I met Paul Dail during the Halloween Hop. I visited nearly a hundred blogs over the course of that blog hop, but it was Paul’s site that resonated with me. He’s a kindred horror writing indie, but more than that, he is a genuinely engaged human being. If you comment on his blog, you’ll get a response from him; if you post something of value on your blog, he’ll be sure to share it with his readers; if you send him an email to ask about something as banal as Twitter, he’ll write back with sincere suggestions. He’s a good guy, who’s written a really good book, THE IMAGININGS. Here are my thoughts on this, his debut novel.
Note: there is a very slight spoiler in the second to last paragraph.
Paul Dail’s novel, The Imaginings, opens with a suicide. The deceased’s brother, David, comes to clean up the apartment and finds a note tucked in amongst turned food in the refrigerator. It is a short letter, cryptic: “never disregard your imaginings.”
The note is David’s first indication that something out of the ordinary drove his brother to suicide. Unlike the reader, David has no idea that he is targeted by the same demon that tormented his brother. Dail quickly dispels David’s ignorance. Prior to the cataclysmic fire that launches the primary action, the demon taunts David by speaking through an unplugged television. Rather than whimpering in fear or running, David asks, “Why us? What did we do that was so wrong?” The demon Mashart answers, “That’s just it, boy… You haven’t really done anything.” Since David hasn’t done anything, there is no way he can undo or repent for an offense. David is, essentially, trapped.
David isn’t the only character who is trapped. Dail revisits this theme in many guises. One character is kept in something of a modern day orphanage, locked in after dark. Other characters work underground in a series of tunnels closed off by more than one door. With a hat tip to Poe, Dail even literally walls one character into a confined space. Through Mashart, we visit Hell. There the damned- and, it seems, some innocents unjustly stolen by Mashart – are tortured for what “…amounted to at least a century before …[they] dissolve into the frozen flesh of the Dark Lord for eternity.” The unrelenting claustrophobia experienced by another character crystallizes the horror of horror of being imprisoned and, and Dail hits his stride in the scenes involving that character.
Dail combines psychological anxiety and good, old-fashioned scary. There are plenty of dark, creepy moments. Even better, there is the chance that no one is who they seem to be because Dail has redefined the way demonic possession ‘works’. Mashart doesn’t settle into just one character Exorcist-style; no, he flows from character to character. Mashart has compelling reasons to return to David, but the demon isn’t picky: he’ll hop a ride in a handy real estate agent if it serves his purposes.
Like all good horror, The Imaginings lends itself to serious discussion about human nature. For example, the battle between David and Mashart for control of David’s ravaged body is a chilling reminder that our flesh can host evil. In Rosemary’s Baby, evil gestates, but in The Imaginings, evil is fully formed. Mashart is out ‘there’ but it can also be in ‘here’, within you, noticeable only when it wants you to know it is there. Mashart uses David’s body as an implement of torture and death, allowing Dail to imply some pretty weighty questions: Is morality tied to the flesh, or to the soul? Can our bodies do evil, and our souls remain innocent? Are good and evil quantifiable and, if so, can the balance between the two be upset?
My primary gripe is with the ending. The description of Mashart leaving David’s body is exceptionally well-executed, and the spiritual climax is both surprising and fitting. However, the satisfying sense of completion it should have effected is diluted by sheer excess. A pivotal scene is repeated from different perspectives, and the repetition slowed the action. Dail can count himself in good company, though; I have the same gripe about Dostoyevsky’s epilog to Crime and Punishment.
Spiritualists, horror aficionados, and inquirers into human nature will all find something in Dail’s book to delight – and ignite – their imaginings!