Full disclosure: I’m not a professional book reviewer. Also, the book’s author- Christopher Gronlund- is a friend (he’s everybody’s friend). But I did not let these variables skew my review of Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors, in my opinion. This review, except for the quotes from the book, is 100% my opinion and conjecture.
Premise: A milestone cross-county family trip in a supernatural car is told in flashback form by the now-adult narrator. Evil hijinks and poignant reflection ensue throughout.
Content: The novella Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors is a cross between the movie “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” and the TV series “The Wonder Years.” It also has a generous dose of the movie “Christine.” It’s a coming-of-age horror-adventure tale with a touch of metafiction. Michael- the narrator, and the only seemingly sane character, longs for normalcy and harmony within his family. He hopes a trip from New Jersey to the Grand Canyon will do the trick. Along the way, his surprisingly malevolent twin siblings and his mother’s evil dog try to kill him. But there’s more. The family station wagon tries to kill him too. Turns out it’s possessed!
Style: Gronlund doesn’t shy away from exclamation marks! He peppers them throughout the story! I like that! I saw a record 24 in a row at the end of a single sentence of dialogue! I don’t know what’s weirder- that he put them there, or that I counted them all! But it fits with the over-the-top theme of the story. “Hell Comes” is an in-your-face freak fest of the campiest and kitschiest of roadside attractions, and the characters they attract.
Merit: This e-book would appeal to fans of YA, and fans of Americana. It would be a fitting ride-along to wind down nightly hotel or campground stays during family road trips. Gronlund’s attention to novel mechanics is solid. The characters are well-developed and vivid. At times, the action wanders into “fantasy genre” territory, but the wanderlust works with the overall theme.
Selected scenes with quotes:
The station wagon begrudgingly melts the base of a tacky plastic Virgin Mary figurine into its dashboard. An unholy journey begins:
“Even though I was an atheist, I felt more at ease staring at the figurine.”
Michael describes how his parents first met:
“ . . Dad’s stomach was filled with an emptiness only the mismatched insides of slaughtered cattle and swine could fill—so he stopped for a hotdog.”
. . and reflects on his parents, religion, and atheism:
“The thought of marrying someone like my mother made me consider joining the priesthood, only I didn’t believe in God.”
There’s an odd explanation of the draw of discovery on the open road:
“It’s all about freedom. It’s what your grandpa fought for in World War Two; it’s what our forefathers died for.”
And of course, there’s loads of bathroom humor:
“I dropped my pants, sat down, and let loose. When I looked up, I saw Jesus.”
. . and reflections on human-canine bonding:
“That had to be one of the most surreal things they ever saw, a huge woman pulling a rat-dog out from between her breasts.”
An Elvis fanatic has a surprisingly calm reaction to ‘meeting The King’:
“You knocked out Cletus?” The King said.
He laughed. “You must be one strong woman.”
And Michael goes from disbelief:
“ . . how could I believe Lucky was possessed when I didn’t believe in the very mechanics behind possession? I struggled with so much on that trip.”
. . to finding some kind of faith:
“Before leaving New Jersey, I was a skeptic, but knowing Satan owned your father’s soul could change your mind.”
Author Motivation: Gronlund strongly identifies with Michael, (the narrator) and he simultaneously mocks and venerates religion throughout this book. The incredulity and pervasiveness of religion serves as a backdrop for questioning and clarifying Gronlund’s / Michael’s atheism, his relationship with animals (wild and captive), and his opinion of his immediate and extended family. He identifies strongly with his father and sees both himself and his father as spiritual martyrs, possessing a higher truth while appreciating a lower existence. Finding happiness within his accidental circumstances is his spiritual aspiration.
Gronlund has a writing + life advice website:
A web page on how to possess the book:
Gronlund also has a professional website:
And he’s even on Google+!
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