After years of hearing about it, I finally got around to reading Sara Gran’s Come Closer. It’s a short book and a very well written one that moved with an irresistible velocity towards an ending that seemed inevitable from the beginning, though it wasn’t the most satisfying of ends. As with most great fiction, the questions asked are usually more important than the answers given – and Gran leans into this. I couldn’t help but think that I would have found the book more satisfying had I been female or understood women’s concerns better – I kept wondering if the plot was metaphorical for a common female issue that I just was too myopic to perceive. When I was a teen, I was in a writer’s group, and a woman – I guess she was a teen at the time, just like me – wrote this poem titled “Tornado” and I found it vague and lacking imagery. At our weekly meetings, when I gave what feedback I could, she gave me a withering look and never spoke to me again. Years later, after college, I was looking through all the poetry from that time in my life and there was her poem. I read it again and of course, the meaning of it smacked me across the face – she was talking about sexual ecstasy. The big O. And I had been too dense and inexperienced to see it. Some of Gran’s Come Closer made me feel the same way. “Am I too dumb to understand this? Am I too siloed to understand the subtext?” The verdict to that is still out.
So, the story: Amanda thinks she is possessed by a demon. Her personality has changed, her behaviors. Her once comfortable marriage to a bland if solid guy has begun to chafe. It starts with small things – obscene notes to the partners at the architectural firm where she works. Shoplifting. Smoking despite her husband’s wishes, and smoking in their shared living space. (As a former smoker, now going on sixteen years since I’ve had a cigarette, this would have been a deal-breaker for me.) She begins drinking frequently and at odd hours. Blackouts. Infidelity. She dreams of a red sea, and a woman on the shore with matted hair and bad nails that kisses her and won’t let her go.
At some point, she thinks she might be possessed, she buys a book and there’s a checklist. She has a few of the symptoms, but not all, so she goes on about her business. Her life begins to spiral out of control.
There is no twist, though there are quite a few insights into the ways couples work and some wonderful writing. The book’s ending comes with the dissolution of Amanda’s marriage and her incarceration in a psych ward with the demon in control, which kind of subverted my expectations. I had expected the protagonist to come to some sort of truce with the demon and by doing so, become adapted to the modern world and in the end making the book a statement about how female aggressiveness, sexuality, dominance and… in essence, wildness… is vilified and discouraged while it’s so amply encouraged in men. I had expected a message. This was not the case. Or maybe it was and I’m too blind to see. Maybe having me ask that question was message enough.
Still, it’s a great read and short enough to breeze through in one sitting and I think anyone who enjoys demonic possession stories – anyone who enjoyed Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts – will enjoy Come Closer. In many ways, they could be companion novels.
I will be reading more Sara Gran.
That is all.