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Books: Brimstone by the Numbers

2 minute read
R.Z. Sheppard

THE EXORCIST by William Peter Blatty. 340 pages. Harper & Row. $6.95.

Among other things, the devil is a sexist pig. Even a cursory look through the literature of demonology discloses that he often negotiates with men but rudely possesses women. The Exorcist is about the possession of a young female, but it has nothing to do with literature. It is a pretentious, tasteless, abominably written, redundant pastiche of superficial theology, comic-book psychology, Grade C movie dialogue and Grade Z scatology. In short, The Exorcist will be a bestseller and almost certainly a drive-in movie.

It is unquestionably graphic enough. Regan MacNeil, the twelve-year-old daughter of a movie actress, begins to act peculiar. She urinates on the living room rug in front of company. She uses a crucifix as a dildo. She grows incredibly strong and becomes the prime suspect in the brute-force slaying of a lovable drunken movie director. Her schoolwork suffers.

The family physician bucks the case to a psychosomaticist, who flounders in jargon. It takes a young Jesuit psychiatrist-priest, equally familiar with the uses of Librium and prayer, to understand that Regan suffers from old-fashioned possession by the devil. Sometimes known as Captain Howdy, he speaks through Regan’s mouth, fills her room with his bad breath and levitates furniture. Lacking any of the stature of his medieval forms or any of the wit of his 19th and 20th century literary incarnations, this devil seems little more than a pathetic old pedophiliac clinging to the mere body of a pubescent girl as if she were a rent-controlled apartment. Whether the book is capable of standing a reader’s hair on end will depend pretty much on whether he still insists on sleeping with a light on or not.

∎ R.Z. Sheppard

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