Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Possession Of Jessica Young

The Possession Of Jessica Young, by Russ Martin
August, 1982  Tor Books

Another of those novels with so much potential but so little delivery, The Possession Of Jessica Young is the first of a trilogy of “erotic horror” novels about a global satanic “Organization” and its battles against a pair of sisters who are the only ones with the mental powers to fight them. But what could’ve been a twisted or even lurid thrill ride instead has about as much bite as an ABC After School Special.

I first learned about Russ Martin’s books thanks to Will Erickson’s post on Too Much Horror Fiction. Along with the covers for most of Martin’s paperbacks, Will included a link to JR Parz’s Erotic Mind Control Novels review site, in which Parz regaled Russ Martin’s novels as practically the ultimate in erotic horror. And others must agree, because strangely enough Martin’s novels aren’t easily come by, in particular the finale of this loose trilogy, 1984’s The Education Of Jennifer Parrish.

So all told I was really anticipating some lurid thrills, especially given the high recommendations of Parz, who one might say is a little enthusiastic about this particular horror subgenre of “erotic mind control.” But man, talk about underwhelming. As I read The Possession Of Jessica Young I kept wondering if I was just missing something, because rather than being “erotic horror” it was moreso tepid, padded, and uneventful. Plus the protagonist was an idiot, which didn’t help matters.

Long story short, The Possession Of Jessica Young is about the titular protagonist’s escape from the Organization, a globe-spanning consortium of satanists who use erotic mind control to enslave their victims. Jessica, we gradually learn, was born with psychic powers, able to control thoughts and to even hop into the brains of others and control their bodies. The tale is told in two ongoing segments, “Then” and “Now.” In the former we learn how, starting in 1980, Jessica first ran afoul of the Organization. In the latter we see that now, in 1983, she is on the run from them, having killed her husband and child while under the mental control of Organization bigwig Stephen Abbott, who by the way has now latched onto Jessica’s teenaged sister, Heather.

Martin walks a strange line here, for in the majority of the “Then” section (and the entirety of the “Now” section for Heather), Jessica is under erotic mind control. Even though she’s happily married (to a successful horror novelist!) and has a good life, Jessica finds herself compelled to seek out Abbott. As the novel progresses and she learns how evil Abbott is, she is still unable to break away from him, constantly running back to him and doing whatever he orders her to do. It becomes a very frustrating experience for the reader to endure.

What makes it worse is that young Heather’s story in the “Now” section is exactly the same as Jessica’s story in the “Then” section! So basically you read the same story twice, back to back. Just as Jessica is torn away from her family until she acts like some robot who can think only of Stephen Abbott, so too does Heather drop out of school and run away from home to become the willing slave of her master Stephen Abbott. And it’s all just so tediously told; over and over we are informed how Jessica and Heather are unable to cast the magnetic Stephen Abbott from their thoughts, how they are more than eager to do anything to please him.

This of course leads to all of that “erotic horror” stuff, as the Organization in general and Abbott in particular are fond of keeping women in sexual servitude in their mansions (of course, all high ranking members of the Organization are ultra-wealthy). But Martin never gives the details of this; instead we read as the female characters are degraded into prancing around in maid uniforms and being scolded and slapped for the most minor of infractions, yet always chomping at the bit to spend time with Abbott, just to be near him. On and on and on the whole thing goes, padding out its barebones storyline with needless exposition and introspection.

The book is almost as overwritten as Eric Lustbader’s The Ninja. Martin is very fond of adverbs and the words “rather” and “quite,” all of which serves to make the book feel as stuffy as something from the 19th century. This stuffiness sometimes leads to unintentionally hilarious lines, like, “After that horrid day when she had been kidnapped and raped, things had all turned lopsided.” And for a novel of “erotic horror,” where the hell’s the sex?? The book is more pseudo-literature than the lurid binge I wanted…and what few sex scenes that do occur are neutered by the fussy and stuffy prose. Look, here’s an example of what passes for a sex scene in The Possession Of Jessica Young:

If there were an Olympics for lovemaking, Jessica would think later, then Stephen Abbott would surely hold a dozen gold medals. A dozen times during their encounter she thought he had raised her to the highest pitch of physical awareness, and each time he brought her up another increment. When at last he was ready to enter her she opened her thighs wide, swallowing him hungrily. Her pleasure was astoundingly swift and intense. She had heard of multiple orgasms, but had never experienced them before. Now her capacity was inexhaustible. Even physical exhaustion did little to slake it.

I’ll give you all a few moments to cool off. Personally I think if you’re going to write a sex scene, you should go all out. I mean, there’s no way to write a sex scene and not have it come out as comical or purple-prosed at least to some degree, so why even bother with the pretensions? It’s for this reason that I’ll always prefer straight-up horror pulp like Shamballah, where the writer isn’t concerned at all about getting too extreme, and there are no delusions of being “respectable.”

But there’s a bigger problem with The Possession Of Jessica Young: its titular protagonist is a complete idiot. Let me ask you – if you had just escaped from a globe-spanning satanic organization that had previously kept you in mental bondage, and if you had also just learned that said organization has now discovered your whereabouts and sent an assassin after you, would you just chalk it off and figure “well, maybe now they’ll leave me alone?”

Or what if you had a sister who suddenly went missing, and you were informed that prior to her disappearance she was acting strange and flighty, displaying all the same symptons you yourself did when you were under the mental subjugation of the globe-spanning satanic organization – when “just happening” to run into your oddly-behaving sister a few days after learning of her disappearance, would you chalk off her odd behaivor as just “teenager stuff?”

And yet, that’s exactly the nonsensical story Martin doles out. We eventually (and I do mean “eventually”) learn that Jessica finally became so in Stephen Abbott’s thrall that she killed her own husband and child (long story short, after Jessica’s failed attempt at escape, Abbot punished her by forcing her into the deed). But after this she managed to escape, fleeing from New York to Los Angeles. Now, months later, she works as a waitress and has a romantic affair with a cop named Jake Whittinger, a total louse who still lusts after his ex-wife.

Jessica knows that a satanic organization is out there, and that it wants her, but even after she dispatches an assassin sent to get her (killing him telepathically a la Scanners), she basically just shrugs it off and hopes that maybe the Organization will get the message and leave her alone! And meanwhile back in New York Stephen Abbott oversees the mental enslavery of Heather, who is soon sent, brainwashed, to rope in her sister. And when Heather just happens to show up in LA, acting completely different, even coming on to Jessica’s boyfriend, Jessica still just shrugs it off as growing pains or whatever!

What’s worse is that it isn’t until she’s again ensnared by the Organization that it even dawns on Jessica that her sister is not only under their control, but also that she’s the one who set Jessica up! Do you see what I mean? It’s really, really hard to read a novel in which your protagonist is this stupid, not to mention under “erotic mind control.” It’s like you’re reading an entire novel about a puppet. (Actually two puppets, if you factor in Heather’s storyline.)

And you’d think after 316 pages of small print there would at least be some sort of resolution, but nope! Instead it all comes off like the first installment of a series, and if online reviews are any indication there never is any resolution, even after two more damn volumes. Nothing’s resolved, the Organization’s master plan isn’t unveiled, and most damnably of all Stephen Abbott doesn’t get his comeuppance and indeed is still alive and well at novel’s end.

The finale does at least end on an interesting note, with Jessica being lobotomized(!) by the Organization; astrally escaping from her corporeal form, Jessica ends up possessing the body of her own sister! I guess her logic is that since Heather’s already under mind control, this way at least the person controlling her body will have Heather’s best interests in mind. But anyway this is how the novel ends, Jessica now in Heather’s body (and thankfully here she kills at least one of the villains, the grating young Organization gigolo Ron), escaping Stephen Abbott’s mansion to plot her vengeance.

Like a fool I picked up all three volumes before reading a single one, so now, once I build up the stamina, I’ll need to move on to the second installment, The Obsession Of Sally Wing. Bizarrely enough, these books are collectibles, particularly the last one, The Education Of Jennifer Parrish, likely because that one only had the one printing. Luckily I got my copies for cheap, and I advise that if you do decide to seek these books out, see that you are able to do the same – don’t do anything crazy like pay a lot of money for them.


russell1200 said...

If you have something that is inexhaustible, such as her desire, it is essentially an infinite commodity.

So I wonder how exactly you mark of increments against the infinite exactly?

It would seem that a better description would be that he failed miserably with his finite capacities to sate her infinite needs.

Obviously she was very underwhelmed and just trying to be polite in her description. No Lily Allen kiss and complain for her.

Will Errickson said...

Thanks for the shout-out! Guess I'm not too surprised by anything you reveal in this review. Still, I kinda-sorta enjoyed one of Martin's books, THE DESECRATION OF SUSAN BROWNING, and have another, something about a Cindy Sterling, on my shelf. Gonna collect 'em for the covers alone, of course.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks guys, for the comments. Will, the week after next I'll be posting a review for a horror novel that met and exceeded my trash expectations!

halojones-fan said...

I love the idea that there is a whole site dedicated solely to Erotic Mind Control Horror novels. That is just such a "mid-Nineties Internet" thing.