Book Review * Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors * an e-book by Christopher Gronlund

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.

“Yeah.”

He laughed. “You must be one strong woman.”

“I guess.”

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.

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Christopher Gronlund

Gronlund has a writing + life advice website:

The Juggling Writer

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A web page on how to possess the book:

RoadTripFromHell.com

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Gronlund also has a professional website:

ChristopherGronlund.com

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And he’s even on Google+!

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Leave a comment and be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors! Deadline is August 12.

UPDATE: True Random Number Generator Min: 1 Max: 4 Result: 1 Powered by RANDOM.ORG
 
Elliott wins a free copy of “Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors”!

 

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14 Comments

  1. I’ll have to say, this one sounds really unique! This would be an interesting read.

    Reply
  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to read Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors (HCWWPD) and writing a review. I’m glad you liked all the exclamation marks. (I started out writing independent comic books, so some of the THOOM!!! sound effect habits carried over. Even in my most current novel, which is more mainstream than anything I’ve written, there’s a sound effect or two.)

    The story was a screenplay before it was a novel/novella (It comes in just under 66K words). It was a great first novel because there was a lot of structure in the Point A to Point B aspect of the plot. It’s over-the-top goofy, but I love that people who have read it all seem to take away something more in between all the fart jokes. Surprising to me, most of the people I’ve heard from who have read it have been women in their 50s and 60s who remember taking road trips with their families. For them, HCWWPD reminds them of trips with their families.

    I find it interesting that you honed in on the religious aspects of the book and the few nods toward animals. I have always been, and always will be, an atheist. I don’t harbor animosity toward religion; it’s just not my thing. But growing up around Chicago, and identifying more with the Italian side of my family, Catholicism was all around. In 7th and 8th grade, I was picked on because people found out I didn’t believe in God. When I moved to Texas when I was 15, I encountered fundamentalist Christians for the first time. A good friend in Texas came from a large Mormon family. Since I was always kind of a geek, I ended up friends with people others often ignored. So the death-metal “Satanist,” the lone Mormon, the quiet Muslim, and all the other people who didn’t follow the typical religious belief for the area (or those with no beliefs), all clustered together.

    Most of my friends are Christian, and they adhere to the tenets of their faith. They do not judge others and they don’t wear their faith on their sleeves. So I never identified Christianity with the people who picked on me for being an atheist; I identified Christianity with my friends who accepted me because I was nice. I always respected the sense of peace it brought to my great grandmother and the rest of my family. So there’s that combination of respect for those who live it, and some poking at those who use it more as show. There’s not really any personal struggle with atheism in the story because I’ve always been set in what I believe. But Michael has a journey of faith, I suppose, because he’s in a possessed station wagon. If I went through all Michael goes through in HCWWPD, I’d end up a believer, too! <—– There's an exclamation point for you!

    It's also interesting that you picked up on Michael's relationship with animals. (In this case, there's more of me in the story.) I don't push my beliefs on others, but I don't eat animals. Just as I harbor no animosity for religion, I don't carry anger toward those who consume animals or use animal products. I was always free to roam as a kid–allowed more time outdoors than my friends–so I spent a lot of time playing outside alone. Once we moved out of Chicago and into a northern suburb, there were more fields, bogs, and woods to wander. So I always took comfort in nature; just sitting there watching it do it's thing. Before I decided to write, I planned to be a wildlife biologist. I always loved animals and it always seemed weird to me that I was taught to revere some animals, but that it was okay to eat others. While I liked zoos as a kid, I remember visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and spending a lot of time watching a polar bear named Mike. I felt bad for Mike because I spent a lot of time watching animals outside. It seemed sad that he was in a cage and wandering around on concrete, so I guess a little bit of that early observation made it into HCWWPD.

    In between all the goofy humor, I suppose, are moments people really love. More than a couple people emailed me when I released the story as a podcast to tell me they got a little teary-eyed at the end. I make no apologies for my love of crude humor; humor's a powerful thing.

    I've always believed that humor next to something blunt or touching makes everything matter just a bit more.

    I'm glad you saw deeper things in HCWWPD, and I hope others do, too.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your generous comment which lets readers see even more of you! 🙂

      Yes, I can absolutely see this as a screenplay. Reading “Hell Comes” was a rich visual experience. Especially that little demon-dog. I’ve known dogs like that. And like you, I’m atheist, but those dogs were possessed, man, they were possessed!!

      Reply
      • I typically don’t base much on real life in my stories, but HCWWPD is an exception. Lucky is based on a real Chihuahua named Lucky.

        Growing up, a good friend’s mom had a Chihuahua named Lucky. They had a split-level home, so when you came in the front door, you could go to the basement, or upstairs to most of the house. As you walked upstairs, without fail, Lucky was there, trying to bite your head. Chihuahuas have always cracked me up. Most are loud and obnoxious and the closest thing around to making be believe there are forces of evil creating things to try to overthrow all that’s good and right in the world.

        Chihuahuas figure into that kind of plan.

  3. Comic strip sensibilities meet demonic road trip? Excellent! Listened to the first chapter via podcast. Looking forward to reading the rest.

    Who over 35 can’t relate to road trips from (or to) Hell?? My family made several non-stop summer trips from Llano, Texas to Billings, Montana. 23 hours straight through was the total I remember. (For the record, I’m 42, not 50-60, but who’s counting?)

    Thanks for sharing what you took away from it, CM, and what you put into it (and didn’t), Christopher.

    Reply
  4. Brilliant review! I think you did a great job on it. I like the idea of including quotes in the review like that.

    Reply
    • Thanks! 🙂 It was easy to review such a fun book. Plus I wanted to give readers a sense of Gronlund’s writing style.

      Reply
  5. Wow – you got the author himself to chime in! (Exclamation point!) 🙂

    I’m intrigued by the premise, especially since I am also an atheist with a distinct worldview about religion, based upon my past experiences and years of religious study. I’ve just GOT to add this novel to my TBR list.

    Thanks for the stellar review, CM!

    Reply
    • You’re welcome! 🙂 Gronlund is a natural chimer.

      I see people across the faith spectrum enjoying this book. It’s ultimately a humor book, but there are reflective points throughout which would appeal to those introspective about faith- whether it be faith in deities, in families, or faith in self.

      Reply
    • M.E. – Thanks for the reply. I read a bit about some of your past experiences. My parents were raised Catholic, but they divorced when I was young and neither pushed my sister and me to believe any specific way. So when I started thinking about “bigger things” and where I came from, I was allowed by my mom to believe what I wanted…and I chose to not believe in any deity.

      I’ve never had animosity toward faiths; they just never made sense to me. I’ve been picked on because I don’t believe, but I’ve also been treated with respect by people who believe. While most of Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors is filled with goofy humor, there’s definitely a bit of reflection about the way people wield faith or find solace in faith peppered throughout the book. I have many Christian friends and they liked that the message regarding religion–if there is a message about religion in the book–is that it’s personal. Beneath all the distortions and ways some wield religion in the hope of controlling people, even if it’s just their children as the mother in Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors does, faith becomes a very peaceful and personal thing for the narrator.

      I love that people are seeing more to Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors than just a lot of ridiculous humor. The most surprising thing to me is that I’ve heard from quite a few female readers in their 50s and 60s who love it. I always thought it would appeal more to men between 15 – 40, but people my age (early 40s) and older seem to really like the nostalgia of highway road trips before everybody started taking interstates to get around. Obviously, CMS picked up on the narrator’s views on faith.

      I wrote the book hoping it would crack people up. It’s been neat hearing that others see more in it than just a lot of fart jokes 😉

      Reply
  1. The Juggling Writer - Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors Review
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