A Raging Review: “Covenant” by John Everson, or “Rape-Rape, the Rapening” Part III
Oh, my friends and fellow nerds, I am drunk. Drunk as the proverbial skunk, or, more accurately, drunk as an elephant that’s been gorging itself on fermented marula fruit (oh, the things you learn in the course of a degree in wildlife). But no matter how drunk I get, I cannot purge this wretched pile of decomposing offal of a book from my memory. I’m tempted to keep drinking until sweet oblivion takes me, even for a few hours, but you people want your review, don’t you? DON’T YOU?
Well, get ready, people, because this was the part where I realized just what a horrible mistake I’d made in buying this book. This was the part where I completely lost hope. This was the part where it got upgraded from “idiotic and badly written” to “oh holy Jesus I need a shower.”
All right. Let me crack open another bottle of my favourite microbrew, and we’ll get going. Hopefully you’ve read Part I and Part II, but here’s a brief recap. Joe Kieran, a jaded, hardened reporter who grew disillusioned with big city life and its lying wardrobes at the wizened age of twenty-five, has moved to the small coastal town of Terrel, which is plagued with a rash of suicides among the local youth. Joe discovers by pestering grieving mothers and boning the local fortune teller that the dead kids all are the children of a group of five women, all of whom went swimming with a friend back when they were teenagers themselves. Six girls went into the water, five girls came out, and now those five are watching their kids throw themselves off a cliff face. Or, if you believe as Joe does, the mothers are throwing the kids off themselves. If you believe everyone else, however, including the disembodied voice heard by both Joe and the latest suicide’s ex-girlfriend, there’s a devil in the cliff. We rejoin Joe as he adds trespassing and physical assault to the list of reasons we hate him, by storming into the fortune teller’s home and demanding answers. Angelica, the fortune teller and one of the surviving group members, decides to try and convince Joe about the reality of the devil by telling him about the last time she tried to leave Terrel.
Okay. Deep breaths. Here we go. Now, first off, TRIGGER WARNINGS. Oh sweet Jesus trigger warnings. If you tend to get freaked out by descriptions of rape, sex under coercion and/or murder, for the love of God stop reading here. I’ll mark the paragraph where you can safely continue. Okay? Cool?
Ooookay. So, after Bob Grady, the first teenager to suicide at the cliffs, died, Angelica jumped in her car and tried to leave town. She hoped that the devil that lives in Terrel’s Peak (take a shot) would be so busy playing with Bob’s soul that she could escape unnoticed. But it’s not long before she feels the Devil’s presence in her mind, light at first, then steadily more painful, eventually forcing her off the road outside of town. Her car slams head-on into a tree, and, after a brief bout of unconsciousness, she stumbles from the car with an obvious head wound.
Let me repeat that, because I am going to be referring back to it; AN OBVIOUS HEAD WOUND. In fact, let me quote the text: “She gingerly touched her forehead with a finger and traced a circle around a thick, hot bump that swelled across her head right below the hairline. [...] There was a sticky scab right in the center of the bump, but there didn’t appear to be a big cut.”
Got that, readers? A massive, bruised lump right on her forehead that has likely been bleeding. She’s probably got dried blood streaking her face. We all on the same page here? Good.
Angelica starts to walk back to the road, but before she gets too far, the devil takes control of her once again, this time forcing her to strip. There’s a long, drawn-out description of her taking her clothes off (including pausing to “toy with the fuzzy cleft”), but I am not going to get into that. She continues, naked, to the road. Oh, yeah, and it’s made explicit that her bare feet get sliced up by rocks and broken glass as she walks. This is a woman clearly not in a good way. Again, please keep that in mind. So the devil forces her to walk to the side of the road, and there she stands, posing like a Jim Balent drawing.
Headlights approach. As the truck pulls up beside her, she realizes the man inside is Harold Palmer, the local mechanic and all-around creeper, who has been actively pursuing her since junior high. He’s fat, gross, smelly, and all-around the last person Angelica wants to see right now.
This is no harmless high school crush, by the way; Angelica remembers him cornering her in the locker room, coming to her house for readings just to try feeling her up, and in general makes it quite clear this guy has been sexually assaulting her for years. And the devil is basically serving her up to him on a platter, even making her come onto him, squeezing her own breasts and tantalizing him. The guy is made even fouler when we see things from his perspective (wait, how? I thought Angelica was telling Joe a story? Oh, fuck it, never mind), and he refers to Angelica as “his little Eye-tal-yan girl”, thinking about how she “gave him a good race” and “her hard-to-get days were over”.
Yes, because cornering a girl in a locker room and assaulting her TOTALLY counts as her “giving him a race”.
Oh God, people, I am seriously watching an Indonesian movie about a haunted toilet, and it is better than this book. And worlds better than this scene.
Okay, okay, just keep breathing. Drink more.
His first words to her? “Well now, Angie. Lookin’ reeaaal (that’s verbatim, by the way) good tonight.”
And this is where my head threatens to explode. Remember how we established that Angelica has an obvious head wound? Remember how there is likely blood all over her face? Remember how she’s leaving bloody footprints everywhere? Oh, and did I mention she’s fucking crying? Because, yeah, she’s fucking crying.
So I want you to picture this, gentle readers. As you’re driving along the road at night, you come across your high school crush, someone you’ve been lusting after for years. They’re naked and appear to be coming onto you, but they are also obviously injured and weeping, and they don’t answer your greeting. How do you respond?
What’s that? You’d ask if they were okay and call 911? Now that’s just crazy talk! Clearly the logical response is to immediately grab them and start making out with them. Obviously that’s the human thing to do.
But wait, you cry. You already said he’s meant to be a shithead who thinks nothing of sexual assault. Clearly this is deliberate on the part of the author to show what a repulsive human being Palmer is.
Oh, my darlings, you give this book way too much credit. Put that thought away for another few pages. I promise you, it will be addressed.
So, look, I can’t read this without getting nauseous, so I’m not going to go into details, but basically, the Devil forces Angelica to have sex with Palmer. The whole time, while she does actually say she wants him, she is drooling and crying. I want you, once again, to keep this in mind. And the whole thing is really grossly eroticized. It reads like a fucking porno, people, with lines like “She was his slut” “toyed with the slick tool between his legs” and “Damp and naked to the night, they stared up at the stars”.
Now, look, I like erotica as much as the next person, I even like a little non-con. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have some Laurell K. Hamilton on my shelves.
But this is not erotica. This is a fucking horror novel. This scene is supposed to be horrific and vile. This is meant to be one of our main characters having the absolute worst, most humiliating and sickening experience of her life. And it’s described like a letter to fucking Penthouse.
Now, are you ready, folks? Are you really? Cause this is where it gets really gross.
So, as the two of them lie, side by side, after this vile and horrific rape, Palmer says, “I’ve dreamed of you for so long, Angie. Why’d you make it so hard?” And then starts crying as he says, “You’re everything I ever wanted.”
And Angelica realizes, DIRECT FUCKING QUOTE: “She couldn’t help but feel something when he said those words, charged with the longing and heartache and loneliness that two decades of obsession had fertilized. He was gross. He was ugly. He smelled bad. But all he had ever wanted was her. Angelica’s heart turned over with the pathos of it all.”
SO LET’S FUCKING RECAP SHALL WE
This was NOT meant to be a way to for Angelica to be vilely humiliated by being forced to give herself to a rapist. He was NOT meant to be a horrendous human being. No, no, Palmer is a sad, ugly, geeky guy who had loved her for decades and was suddenly faced with the goddess he had worshipped from afar offering herself to him.
BLEEDING, BRUISED, SOBBING, AND DROOLING ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD BECAUSE YEAH SURE THAT’S ONE OF MY FANTASIES I DUNNO ABOUT YOU
And let’s not forget he has been sexually harassing and assaulting her for DECADES. DECADES.
I DO NOT FEEL SORRY FOR THIS MAN. THERE IS NO FUCKING PATHOS HERE. THERE IS A WOMAN WHO HAS BEEN VIOLATED AND WE ARE BEING ASKED EXPLICITLY TO PITY HER RAPIST BECAUSE SHE HAD THE GALL NOT TO FUCK HIM BEFORE NOW
I FUCKING HATE THIS FUCKING BOOK SO VERY FUCKING MUCH YOU CANNOT FUCKING CONCEIVE OF IT
But wait! You say again. It says in several places that Palmer was not completely under his own control here. It says that the devil took control of Palmer’s mind to bring him out there and to make his rape of Angelica last longer. So couldn’t he have additionally been forcing Palmer to ignore Angelica’s injuries and just react to her come-ons?
Okay, granted, I reply, but then I ask you, exactly how far does the devil’s influence extend?
Seriously. In terms of the characters now and later that we see under the devil’s influence, all of them, every last one, have been down in the caves or at least up on the cliff. There is absolutely no indication that Palmer had never gone anywhere near the caves or cliff face. So either the devil can control everyone in town, which opens a whole load of questions in and of itself (such as, why is it bothering with all this crap in the first place if it can just turn the whole town into Sodom and Gomorrah at will?), or Palmer has been down in the caves/up on the cliff at some point in his life that was never shown (which is lazy writing), or Palmer’s just a fucking rapist.
I think you can tell which theory I subscribe to.
So then the devil forces Angelica to kill Palmer, and his last words to her are “I loved you.” (watch me vomit). And this is the big trauma. Not the rape. Not the humiliation. The fact that she has to kill someone who “loves” her.
And then have sex with his dead body. Also luridly and explicitly described.
Pardon me while I drink more. I won’t get through this without it.
So, yeah, END OF TRIGGER WARNING, as we go back to Angelica and Joe, and Joe’s first question, after asking if Angelica ever went back for the body (the Devil made her hide it), was to ask if the Devil had also been controlling her the day she and Joe had sex.
OUR HERO, EVERYBODY.
And, yes, Angelica was totally under the devil’s control when she threw herself at Joe. Which at least makes the scene a little more plausible. Except that once again, Joe’s thoughts are all about how Angelica must find him as repulsive as Palmer, and how he’d never know what she really thought of him.
She warns him that he should leave town, especially since the other women might be coming by at any time to confront her about her missing daughter. Of course, as she says this, a car pulls up in Angelica’s driveway. Joe hides in Angelica’s bedroom as the women burst in.
He can’t properly listen in on the conversation through the door, so Joe decides to first of all reminisce about the sex, except then he remembers oh, yeah, it was more of a rape (for both of them, really), and “it was not the kind of conquest he wanted to remember.”
I fucking hate you, Joe.
He then continues angsting for a couple of paragraphs over whether or not Angelica really wanted him at all or if she enjoyed it, and I’m just gonna skip it. Now it’s snooping time! He finds her Visa bill, her electric bill, he leers over her Victoria’s Secret catalogue (“He had yet to see evidence that she wore underwear” OH GOD COULD THIS GUY GET ANY SLEAZIER), then finds a piece of paper with the name “Bernadette” scrawled on it. He remembers that Bernadette was be the girl that drowned with Angelica and her friends so many years ago. Then another with today’s date and the current time written on it, proving Angelica knew the women were on their way when he came in. Well, never mind, time to go through her underwear drawer.
No, not kidding.
He takes the scrapbook she’d shown him before, starts to read Angelica’s diary (dear fuckity God), then is interrupted by a scream. By the time he exits the room, Angelica and the other women are gone. God, what to do? Angelica was taken against her will, who knows what the women have planned for her. He saw out the window the direction the car had gone, so surely he should follow, right? Angelica’s life may be at stake!
NOPE! Time for more snooping! Or, as Joe puts it, “Now was an opportunity for uninterrupted research.” This research proves to be little more than digging through her dresser and jewelry case, where the only thing he finds of interest is the necklace Angelica wore while they were fucking and reminisce about how it “had bounced across his chin and chest”. He takes that and her scrapbook and leaves.
That was sure worth Angelica’s life!
Right. The screen is starting to blur, and I do believe my eyes are bleeding. Tune in next time for more of how Joe is an asshole, and we learn why we should hate Cindy too. Enjoy your hangovers.
Continued in Part IV!