I received this book in a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange – as I’d like to think – for an honest review. I was intrigued by the concept of the novel – the horror, the conflict of the spiritual and the religious, the coming of age of a young child exploring a new, hidden world. I went into this book with an open mind, quickly though, I realized it was going to be a toughy.
Disappointingly, the back of the novel doesn’t provide much of a summary, so here is mine.
The novel opens with Tommy, the eight-year-old protagonist, who is woken by a spirit named Thomas. While still in bed, they have an extensive discussion about Tommy’s ability to see the dead and what this means. Tommy’s mother, Catherine, receives a phone call from the boy’s long-lost father, Gregory, who tells her that he is dying. Even though he doesn’t know that he has a son, Gregory insists on meeting the boy once Catherine tells him that he exists. Due to their abrupt separation, Catherine is hesitant to let the two see each other but submits and they make a date for the same day.
During the meeting, the deathly sick Gregory reveals that he wants to take Tommy’s blood. Catherine is hysterical. A scuffle ensues, and as Gregory grabs Tommy, the boy’s special powers briefly exercise the smoky demon that lived inside the man, one that only Tommy could see. Catherine and Tommy escape, planning to run to Grandma Dorothy’s house. On their way there Catherine stops for a drink at a bar, then crashes promptly afterwards.
Tommy is unscathed while Catherine is put into rehab for an anti-hallucinogenic drug that she had been taking to suppress her own gift of seeing ghosts. To cure what ails her, a new doctor promises more happiness in a bottle in a form of a new “miracle” drug. Switching one addiction for another.
This is really as far as I got, which is almost exactly half of the book. Even though I did not finish Purging Purgatory, I believe I got a fair gist of the plot and the writing.
The first issue I had with the novel is the style. It’s clipped and repetitive. The dialogue is generally weak and a lot of it is expository. Even while alone characters constantly talk to themselves, either in reflection or in recollection of the past. Everyone is overly polite to one another as they never forget to say hello, goodbye or thank you, which becomes incredibly tedious. All of the characters are written in the same voice, even the eight-year-old Tommy, who sounds and acts much younger than he is described to be.
This book is a perfect example of telling rather than showing. There is a lot of unnecessary description that adds very little to characterization or the atmosphere. Many passages are structured similarly to this fragment:
There was a knock at the front door.
Everyone looked at the front door.
Catherine walked calmly to the front door.
There stood Father Charles standing in the doorway.
Ughh. I’m tired already.
As for the plot, Purging Purgatory did not feel like a ghost story. A supernatural drama? Maybe. A story of people fighting their demons, both real and imagined? Yes. But when I think ghost story, I think horror or thriller, and what you get is a Christian sitcom. There is little to no suspense, not a lot of action, and the scariest monster that we get are smoke consumed ghosts. Oh, and a child molesting priest. He’s the antagonist of course, and yet he hardly participates in the action apart from scowling and acting like a grumpy old man.
This book needed a serious editor and several more passes to be improved. If the characters were fleshed out, the unnecessary ramble taken out, and the horror pumped up, I might have finished the whole thing, but as it stands, Purging Purgatory is just not worth the time.
Oh, and there was a strange nod to The Matrix when Catherine exchanges her “red pill” drug for a “blue pill” drug. Even though I did not finish the novel, I have a slight tingling that I know where it was going (she rediscovers her ghost-seeing powers/rediscovers God once she deals with the death of her brother. Maybe I would have found out if I cared about the characters more.)