that was written in the book? No.  Is some of it plausible? I believe so. Yes. And it is from this starting point that I will discuss my opinion of the novel.

     In most novels I read, when I'm in critiquing mode, I read from two basic vantage points.  The first reader in me looks at 'structure' of the manuscript. Entrance into the story, design of the story, and things like tense, grammar, focus, etc.

     The second reader in me wants to be entertained.  And I ask myself as I'm reading, "Is this story enjoyable? Do I like the pictures, sounds, smells, touches that the prose invokes (or not)?"  So in essence, one vantage point is very technical/objective and one is very visceral/subjective.

     The story began with a prologue, which I felt could have been cut completely. I didn't find it interesting. The first chapter of the book was written in a very 'telling' mode. There was no real action, and the author used the entire first chapter to provide the reader with backstory. (I would like to add here that on my paperback copy, this story is still listed as "non-fiction.")  I kept thinking while I read the beginning of this story that the prose read like a newspaper account. It was lackluster. Dull. In addition, the wording and the overall descriptions were bare bones plain. Almost parochial. Nothing in the paragraphs 'wow'd' me.

     Throughout the novel, I also noted a lot of passive voice and 'tense' changes from active present to passive past, which was jarring and extremely inconsistent.  

 (Arwork by RionaSL @

     What I did enjoy in the story were the changes back and forth between characters.  George, Kathy, Father Mancuso and the Detective all had different points of view, which broke the tale up and made it more interesting to read. Still, I noticed there was very little conversation/dialogue in the paragraphs, and a ton of 'telling'/'reporting' that seemed to go on instead weaving an enjoyable story.  The narrative method made for a different sound and pace than I was used to.  I can't say it was totally unlikable.  I can only say it was okay.

      The descriptions of the paranormal experiences that occurred at the house were an odd mix of every paranormal encounter I'd ever heard described, plus some demonology and some typical ghost haunting descriptions thrown in for good measure.  It was an odd menagerie of things that incorporated cliche' paranormal accounts with bizarre descriptions such as the demon eyed pig.   

     Because I thought the novel was a work of fiction at first (I hadn't noticed the non-fiction label or heard about the hoax yet),  I took accepted the story as part of the writer's creative mind, and went with the flow.  Red pig eyes, red rooms that caused a person to puke, ceramic lions baring their teeth, flies in winter in the sewing room mind went "Okay, that's interesting..." and I moved on.

     Overall, I can't say I hated this book. But I can't say I really liked it either.  In present day terms it was "meh." I investigated Jay Anson's background (deceased) and found that he'd primarily done documentaries in his career.  He wrote only one other novel after Amityville, which was a fiction piece titled "666."  I'm not sure if I would read it or not. Reviews of the book say it is a similar story to Amityville only definitely labeled as fiction this time.  Other reviewers praise the novel and say they loved every minute of it, but they also loved Amityville, so it's still hard to say if I'd bother picking it up.  Perhaps if it were in front of me, and it was a rainy day, and there were no other reading materials in the house.

     One thing bothers me about this book, and the origin of the story.  I find myself wondering why the town of Amityville doesn't embrace the effects of the ghostly tale, and expound upon the tourist business the house could have brought in. I wonder why the owners didn't choose to open it up for paying tours now and then, and embellish the 'legend' of Amityville for an economic advantage. Something in me finds the idea that the extra traffic bothering people in the neighborhood, and the reluctance of the Historical Society to discuss the topic, a bit odd. We ARE in America, where almost every red blooded American who can capitalize on sensationalism, tourism, (and lots of other isms), DOES.  And yet, not this community. Why? It's a question that naggles at me even now, and perhaps I may have to travel to there one day to find out.


(Artwork found on  by elizom.)