Monday, September 10, 2012

Everyone Has Problems

Church of Dead Girls was a struggle to get through. The majority of the book could be used as an example for what new writers are taught not to do: the majority of the book is telling, head hopping occurs on numerous occasions, and an overload of names muddles characters up, creating shallow outlines of what they could be. Dobyns can write, and when he gets going, he can suck readers into the story, but then he breaks up the narrative with more bland telling.

Dobyns is a talented writer and tried to achieve something very difficult (illuminating the mentality of an entire town under tragic hardship) in this work; however, in this ambitious attempt, the book suffers.

I read this book as an examination of psychopaths in fiction for class, so when analyzing it, a suitable question I asked was "who is the psychopath?" The initial response would be the murderer (I won't give any spoilers as to whom he or she is), but upon further contemplation, Dobyns wasn't writing a book about a psychopathic serial killer; he was writing a book about how communities respond under stressful situations in psychopathic ways. Under stress, tensions build and eventually explode. Neighbors turn on neighbors as everyone looks to segregate those with differences, such as looks, religion, or philosophy. In doing so, some characters become parasitic, manipulative, superficial, egocentric, and even criminal.

This book could be compared to Lord of the Flies. Consider the monster in Lord of the Flies, how fear creates stress on the tribe of boys, eats away at the society they brought with them to the island. The boys disintegrate and begin murdering each other. Society is a structure humans create to sustain order, but stress is the downfall of that structure. When it collapses, psychopathic tendencies grasp all of us. And I think Church of Dead Girls does a great job of illustrating how everyone harbors some psychopathic characteristics that wait to surface. The narrator is untrustworthy and hints that he might even be the killer when he discusses some of his morbid and voyeuristic fascinations. The narrator hears a lot of gossip, too, which further illustrates how everyone in town has similar tendencies and the need to live vicariously. No one should be trusted, and even if a neighbor isn't a killer, he or she might be just as guilty of having problems.

I loved the ending scene as the murderer is chased through a park and into the woods. By this point, many people in town have purchased guns, and they all run around shooting at anything that moves. This is a climatic demonstration of what humans become when they're terrified. I think it's also a bold statement on gun control: maybe guns serve to protect, but if everyone owns one, the very fear guns are created to protect against is the stress that will wound or even kill innocent people. This book suggests our society is not sane enough to responsibly bear arms. Imagine what would have happened on the island in Lord of the Flies had there been guns amongst the boys.

So, Dobyns attempted to write about the psychoses of a whole town, but in doing so, he resorted to overwhelming readers with characters and telling the majority of the details and backstory, which may have achieved his goal but did so in a way that made this book difficult to get through.


  1. Good post. I hadn't though about the Lord of the Flies comparison, but now that you point it out, it's obvious. The book was a struggle; my battle was aided by Oreos.

  2. Whenever I point the book down and then picked it up later to continue to read I'd forget who was who because of all the characters. It took a while to get them straight in my head. Although, I had the longest struggle with the narrator and Ryan Tavich. I kept thinking they were the same person at times. I didn't see the end as a statement about gun control but about mob mentality and organizational behavior. But, interesting insight on the novel.

  3. Some may think the critque to harsh and attribute the harness to not understanding the intent of the story. I find that dismissive of the facts, all of which you, and others, site as weaknesses in the book. The story was about mass hysteria and bigotry and how people can turn on each other and it was folded into a plot akin to Cain and Abel. The POV could have been written first or intimate third and worked a bit better if the focal character had been accused of the crime and was fighting to prove his innocence. It's been done before because it works. I just didn't care of any of the characters and the ending was predictable and just silly (the narrator steals a hand for his collection). REALLY?