Some time back I did a Google search on something like “best novels about possession,” like one does. I was in the midst of writing Nightmares with the Bible at the time. One of the titles that came up was Sara Gran’s Come Closer. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I started to look out for it. I finally found and read a copy. It is a page-turner. A first-person narrative, it is a story about how a woman became possessed and how her life changed because of it. Creepy and moody, it isn’t your typical Exorcist-type story. What it highlighted for me (I don’t want to give too many spoilers) is the dilemma of those who a) live in an era when such things are routinely dismissed, and b) who have no religious background on which to fall.
While there are some quasi-religious characters in the story, there are no priests. There’s no Catholic Church with its reassuring, if disturbing ritual. Nobody seems to know how to handle a powerful demon. One of the features that fuels exorcism movies (and presumably many novels on the subject) is the uncertainty of success. Will there be deliverance or not? I’m not going to tell you the answer here for Gran’s novel, in keeping with the spirit of the genre, but the dilemma of where to turn is believably laid out. Amanda, a well-employed professional, lives without religion. She acknowledges that strange things happen, but when she gets an inkling that a demon is after her, she doesn’t know where to turn. As the story builds the loss of personal control is convincingly portrayed. What do you do without the church?
I often ponder the particular power of The Exorcist narrative. The threat to a young woman (as I discuss in Nightmares) is part of the key. Another is the knowledge that the Catholic Church has packed away a powerful ritual that is only brought out in what are clearly extreme circumstances. Like Amanda, the MacNeils aren’t church-going individuals. The difference is that they live near Georgetown University where help may be found. Unveiling this ancient rite was perhaps the greatest brilliance behind the story. We live in a different age, however. Simultaneously both more religious and more secular. With the old certainties now under question, people wonder what they are to do when the impossible happens. That is the driving pathos behind Come Closer. It is a scary story on many levels.