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April 18, 2018

Horror Edition: Jack Sparks and Head Full of Ghosts

by Alison DeLuca

I have a full-blown addiction to horror novels. In the movie theater I’m the baby who watches through her fingers and cries at the scary parts, but when it comes to reading I’m all about the scares
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Some of the best novels I’ve read have been the creepiest: I still remember nightmares from reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Once I house-sat a deserted farmhouse, decided to read Salem’s Lot, and didn’t sleep the entire time.

front cover of Dracula, original edition
image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Horror is incredibly tricky to write. The author wants to evoke a specific reaction, a really difficult feat that few can accomplish well. The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp and Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay are two triumphs of horror, creating a creeping atmosphere in full daylight that takes over the fascinating plots.

front cover of The Last Days of Jack Sparks

The novels are strikingly similar, although they are also original. Jack Sparks is about a man who investigates an exorcism, laughs at the wrong moment, and is haunted by the demon from that point on. Or is he? Jack Sparks, the MC, has been haunted by a childhood incident involving his brother.
Arnopp lets us wander through the novel, delving deeper into Sparks’ psyche. He’s a complete anti-hero, someone you’d hate if you met him. The book is written as an incomplete manuscript by Sparks himself, detailing through text and phone transcripts what has happened to him. As I read, my hatred and sympathy for Sparks grew, which is quite an amazing writer’s feat.

Head Full of Ghosts is also about an exorcism - this one involving two girls. Merry's father has lost his job, her sister Marjorie exhibits frightening episodes, and the entire affair winds up on a reality show as Marjorie goes through the Catholic rite.

front cover of Head Full of Ghosts

Like Jack Sparks, Marjorie evokes body-horror and sympathy. Both books detail exorcism in new ways, beyond Blatty book and film that were so popular in the 70's.

Here's the amazing part: in both novels, the exorcisms are the least scary parts, and they're both pretty horrifying. As I read The Last Days of Jack Sparks and Head Full of Ghosts, I become aware of creeping plot-points that made me say 'No no no no.' Both books served up surprise endings that extend the fear beyond the novels themselves, making the characters spring to life.

They're train wrecks, and you can't look away. In fact, you're on the rails with those characters, knowing what's about to happen and powerless to stop it.

If you enjoy horror and, like me, are too much of a wimp to watch scary movies, I highly recommend both books. They're fascinating, well-written, and truly terrifying.

Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.
Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

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