A Raging Review: “Covenant” by John Everson, or “Rape-Rape, the Rapening” Part VI
Welcome to Part VI of our ongoing mournful dissection of what passes for award-winning horror literature, John Everson’s Covenant. I know it’s been a while since Part V, and I apologize; both my husband and I have been pretty seriously ill, and I haven’t had the spoons to tackle this particular monstrosity lately. But tonight, I’ve got my beer, I’ve got a can of frosting, there’s a good horror movie on the tube, and I’m feeling good. It’s up to you whether it’s your loss or gain.
Here are links to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V, but here’s a brief recap. Veteran reporter Joe Kieran became jaded with big city life and moved to small-town America at the ripe old age of twenty-five. His choice of towns is Terrel, a quiet coastal community whose only problem is that the local youth likes to try cliff-diving into shallow water. In short order, Joe finds out this is because of a devil that lives in the caverns below said cliff and a deal that several local women made with it when they were teenagers. Apparently they traded their firstborn children for supernatural talents they never use. One of these women is Angelica, who was also the only one who tried to get out of the contract by putting her child up for adoption (the father of this child gets the privilege of not being part of this shitfest). This didn’t work out, however, as said child, a girl named Cindy, is still in town and is, in fact, shacking it up with Joe. Joe just found out that Cindy’s due to start trying flying lessons and is freaking out, showing considerably more emotion than he did when Angelica was kidnapped by the other women in the group. In the meantime Ken, a local caver and the only likeable character so far, has gotten lost in the caverns beneath the cliff and apparently drowned.
Right, that’s about all I can get to. On to the shit.
Ken wakes up and takes stock of himself, or, “System check,” as he thinks. Head wound, but there’s no rapist around, so he should be safe. Then, of course, the devil starts talking to him and tells him, “Everything you’ve ever heard about this place is true,” and suggests they “make a Covenant.” (take a shot).
Cut to Karen and the other victims of the devil’s pyramid scheme, with Monica in particular angsting about what will happen should Angelica drown while they’re away. Because suddenly that matters. Karen wonders how she could ever stand hanging around this whiny bitch. I mean, seriously, Monica, all we’ve done is kidnap one of our oldest friends and pledged to sacrifice her to Satan. It’s not like you broke a nail or anything.
But apparently the Covenant (take a shot) has caused all the women to be addicted to each other, because they’re forever tantalized by the memory of that fateful, bloodsoaked orgy they’d shared. Because it’s those kind of memories that forge lifelong friendships.
Karen reveals that the devil has been in contact with them ever since that night when Bernadette died. Apparently every night he’s been tormenting and tempting them with visions of the orgy he forced them to have. “Suckled them with honey on a carrion finger,” as Karen puts it. Begged her to dance naked in the moonlight, to have sex with her parents.
You know what? This is okay. This is actually showing legitimate horror, and establishing once and for all that the devil has constant control over them. Still no idea how he got ahold of Palmer, but what the fuck ever. And the idea of a young woman resisting demonic coercion to sexually assault her parents is quite horrifying.
Aaaaaaand then we get this.
“He had shown her the tight, naked bodies of her friends, coupling at eighteen.” (again, Everson, just go with “barely legal” and be done with it). “Lesbian! Her mind had spit.”
Honestly, if Everson were a better author, I’d count this as a very subtle bit of character development. Karen is a woman growing up in small-town America back in the late 60s, early 70s. The devil could be using her internalization of small-town bigotry to increase her self-loathing and therefore vulnerability. Used well, it could be a very nice bit of pathos to the character.
Given Everson’s track record, however, I’m more betting on, “Gay sex is icky!”
It continues on with how tormented and dissatisfied Karen is by her everyday, vanilla relationship with her husband, and that although she knows all kinds of fun, fun things to do, she doesn’t dare do anything of the sort with her husband because, “her husband would…think her a whore.” Again, this could be internalized cultural misogyny, but really, it just leaves me wondering why she couldn’t have told the poor bastard she’d picked up a copy of the Kama Sutra at Borders.
And…that’s it. That’s the chapter. Karen angsting about sex. Great.
Cut back to Joe, who has had a wonderful evening with the girl he loves and found out she’s doomed, and then…let…her…leave. WHY?
Yeah, okay, I realize this whole thing would be hard to explain, if EVERYONE IN THE GODDAMNED TOWN didn’t seem to know and believe that there was a demon in the cliff. And even if that wasn’t the case, he couldn’t have tried? He couldn’t have said SOMETHING about knowing she was in danger and asked if she could stick around so he could make sure she was safe? There’s no indication he made any attempt at warning her, just, “CRAP! Cindy’s in terrible danger! I must protect her at all costs because she is the girl of my dreams and…oh, bye honey! Have a good day away from me!”
And he arranges to meet her at the cliff that night. Because of course.
Joe decides that, when he meets the hopefully-not-dead-Cindy that night, he’ll search the cliff for the remains of the lighthouse, remembering that this was where the demon had been originally summoned, and maybe there would be some clues there as to how it can be banished.
Cut to Ken, who’s still wandering around the caves and quietly hoping he might yet find the cavern that would be his ticket to fortune and glory.
END CHAPTER. AGAIN.
This is starting to feel like a “Saw” movie, with all the jump cuts. I count 8 chapters so far, none of which are more than five pages. Seriously. I should have brought my gravol. Also, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m having a hard time figuring out the time frame here. Angelica was kidnapped two days ago, right? At some point, Karen went to visit her father, the police chief (a plot point which, spoiler alert, will come to exactly nothing). But last time we saw Karen, Rhonda, and Monica, they were in the car, driving away from the cave where they’d left Angelica. And when we see them again, they’re…in the car. And, in both scenes Monica is freaking out about the possibility of Angelica drowning. Weird choice on the part of the author. It makes it seem like they’ve been driving around aimlessly for the past 36 hours. And in the next chapter we return to Angelica with the words, “The hours seemed like days to Angelica.” Possibly because they WERE days. In fact, she should really be getting loopy from dehydration by now.
Also, Ken at some point fell into the devil’s clutches, but he at least has a head injury to blame for his time lapse.
Altogether, it just feels really clumsy and not thought out. Which is telling, because that’s exactly what it is.
Anyway, as I mentioned before, we next jump cut to Angelica, still tied up in the cavern where she and her friends first encountered the devil. Or, as Angelica puts it, “where she had once buried her mouth in the naked, forbidden places of her friends.”
Okay, this is really starting to fucking bug me. Look, I get that the original encounter with the devil was traumatic. I get that it was essentially a rape, and was all the more horrifying in that these girls were forced to rape each other. But not only is it STILL being described like a fucking porno, but the focus of each girl’s repulsion and horror seems to be that they had – gasp! – LESBIAN SEX.
Seriously, I am skipping over a LOT of description of the day in question, and each time it’s not that they were forced, it’s all about “thick, red lips”, “copper breasts”, “moistest and neediest places”. I don’t know if Everson intended it like that, but the impression I get from reading it is that the girls were traumatized not by the fact that they were forced to have sex, but by the fact that they had LESBIAN sex, consensual or not. It just…it really leaves me with an uncomfortable feeling.
That aside, Angelica is still tied up in the cave and is losing hope, when suddenly she hears a voice. It’s Ken! Ken’s here! Finally, the only vaguely tolerable character has shown up to rescue the woman our douchebag protagonist forgot about. Thank God. Okay, so Ken…
…starts mumbling vaguely about how this cavern is a great find while he stares at Angelica’s breasts.
Angelica then notices that Ken’s eyes are “black, empty marbles of eyes. [...] Angelica had seen those eyes before. She’d seen them in the face of a rapist she had killed. And before that, she’d seen them in the head of her friend, Bernadette.”
….so long, Ken. We’ll miss you.
Cut to Joe, who has driven up to the cliff early so that he can search the ruins of the lighthouse. And once again we get that rarest of all birds in this book, a tolerable chapter. Joe actually demonstrates some agency and frickin’ THOUGHT in what he does, carefully digging through the ruins until he uncovers a stairway leading into the caverns. Well, FINALLY we’re getting somewhere. But just as Joe starts poking around, who should show up but Cindy!
Naturally, Joe doesn’t want her anywhere near the cliff (so why did you agree to meet her here, fucknugget?), but Cindy seems determined to stick around and help him investigate this intriguing cavern. Naturally, Joe doesn’t actually TELL HER that he’s afraid for her life, no, no, she’s a GIRL, gotta appeal to her GIRLNESS. So instead, he tells her that she might ruin her clothes. And in the midst of his terror for the woman he loves, Joe takes the time to notice that her skintight stretchpants are “very nice around the thighs and butt.”
Y’know, it was a very bold move on Everson’s part to make his protagonist completely unlikeable. I mean, there have been unlikeable protagonists before…Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, for example, is an egotistical windbag. Sometimes an unreliable and unattractive protagonist can make for a more interesting narrative and richer plot. But Kvothe at least had wit, a genuinely tragic past, and ambition going for him. Even an unlikeable and unattractive protagonist should have some aspect of their personality that helps we the reader identify with them. But with Joe…?
I’m sorry to keep harping on about this (well, no I’m not), but it’s really bothering me. Especially considering that the positive reviews of this book often mention the “realistic and identifiable characters”. Seriously? Are there just a vast quantity of horror fans who are surrounded by assholes?
Starwipe to Ken and Angelica, this time from Ken’s perspective. He comes upon the “raven-haired beauty” that is Angelica, and loves the “hint of boob” he sees through her open shirt. The devil says, “Do you want her, Ken?”
And this…this description is just too good not to share… Ken says that the devil “sounded to him like the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or maybe a little like that fava beans-loving cannibal psycho.”
So there you go, folks. All this time the devil has sounded like the lovechild of Hal 9000
and Hannibal Lecter.
Thank you so much for that mindfuck, John Everson. I may never recover.
Ken isn’t even trying here. No resistance, no hesitation, nothing. Within two paragraphs he’s grinning about his “prize” and “couldn’t keep from putting his hands on her.” The devil is encouraging this, suggesting that Ken impregnate her. At one point it actually looks like the Ken we once liked might return as he moves to untie Angelica’s hands, but the devil stops him, telling him that raping her will be so much more fun.
And Ken’s like, “Okay!”
Cut back to Karen, who’s picking up Rhonda and Monica so they can head back to the cliff and…wait, weren’t they already in the car? Hang on.
…No, I’m not reading it wrong. They were in the car, but apparently in that chapter they were on their way home from the caves, and now it’s two nights later and they’re heading back, and DO YOU SEE WHY I AM FINDING THE TIMELINE SO FUCKING CONFUSING?
All right. So, Karen is picking up Rhonda and Monica, and she openly states, OPENLY STATES that they sold their children for absolutely nothing. That painting in Karen’s house is the only one she ever did, and neither Rhonda nor Melody have done anything relating to writing or music. Karen tells us, in fact, that Angelica is the only one who even made an attempt at turning her devil-given talent to her own advantage, piss-poor endeavour though that was.
Karen wangsts some more about what a horrible mistake they made and how they should never have stayed in the cavern when the devil revealed itself, but…seriously, why did they just go along with it? I mean, it’s not like they entered into it willingly, the devil just said, “I’m gonna give you these talents and in exchange I get your firstborn,” and they all just kind of went, “Aw, okay.” And then didn’t even bother to use the damned talents they received. If they willingly took the talents, or even decided to use them now that they had them and thus became reluctant to lose them, that’d be one thing. It’d even be one thing if they’d fought as hard as they could to resist the devil’s power and had then been beaten down, but there is absolutely zero indication anywhere that any of them besides Angelica did the slightest thing to try and save their childrens’ lives. Hell, aside from a little talk from Karen, there’s no sign that any of them even miss their children. No mourning, no sorrow, no nothing. I could even understand if they’d lost their kids and then clung even more tightly to their talents because they gave up so much to gain them, but NOTHING. It’s just, “We made this deal, Angelica’s the holdout, let’s go get her and we can return to white picket fence land and forget we ever had kids.”
Seriously, to the parents reading this, does this sound at ALL realistic?
Anyway, they get in the car and head back towards the cliff, and that is all I can stand for tonight. There’s only one bottle of beer left and it has my name on it. Tune in next time for… I want to say the conclusion, but I actually only got through 27 pages tonight, and there are over fifty to go. But the end is nigh, my loves; stay with me, and I promise we’ll get there.
Continued in Part VII!