Review: “The Exorcism of Sara May,” Joe Hart

Pros: Loved the plot and characters
Cons: One character barely missed being a deus ex machina
Rating: 4 out of 5

Joe Hart’s The Exorcism of Sara May takes place in 1936, in a tiny little farming town out in the middle of nowhere. Our narrator, Lane David Murphy, is 14 years old and the son of the veterinarian. His father gets a call in the middle of the night, and Lane accompanies him to a farm where a goat seems to be having a particularly difficult delivery. The baby goat has two heads, but it stood up and lunged at its mother, taking two large bites out of her–something that it shouldn’t have yet had enough teeth for. When his father goes inside to talk with the farmer (after killing the baby by shooting it in both foreheads), Lane is left to toss the carcass out behind the barn for the coyotes. The little goat lifts its heads up and hisses, “sssoooon”. Then it collapses, and Lane forces himself to deal with the carcass. This is the start of a series of strange and terrible events that lead up to an exorcism.

 

I really like the characters in this book. In particular I enjoyed the interactions between Lane and his father. His father catches a glimpse of something that was chasing Lane shortly after the goat incident–and because he saw that thing, and even shot at it, he’s able to listen and believe as Lane tells him about each new strange event. Eventually Lane’s best friend Jones also sees one of the mysterious events. For once we don’t have the stereotype of the person who can’t tell anyone about anything lest he be thought insane–he actually has a couple of people who trust his observations. Lane is also in love with a local girl, Sara May, whose father hires Lane and Jones to help dig stumps out of his new field. As the dark and dangerous events ramp up, Lane’s father goes off to find an exorcist. Instead of a priest, he comes back with a woman named Catherine Abercrombie. Catherine wants Lane at the exorcism because he cares about Sara and she seems to care for him, so it’ll make things easier. For a horror novella, this tale actually packs in a fast-paced thrill ride that somehow manages to establish so much personality in his mixed group of locals.

Catherine seems to show up out of nowhere and things move even faster after she arrives. Some of the odd language she speaks feels a little silly. Ultimately I liked her, though. The exorcism is extremely difficult, and it has repercussions. I’m trying not to say too much about it, because there are some great things I don’t want to spoil for you.

I have a strong taste for horror novellas right now, and I think this one compares favorably to many of the ones I’ve read recently. I’ll have to look for more stories by Joe Hart.

 

Totally random extra: There’s a great SMBC comic about bird auguries and what various types of bird mean. After sharing that with a friend, we had the following conversation:

Friend: “Wonder what bird is the augury for Monday?”
Me: “I’m pretty sure the Monday bird would be some sort of buzzard.”
Her: “Turkey buzzard, perhaps?”
Me: “There was an evil turkey buzzard in the last book I read.”

Yes, that was this book I was referring to.

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