Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Grave's End by Elaine Mercado

Maaaaaan, I hate these conversations.

So you tell people you're a horror writer and they're all like, "Do you believe in ghosts?" and internally you're all like "Do you ask fantasy fans if they believe in elves?" (but then you catch yourself in a contradiction because you've met some fantasy people who really really really believe in elves and you just want to ask them if high school was really that bad) but you're all polite and deferential and you say "well, I don't actually believe in ghosts but they make good stories" and then someone who's been waiting to pounce on the conversation the way Hobbes pounces on Calvin when he comes home from school butts in and says "Well I saw a thing one time and felt a presence one time and my dad died but I knew he was there and we lived in a haunted house as a kid and I lost my virginity to an Inuit spirit named Pridefoot" and they look at you with a hint of defiance and challenge in their eyes because if you say you don't believe them then you're calling them a liar or crazy to their face and you're challenging something special they experienced that has subtext of mortality, which is the biggest scariest thing of all beyond turning out like your parents and you say something evasive and inadvertently but unavoidably condescending like "Well, I believe YOU believe that you saw something" and there's a rift in the conversation because they're saying something completely fantastic and they can't back it up and you just can't buy it so you go back to safer conversation topics like why the Tea Party are a bunch of uneducated old fart hypocrites for raising cain about the Occupy Wall Street crowd and why the Catholic Church no longer has any right to claim any sort of moral authority because of of institutionalized practices stretching over decades covering up the abuse of children in their care and you know you're a) not getting laid that night, b) no one is going to invite you back, c) you're not allowed to have any more G&Ts and you're stuck drinking from the Miller High Life like you're a 15 year old and d) you are somehow the dickhead because people, even snotty rational atheists like you, need something irrational to believe in and all you've done is piss in everyone's Ovaltine at the party by pointing out the obvious, which is that you're making some damn fantastic claims and that witness testimony is super subjective and people who have certain personality types are more likely to see fantastical explanations to things and confirmation bias is a thing and our minds release chemicals when we confirm our suppositions and that has a narcotic effect and blah blah blah.

Good for you.

I believe that Elaine Mercado believes something was inhabiting her home in Grave's End.

I believe that Elaine Mercado admits in her book that she's prone to panic attacks and night terrors and things like that. I believe her when she reports that her husband and children report very different views on what she experiences, specifically that they are either skeptical at points or believe that the presence in her home is benevolent which makes me wonder about whether or not her tendency to feeling anxiety might be more fine tuned than the people around her. I believe that she discussed her failing marriage and her children maturing in a way that would lead me to believe that there was a lot of turmoil in her life and that might influence her perception of events. I believe that she has religious beliefs that are not necessarily at odds with belief in spirits haunting her home and one thing can feed the other. I believe that she chronicled what appeared to me to be a series of minor events over the course of ten-plus years that could easily be interpreted in a variety of ways over that time. And, not to kick too hard, I believe that a woman who appears on paranormal shows and pursues work as a clinical hypnotherapist, which is a heavily debunked field, might have a variety of reasons to tell this story this way.

And, given that paranormal expert Hans Holzer is the one who pushed the bullshit Indian burial ground story in the Amityville haunting forward, I have to say my skeptic's alarm kept going off.

But, if I were to meet her in a party or meet someone who held her beliefs, I would probably say "I believe YOU believe it's true."

And then I'd change the subject. Man, I'm a firm believer in gay rights. How about you, fundie weirdo?

As far as paranormal things go, it's a pretty good story. Mercado is a good writer. I felt a lot of sympathy for what she was going through. The whole thing doesn't reek of opportunistic profiteering that The Amityville Horror did, and it's a pretty damned good story of a middle aged woman trying to start over. Little balls of light and trapped miners don't mean much to me, but this woman getting out of a bad marriage, beginning a new career, and raising kids meant a lot more. I kinda barreled over her perception of experiences in my previous little tirade but I was totally on her side through the challenges in her life. She seems like a smart, sensitive, caring woman. She and I share different belief systems, but she seems like a cool woman.

In fact, I will say this about the book. When she's talking about ghosts, I kinda blinked out. When she talks about herself, I was completely engaged. I rocketed through it in a couple days of erratic reading.

It was a good story.

Gentle reader, you can probably assume that this is another assigned reading for my ghost story class. It is.

I know you're reading this, Professor Scott.

When I read the syllabus and saw we were doing "true haunting" books, my alarm bells went off. I know you're a paranormal investigator and I've seen you tell a mean true-life ghost story. I was worried that my opinionated dickhead skepticism was going to flare up and you were going to flunk me or go all kajukenbo on my ass. In the back of my head, I was all "man, we're a literature class, what are we doing reading a bunch of pseudoscience?"

I did learn a lot from it. I learned how believers expect these stories to be structured, how belief reflects what we see, and how our funny little minds work when we're frightened in our homes, how much chaos rests in the center of our spirits. It was an interesting read.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm taking Pridefoot out on a date tonight. She called me last week on a ouija board and I think it could work this time. We're gonna see Paranormal Activity. Please don't kick my ass at the next residency.


Chris V said...

Interesting analysis. I especially like how you mentioned all the trials and tribulations Elaine went through as a person (versus the supernatural activities in her house). I have the feeling that's another reason why this allegedly true story felt real to me. Elaine drew herself as a very well-fleshed out, interesting person who you wanted to root for and who had "character growth" to achieve, so to speak. I personally never felt that way about George Lutz and his family in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR.

Jennifer Loring said...

I actually felt sorry for Elaine, for reasons I'll delve into in my blog post. (I have to admit, her borderline-obsessive relationship with her daughters creeped me out on a personal level, and influenced much of what I wrote.) A lot of what she experienced can be explained from a psychological perspective. I think that, in a way, she almost *needed* her house to be haunted. Anyway, good post as usual!

Cynthia Tara Ferguson said...


You never fail to entertain, opinions and all. :) I got the sense that Elaine believed her story, and I also felt like some of it was embellished for effect...to make it more than it was. But her editor is to be commended and I think Elaine did a good job putting together something very retrospectively. A book written years later after the fact is going to have some distortion. It was unclear if she kept a 'real time' diary during this time period, but that being said, memory is a tricky thing. Even among a group of people. Enjoyed your post, and after you see Paranormal Activity, take a gander at PA 2 and the new PA 3 for fun! ;)

Creature said...

Aw dammit Jenn! Your angle on her needing the place to be haunted is friggin' brilliant!

Thanks for the kind comments, all.

Chris Shearer said...

You need to come up for air in that first paragraph. Wow! I believed her, but that's me.

Creature said...

Yeah, I was going for a full stream of consciousness babble.

The "I Believe" bit is from The Book of Mormon musical. The song is hi-LARIOUS!

Tanya said...

I agree with you... she believed something was there. I don't. I like your point about it being a manifestation of a hysteria-prone personality. I also thought the fact that she is a hypnotherapist was a little hinky. Tells me she may also be someone easily duped by pseudoscience.

I think this is reflected in her weakness as a person. I have little patience for weak women who have to "run to a man" for help/strength/courage/security. I have little patience for people who endure years and years of discomfort and abuse(whether in a "haunted" house or a bad marriage) rather than take action to make their lives better. Maybe it's the difference in our ages and generations (I think she is about 20 years older than me), but she is the stereotype by which my generation of women has been judged.

I like what you said at the end, though, about learning what the reader in this genre expects. As a fellow skeptic (who would never pick up a book like this unless for a class), I previously would have had no idea how to write this type of book if I needed to for some odd reason. Now I have an idea.

A said...

Joe, I like how you mentioned you were more engaged when she talked about herself moreso than when she mentioned the ghosts/hauntings that went on at home. I think that I was more the other way - I liked when she talked about her house more. Nonetheless, I think that the weaving of her life and the hauntings went together well and created a story in which we felt sympathy for her and her family because of this technique. We got to see how the house was affecting her not only at home, but also outside of her home and that made it a great story. Nice post!

elaine mercado said...

It is so interesting to me that people are still talking about my book, Grave's End. I'd like to thank you for your opinions, although I don't agree with all of them. All these years later, I am still a skeptic, still fascinated by what we went through in that house so long ago. I have often regretted mixing my marital woes with the haunting, but I was telling the truth, and part of that truth was the uncomfortableness of that relationship and how it might have influenced everything else. All in all, I am glad I got that book out there and the reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, with many more "thank you" responses than I could have ever imagined.
To answer some of the comments on this page, I see no reason to think I must have wanted or needed to have our home be haunted - perhaps, following that thinking, we all needed the same thing. Also, my daughteres are grown, in relationships with good men, and quite happy. We do not have a 'borderline obsessive' relationship. But if your readers are going to go the psychological route, perhaps we remain a rather close bunch because we had a common nemsis to deal with. Not the best of circumstances, for sure, but one that was not hidden, often spoken about and dealt with both in therapy and in our everyday lives. The experience of that house remains with all of us, and most of us remain, like myself, quite skeptical of our joint experiences. Again, thank you (and your readers) for reading and commenting on Grave's End. Even negative comments can prove educational, and are appreciated, and positive ones still make me smile.
Thanks again. Elaine Mercado