Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Review: Suburban Hell by Maureen Kilmer

Dig that groovy cover, y'all!
(But please ignore my thumb.)
Suburban Hell by Maureen Kilmer 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars*
*3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

About the book:

A Chicago cul-de-sac is about to get a new neighbor...of the demonic kind.

Amy Foster considers herself lucky. After she left the city and moved to the suburbs, she found her place quickly with neighbors Liz, Jess, and Melissa, snarking together from the outskirts of the PTA crowd. One night during their monthly wine get-together, the crew concoct a plan for a clubhouse She Shed in Liz’s backyard—a space for just them, no spouses or kids allowed.

But the night after they christen the She Shed, things start to feel . . . off. They didn’t expect Liz’s little home-improvement project to release a demonic force that turns their quiet enclave into something out of a nightmare. And that’s before the homeowners’ association gets wind of it.

Even the calmest moms can’t justify the strange burn marks, self-moving dolls, and horrible smells surrounding their possessed friend, Liz. Together, Amy, Jess, and Melissa must fight the evil spirit to save Liz and the neighborhood . . . before the suburbs go completely to hell.

*    *    *


What I liked:

+The dry, subtle humor Kilmer uses in portraying the banality of suburban motherhood. (Some have called it "campy"--I do not think the word means what they think it means. "American Horror Story" is pretty dang campy. This feels a little more like an affectionate spoof, in the vein of "Hot Fuzz," kinda.)

+The emotionally touching bits, which enhanced the story but were not maudlin. They illustrated what motivates the POV character, Amy, to fight the good fight (which many in her shoes would not).

+Amy's relationship with her husband, Mark, which shows mutual caring and teamwork (even if more of the household stuff falls to her while she's a SAHM). Mark really listens to his wife, even when what she's telling him beggars belief (not saying he automatically agrees with her conclusions, but he supports her nonetheless, which makes for a refreshing change from some horror spouses).

+How innocuous home and garden tools, as well as kids' toys, proved threatening, even dangerous. (Beware your robot vacuums, folks!)

What didn't work for me:

+This is supposed to be about demonic possession, but certain bits seem to point to an uneasy spirit/ghost. Which is it? If a demon, or demons, caused the family tragedy that took place on the land on which Amy and her BFFs live, that connection wasn't successfully established, IMO.

+For someone who professes to be a big horror movie buff, Amy makes some rookie mistakes (using a ouija board to try resolving a case of demonic possession? really??? c'mon, Ames...).

+We get to know Amy pretty well, her friends Jess and Melissa a little less so but still better than Liz, the one who gets possessed pretty much at the start of the story. I'd have liked a little more about Liz and her home life before things went to hell. (As it were.)

+The ending seemed a bit rushed and lacked the debriefing Amy likely gave Mark, considering she's often shown expressing the developments regarding Liz's condition to him throughout the novel.

Some have complained that "Suburban Hell" doesn't match the level of the books to which it's been compared, namely Grady Hendrix's "My Best Friend's Exorcism" and "The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires." The ways in which this novel compares to those are superficial, in that it's about friendship and using unorthodox deliverance methods to save a friend in serious spiritual trouble (like MBFE) and a group of suburban moms going toe-to-toe against eeeeeeeeeviiiiiiiiil (TSBCGTSV). I enjoyed both of Hendrix's books--he's a masterful storyteller--but have to say there's an authenticity to the voices in "Suburban Hell" that can only come from one who's lived the life of a suburban mom. I believe Kilmer's writing (which, to me, shows a lot of promise) will grow as rich as Hendrix's, over time.

I rounded up to 4 stars because I wolfed this book down over 3 days and had a great time with this cozy, comedic horror. I recommend this for folks who want some light scares with their summer cocktails, or just a fun, quick read for Spooky Season.

Content Warnings for: death related to drug use (discussed but not shown), children in peril, disturbing imagery, and a jerk husband. While the doggies survive, some other critters don't. Also, quite a bit of alcohol consumption occurs throughout, as well as mean-girl type nastiness, so if either of these perturb, you may want to give it a pass.

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