ebook ∣ A Novel
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At thirty-three years of age Johanna Morgan has life under control, or so it seems. A bright and energetic New York magazine writer, Johanna is about to marry successful attorney David Agar, about to write her first novel, about to round a familiar corner and walk off a cliff.
In Francine Pascal's chilling psychological thriller, we are welcomed into an utterly reasonable existence in a totally familiar world. All the small events that form the pattern of Johanna's days—the loving moments with David, her warm friendships, the weekly poker games, the checks from her publishers—bespeak safety, security, sanity.
Should we be concerned then when Johanna decides to base her novel on the life of the hippie cult leader, mass murder Avrum Maheely? And if Avrum personifies evil in its purest form, why does she find him so fascinating—so irresistible?
Johanna's cool professionalism begins to slip away as she leaves the safe terrain of Manhattan and begins exploring Maheely's jungle. She speaks to Maheely's followers both in and out of jail, and subtly, compellingly, she is drawn into that sinister netherworld inhabiting by his family. The twisted psyches she re-creates for her novel come to life, and once alive, they beckon Johanna to come and join them in their world.
Maheely himself is the greatest magnet—a dark sexual force drawing Johanna from David's embrace into a world with no familiar patterns. Confused, frightened, she writes on, page after page, day after day, finding herself racing toward a bizarre confrontation with Maheely, with his fanatical followers, with...herself.
Save Johanna—but is there time?
Review from Los Angeles Times:
..."A book within a book as Pascal's Johanna tells her story and writes her novel for us in alternating sections. An ambitious attempt to deal with the mystery of mass murder and mass mesmerizing, a story with elements from Jonestown to the Manson family to the abduction of Patty Hearst to the various cults claiming blind faith from bewildered young people.
Johanna Morgan tells us, right away, how fortunate she is—to be blessed with good taste, obvious beauty, rare intelligence, loyal friends and a man worth marrying. She even seems to enjoy her medications, 'Valium to relieve the anxieties of a single 33-year-old woman beset by hypochondria and the assorted dreads and fears of contemporary urban life; Maalox for the more mundane ailments; and a salve for an allergy rash that is almost certainly psychosomatic but itches maddeningly all the same. All the trappings of a perfectly normal, happy, healthy, successful writer.'
...I underestimated the novelist. She knew better than her character and it's always good to watch that other kind of control, exercised by the author who's ready to let her narrator make horrendous mistakes right before the reader's eyes. Johanna's mistake is her novel, a fiction-to-be-about cult conductor Avrum Maheely, a man who murdered several young people with ghoulish rites and ritual incantations. Maheely was a real figure in Johanna's life, she had written a magazine article about him after his trial. Now she would use the novel form to explore myth, madness, monstrosity. And she would interview former members of the Maheel clan to better understand the man's power- to perform evil, to persuade people.
The end is bloody ugly, blood and ugly. Pascal has managed to make a book believable as a mesmerizing agent. We have met actors in fiction who go mad even as they project characters. We have met mad medical men in fiction who transform themselves from...