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A mother. A daughter. A demon…. Charla kept her unsettling hatred towards her daughter Amelie a secret for so long, but over time it became harder for her to quench her morbid impulses without raising concerns. One lonely dawn, Charla …divorced, pained, unhappy… ignited events which invoked a horrible demon to disrupt her twenty-five year old’s picture perfect life. She put her terrifying scheme into action … and the demon began its wave of hell.
It’s not too uncommon to find despicable male characters in horror fiction–alcoholics, murderers, rapists, child abusers, etc, but it’s rare to find women who are really vile and inspire a strong, visceral reaction in the reader. Yes, there are plenty of evil women in genre fiction, most of whom go on borderline campy, but to find ones that are well characterized and complex is a real rarity, and Charla Green of Alexander Beresford’s striking novel, Charla, is one those rare women. She starts off describing how much she hates her daughter, Amelie, who has no idea. Charla is a compulsive drinker and smoker. Charla routinely hopes that something will kill her daughter. Charla wanted a boy. She starts hating the kid right after giving birth, and tries to get help but others brush it off as post-partum depression, or dismiss her feelings as “normal” and reassure her that they’ll pass.
Charla is really cruel to this little girl from the outset, and starts off with things like waking her up on purpose, “accidentally” tripping her, etc, but she’s calculated in that she makes sure not to leave any marks or physical evidence of her abuse, even though it’s ever-present and gets worse. Of course, Beresford provides some insights into Charla’s own background, letting us know what would possibly possess a woman to have so much pure and unfiltered hatred for her child, and, no surprise, Charla comes from a troubled background having been abandoned by her real father to dealing with a bad stepfather.
Although Amelie is “flawlessly beautiful” and gets everything Charla never had like ballet lessons, cheerleading after school, being popular, etc, and Charla thinks of her as a spoiled rotten princess, Charla’s hatred goes beyond mere jealousy of physical attributes. Charla grew up in abject poverty and used to be a prostitute. In recent years, one of Charla’s preoccupations has become Tarot readings, which leads her to drum up the ultimate “revenge” against a daughter who has never done anything bad to her. The thing Charla is possibly the most jealous of is Amelie’s young, handsome lawyer fiance, Michael, who Charla is convinced is into her, so she starts to entertain the notion that the best way to get back at Amelie would be to sleep with him and ruin their relationship.
Brandon, Charla’s husband, also comes into play, patient and understanding at first, but as their marriage begins to disintegrate, he suggests counselling for her drinking problem that she doesn’t pursue, and eventually, they get a divorce. Although Charla has no qualms about cheating on her husband, she is devastated that he could do such a thing to her, and goes down a path of darkness from which there is no return. However, it’s only when she sees a Blue Jay who she’s convinced says “demon” to her, as if suggesting a way to bring her fiendish plot to hurt Amelie to life, that she gets the idea to appeal to Satan to destroy her daughter. She wants to cause as much pain as possible, and figures a demon is the best way to do it, no matter what the personal cost to herself. She also begins her plan of seduction for Michael, who, as it turns out, isn’t as picture perfect as Amelie has been led to believe.
Rather unfortunately, Amelie and her friend start consulting a Ouija board, which reveals that bad things are coming for her, and this comes to pass at first when her grandmother passes away. Amelie then suffers a supernatural attack that sends her to the hospital, and the psych ward wants to keep her in lockdown because she’s exhibiting some signs of mental illness, as well as sliced wrists, which make it look like she tried to commit suicide.
When Amelie’s friend, Stephanie, tries to intervene to help her friend, and discovers that Charla is messing with some dark forces, she learns the hard way that she should have just stayed out of it.
Amelie descends further into madness, and the worse she gets, the more the demon’s attacks intensify until it manifests physically and does everything it can to break her down–but it also reminds Charla that she still has a price to pay and that demons aren’t just pets that will obey their summoners no matter what. They like to have their own fun and do things no their own terms, and to make requests come true in ways the person who requested it may not want, things that weren’t part of the deal.
In fact, the demon works too well, and Charla figures she needs to get rid of it, but the question is, can she? Although I found the ending a bit anti-climactic, it fits. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s left to the reader’s imagination to interpret what has happened.
Charla is an engaging novel that takes the reader to places where even the most seasoned horror fan won’t want to go, that visits territory not explored often enough in horror with casting a female character as the real bad guy, and boy, what a crazy bad guy she is. It’s refreshing to see a woman as a villain who isn’t a cardboard cutout, who isn’t Disneyish or cartoonish, who isn’t a walking cliche, and who challenges the notions that a mother always unconditionally and automatically loves her child.