Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, February 25, 2021


 You Don't Scare Me by John Farris (2007)

John Farris (b. 1936) pubished his first novel, a mystery, when he was nineteen and followed it with several more mysteries published as by "Steve Brackeen."  His first major success was with 1959's Harrison High, written two years earlier when Farris was 20, it's a  very readable novel* that tapped into the Peyton Place and The Blackboard Jungle veins; it was filmed in 1960 as Because They're Young, featuring Dick Clark, Tuesday Weld, and Michael Callan.  Farris returned to that well a decade later, penning five paperback original novels set in Harrison High.

Farris may be best known  for his science fictional/horror novel The Fury (1976; filmed by Brian DePalma in 1978 with Kirk Douglas, John Cassavetes, and Amy Irving); which in turn spawned three sequels.  When Michael Calls (1967) was filmed as an ABC Televison Movie of the Week in 1972.  All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By (1977) was included in Kim Newman and Stephen Jones' Horror:  100 Best Books.  

Farris, now 84, has published 43 novels and two collections., mostly in the horror, suspense, thriller, and Southern Gothic genres.  He was the recipient of the 2002 Horror Writers of America Lifetime achievement Award.  His last novel was published in 2009.  You Don't Scare Me was his penultimate novel and it's a doozy, albeit a flawed doozy.

Crow Tillman was pure evil but Claudelle Emrick could not see it at first.  Three years widowed, Claudelle fell hard for Crow Tillman -- hard enough to not see through his lies or to notice how Crow kept looking at her fourteen-year-old dughter, Chase.  And so Claudelle married Crow.  Then Crow found out that the sixty acres of prime land Claudelle owned was tied up in trusts and legal restrictions that prevented any loans to be given with the land as colleteral.  Crow began beating his new wife.  Soon Claudelle had some of her tougher relatives throw Crow out of the house.  Coming home from a school event with her boyfriend, Chase found her mother savagely beaten while Crow was traring the house apart looking for money.  Angry, Crow shot and killed Chase's boyfriend, then he put a bullet through Claudelle's head.  To top things off, he brutally raped Chase, impregnating her (she was jus one week past her fifteenth birthday) and forced her to go with him.  The night ended with Crow trapped on a bridge by police, him holding Chase by the leg over the bridge's rail, and threatening to drop her into the swirling waters below.  Then, realizing that he could not get out of the situation, Crow put his gun to his head and pulled the trigger, dropping Chase into the cold river.  It took half an hour to retreive Chase's body from the river.  Miraculously, doctors were able to revive the young girl.  But she was changed...

Fast forward nine years.  Adam Cameron is working as a campus security cop at Yale when he sees a student who entrances him.  It's Chase, who is now working on a thesis in mathematics at the university.  Chase walks into the road and freezes there, her eyes tightly shut.  Adam moves quickly to save her from being hit.  He tells her that he has fallen in love with her; her reaction is to laugh and move on.  

Chase suffers from Essential Bletharospasm , a rare condition that unconscioulsy causes her to close her eyes tightly and not be able to open them; an attack can happen at any time and last for unspecific periods.  This was one of the effects that changed Chase after she had drowned.  Another effect was an extreme ability to do math.  Chase had always been smart, but after drowning at fifteen, she emerged a mathematical genius -- there are probably less than fifty persons in the world who are her equal in math.  She's been working on an advanced mathematical proof of other "dimensions."  Well, not exactly dimensions, per se, but other levels of existence unseen and untouchable to us.  And she found herself pregnant: the child of the rape was place up for adoption -- or so che thought.  One final "gift" from her drowning was Crow Tillis himself.  After committing suicide, Crow found himself locked  in a dimension called the Netherworld, where Crow is not fully dead but exists on his rage.  Crow cannot leave this dimension but he can send others from there to our world, as well as influence -- poltegeist-like -- objects in our reality.

As I said, Crow is pure-dee evil.  And he is very jealous.  And he hates Chase.  Over the years, Crow has managed to use his powers to take away everyone whom Chase loved or relied upon -- her brother, her aunt and uncle who took them in after her mother was killed, foster parents, boyfriends:  they all died in horrible accidents.  Crow can psychically link to Chase so she knows he is responsible.  One of Crow's tricks is to transform his tattoo of a rattlesnake into a five foot reality that can attack those in our reality.

Because of all this, Chase is determined not to have any close relationships.  But then along came Adam.  He shows up at her apartment unannounced with flowers and Thai food.  Chase is about to send him on his way when he sees a large rattlesnake slither into her apartment.  He rushes in but they canot find the snake.  The connection between the couple is instant and powerful and they spend the night together.  Adam is wakened by a large dof that appeared from a wardrobe in Chase's bedroom.  The dog then backed into the wardrobe and vanished.

Thus began a deadly battle between the demonic Crow and Chase and Adam.  Allusions and hallucinations turn murderously real.  Adam believes he can help Chase because he had been part of a near-death experiment conducted by a friend who teaches at Yale, but Adam is almost trapped in the Netherworld and escapes only through Chase's aid.  The rattlesnake materializes and its extreme venom almost kills the young man.  Dead people appear in attempts to trap Chase; at times she cannot tell who is alive and who is dead.  In the end, Chase and Adam have to go to the netherworld to confront her menace.  The ending is terrifying and unexpected.

A fast and startling read that leaves many questions unanswered.  Those unanswered questions gnaw at the reader and ultimately detract from the novel.  Still, this is a book that will please Farris' many readers and provide horror fans with a chilling night's entertainment.

* IMHO.  The New York Times called it an "internable adolescent bull session."  You can't please everyone.  


  1. "many unanswered questions" would probably be dissatisfying for me. I can only tolerate one or two.

  2. Definitely sounds like a case of More Engine Than Steering Wheel in the course of the writing...I wonder how much Farris simply didn't feel up to nailing everything down in another draft at 70yo...