The Homecoming by Andrew Pyper

I love being scared, although I prefer my frights to come from supernatural elements like ghosts, vampires, demons, witches, and the like. Scares that come from real-life terrors like serial killers, home invasions, break-ins, freak me out so badly that I can’t read about them or watch them. It’s just too close to home, pardon the pun. Andrew Pyper is the kind of writer that perfectly expresses both the horror of the supernatural with the eerie “otherness” of human frailty, and he combines them perfectly in this bizarre and creepy read, so even though it ostensibly is about the breaching of one home’s security, it is also about the breaching of our own sense of identity and the concept of what home and security really mean. Which is scary enough to ponder in real life, I might add.

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The Homecoming follows the general trajectory of what you’d expect from a book with this title. Aaron, a surgeon, learns of his father’s recent death and joins his mother and two sisters Bridget and Franny, at the strange estate his father has mandated they must all stay at for 30 days in order to inherit the money in his will. The estate, called Belfountain, is unknown to them all, except it’s not really because Bridget starts remembering being brought there years earlier. So you know some weirdness is going to come at you from left field…………and yuppers, it does!

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They are joined by four other people who claim to be their siblings – you know, the ol’ sister from another mister kind of situation – and they all settle in, trying to come to terms with their father’s “betrayal” of having another entire family, and learning about each new sibling’s odd personal dynamics. And of course, the scary stuff kicks into high gear, including being chased by what appears to be a witch, being stalked by an ax-wielding crazy man, and being cut off from the world against their will. Odd memories start to surface in all of them, and even creepier, they all start to have the same unusual dream about water and being submerged, and you start thinking it’s some kind of supernatural telekinesis. But boy oh boy, it gets so much more messed up than that!

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Pyper is extremely talented at taking traditional horror tropes like demons, vampires, and other such monsters, and cleverly twisting them together with normal human neuroses until you can’t really be sure what the fuck is happening. He did it so well in The Demonologist, one of my favorite books of his, and he does it again here. This book is a twisted combination of Cabin in the Woods, The Haunting of Hill House, and Jordan Peele’s recent creepy-ass film Us, in that it mixes together the ubiquitous isolated house theme with some messed-up family dynamics combined with the whole “strangers who look like us” and turns it into one of the more unnerving books I’ve read lately.

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When Aaron first arrives with his sister Bridget, their mother is already there, taking charge the way any mother might, getting the kids settled in their rooms, feeding them. It’s kind of funny to see these characters trying so hard to hang onto their sense of normalcy and their traditional family roles in the face of such a bizarre situation, but that is likely what any of us would do in similar circumstances. Hold onto our perception of safety and normalcy, until the illusion is torn away and we realize that there really is no safety and no normal in the world.

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By the time we gather around Mom, she’s laid out Tupperware containers of cold roast chicken, broccoli salad, spinach dip. Picnic food. We set to spooning it onto plates, eating as we stand there together, not wanting to return to the unprotected expanse of the dining room’s banquet table. “That shit’ll kill you,” Franny says as I drop a handful of potato chips onto the side of my plate. “And didn’t you used to run four times a week or something? No offense, Aaron, but don’t you think you could lose a few pounds?”

Oh, siblings. Ain’t they just so great?

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Anyway, broccoli salad isn’t something I have made previously, but the idea of a broccoli-chicken salad, despite the negative overtones of church potlucks and picnics from my misspent youth in Catholic school, sounded pretty damn good. And it is Sunday, after all. It’s as close to church as you’re going to get me these days.

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INGREDIENTS
2 heads broccoli, stemmed and cut into florets
6 strips bacon
1 cup mayonnaise
1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 green onions, finely diced
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
4 chicken thighs, poached

METHOD
Blanch the broccoli florets by boiling them for one minute, then submersing in a bowl of ice and cold water. That way, they cook a bit but retain their color. (I hate raw broccoli so for me, this step is necessary but if you like raw broccoli, skip it.)

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While the broccoli is blanching, cook the bacon until crisp, drain on a paper towel, and crumble. Set aside.

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Slice the green onions into small pieces, including the stems, and toss into a large bowl.

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Chop up the toasted walnuts and add to the bowl with the onions.

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Finely chop the poached chicken and add to the green onions, the walnuts and the cooled broccoli.

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Add the mayonnaise and the red wine vinegar to the chicken and onions, and mix together well until everything is nicely coated.

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Sprinkle over the bacon, and taste. This is a savory salad, so if you prefer some sweet contrast, add in some raisins or dried cranberries or perhaps some honey. I personally loathe and despise fruit and chicken together in a salad, so I love it just as it is, nice and salty and savory and full of green flavor. But I’m a salty bitch anyway, so it’s perfect for me.

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The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

Thanks to CHC for the photography!

October winds to a close, and all the spooky, scary things that went bump in the night are on their way out, ushering in the holiday season.

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The supernaturally-themed book that I raced to the October finish line is a new favorite, a little gem of a novel which I’ve already read twice and thoroughly enjoyed. The Demonologist tells the story of a man’s desperate search to save his daughter from the clutches of a demon, or possibly The Devil himself. It’s written in sparse prose that make it all the more frightening to read, both from a psychological viewpoint and from the fear that it might all be true, after all. Hell and demons and all of it.

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I don’t believe in demons, in the sense of little horned creatures running around, wreaking havoc with their pitchforks and offering people deals for their souls. I don’t believe in Hell, in the sense of a place where you burn over a spit for all eternity. What I do believe in is that demonic forces come from that dark, shadow place within all of us. Every light has a dark. There has to be an opposite – otherwise, how would we know what truly is, if there was nothing to compare it to? As far as Hell goes, I don’t think any literary or Biblical hell could match the hell of not being able to escape one’s own thoughts or deeds. I know from dark and painful personal experience that when your mind is in a loop of pain and anger and hurt and frustration and inability to do anything, that is hell right there.

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In The Demonologist, you can feel the main character David’s anguish, his terror, his anger and his frustration from the start. Haunted persistently by what he deems depression since childhood, and what turns out to be far more scary than mere sadness, he is in the midst of a divorce when a mysterious woman supposedly employed by the Catholic Church arrives at his office one afternoon to offer him a trip to Venice to see something unusual. David is, you see, a professor and scholar of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the epic poem about Lucifer’s fall from heaven that presents Hell and all the dominions and demons therein as fairly sympathetic characters. David takes his daughter Tess with him, and before the horror begins, they share a lovely meal overlooking the Venetian canals, in a restaurant very appropriately named for what’s to come.

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“You know what they call this restaurant?” I say. “Il Settimo Cielo. Guess what it means.” “I don’t speak Italian, Dad.” “Seventh Heaven.” “Because it’s on the seventh floor?” “Give the girl a kewpie doll.” “What’s a kewpie doll?” “Never mind.” Lunch arrives. Grilled trout for me, spaghetti alla limone for Tess. We eat ravenously……..

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Having not eaten trout in years, because of lingering trauma from enforced camping and fishing as a child, and being forced to eat trout that still had those aggravating little bones in it  I was leery. But I discovered a recipe for bacon-wrapped grilled trout. Because what, I ask, does bacon NOT make better? This is the super-simple method that worked for me, based on my recent skill in grilling salmon stovetop, and this method from Epicurious.com.

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INGREDIENTS
1 one-pound steelhead trout fillet, cleaned, deboned but with the skin on one side
1 lemon, thinly sliced
Handful of fresh rosemary
7-8 slices of thick-cut, smoked bacon
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

METHOD
Heat a stovetop grill to medium high. Make sure it is well oiled. Place the lemon slices on the top of each fish fillet.

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Put 2-3 rosemary sprigs on top of each lemon-decorated fish piece.

Flatten your bacon slices with the flat of a knife, just to lengthen them a bit and help them cook faster.

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Wrap 2-3 slices of bacon around each piece of lemon-rosemary garnished fish.

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Grill each piece of fish turning frequently, so that the bacon crisps up, but the fish doesn’t burn. You will need to go by eye and nose. At one point, I covered the fish with foil and cooked for a good 10 minutes, just to steam.

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Plate and serve with some roasted lemon-garlic-Parmesan cauliflower, which you will have made earlier in the day, to save yourself hysterics from trying to roast and grill at the same time. Oh, the horror of it all! You can also add some wild rice with flaked almonds, which may soothe the wild beast in your heart.

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The fish is delicious, tender and flaky with the added flavors of lemon and bacon and rosemary creating a savory, tasty, and harmonious dish, which may kick the demons and ghosts in the teeth. Here’s hoping.

Have a safe and fun and happy Halloween!

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