A Good and Happy Child
Justin Evans
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Buy *A Good and Happy Child* by Justin Evans online

A Good and Happy Child
Justin Evans
Three Rivers Press
322 pages
April 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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With elements of The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and a bit of The Sixth Sense thrown in for good measure, author Justin Evans has written a dark, subversive tale that brings us deep into the heart and mind of a troubled, conflicted young man.

George Davies has been living in unspeakable mental anguish, plagued by a chain of neuroses, insecurities and anxieties that are steadily burning into his soul, the feelings becoming so terrible he can't even hold his own baby. In fact, he would rather destroy his marriage and his career than face these thoughts.

In desperation, George sees a therapist and gives him a series of small spiral memo notebooks which tell of a succession events that took place when George was eleven years old and growing up in Preston, Virginia. Long buried in his history is a terrifying incident that left George in the power of something unknown and contributed to much of the tension that has surfaced in his adult years.

Delving into his past, George's father suddenly dies while visiting Honduras. Coinciding with this, George starts having visions in the form of an impossibly strange face that comes to him through the bathroom mirror. Worried and fearful, his mother Joan suggests a visit to a psychiatrist who fills George with an unexpected sense of safety.

The visions, however, steadily worsen until one night a child appears next to George in bed, "his grinning eyes-narrowed in mischievous glee as he frenetically chews his fingers." He tells George that he's his "Friend," and speaking with a wild urgency, he gives him a message about his father: "Somebody knows what happened to your father, somebody wanted him to die."

The young and impressionable George listens to the boy, positive that the message refers to Tom Harris, his father's best friend, who once came to George's house and spoke to his mother about not being alone anymore. When George confronts Tom about his father's disappearance, he tells the boy, "I know things about your father that you don't want to know, I know things about how he died."

Roused into this world-warped atmosphere, George becomes ever more convinced that his father was duped by Tom's superior intelligence, and there's little doubt in his mind that Tom murdered him. This feeling is toughened when George discovers that some letters exist of his father's that were written from Honduras just before he died and are now being kept in the care of his godfather, Uncle Freddie.

At night in bed, everywhere George moves, his Friend grips and squeezes him with terrific force, this conniving, pinching child who grits his teeth with a twinge of sadism and leers at George with a terrifying look of evil.

It isn't until Tom's cryptic comments, his unexpected gestures of friendship, and his bizarre demand for secrecy that George starts to think that maybe Tom is innocent after all, and that he in turn has become victim of some sort of demonic possession. In a surprise turn of events, it is Tom, Uncle Freddie, and Clarissa, a long-term family friend, who join forces to help the beleaguered boy, all of them sure that George has come under the spell of an evil spirit in the form of a fallen angel.

Tumbling through time from George's adult life in New York as he battles to keep his family together to the story embedded within his notebooks, Evans infuses his tale with an unlikely cadre of spooks, demons and supernatural happenings, including a real live exorcism that young George is made to witness, much to his shock and horror.

The strength of this novel comes from the author's smooth, glacial, strangely beautiful prose, and also from Evans' uncanny ability to explain George's condition through the parallel worlds of psychology, religion and mysticism.

In the end, the ability to see evil seems to bind George and his father together. But is it just the shock and shame of his father's death that serves as the final snap for George's brittle personality? Or was his father indeed killed by a demon that has cursed his family, ultimately laying its reek of unhappiness in the heart of their home?

These questions lie at the heart of George's troubled past as time and fate collide in a page-turning finale that will leave readers gasping in shock and surprise.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Michael Leonard, 2007

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