I woke up this morning - having finished Obsession late last night - feeling that Ramsey Campbell's excellent 'pact with the Devil' novel was a 5 star novel that somehow changed into a 4 star novel before its conclusion. I still loved it, but I did not feel compelled to up my rating, even though this morning has brought me the feeling that Campbell did sew all the terror up quite nicely...better than I gave him credit for, while I pondered my reactions to the sum of the book's parts last night. A wonderful Horror tale, but not as great as Nazareth Hill, or The Count of Eleven.
In the small town of Seaward, around 1958, four kids - chums, three boys, one girl - sell their souls to the Devil when he comes calling, offering to solve whatever their biggest problem is at that time. They're not spoilt whiners; they actually have some fairly major shit going down in each life - parents really can screw kids up - but the are not old enough to know that things change, time heals...and you don't sign a letter from the Devil that will solve a dilemma but make you pay later. It's not even like they wish for a million dollars or their own island paradise; their wishes, if granted, will just alleviate angst, teenager pain; you have to be able to spot a raw deal, but it's tough when you're young, and the Devil would know that. And if you're wish is "I wish my grandmother wasn't here anymore..." - uh, quick tip: once the signed letters have been grabbed by a breeze and whisked away (oh, that means they're mailed, kids, believe me - this is the Devil, supernatural stuff; forget all this "oh, I now we won't get our wishes" business just cuz they blew away; they are mailed, and you signed)...once the signed letters are delivered, there's no point begging the Devil, hours later, with "okay, when I wished my grandmother gone, that doesn't mean I want her dead, please please please don't kill her. please please, not what I meant.".
The too lateness of regret, and the Devil doesn't listen to that crap.
I assumed they sold their souls, but about 24 years later, they are still alive and all languishing in Seaward - and that's when payment is due. And payment is misery, misfortune, death and tragedy. A happy future on Earth seems to be what got signed away. All for a happier - well, less unhappy - childhood. So Peter, Steve, Jimmy, and Robin have to wonder: "can we wriggle out of this? because if not, we are doomed".
I thought a few sequences - just a few, particularly in the back half - were a bit rushed...which is a very odd sensation to get from my favorite Horror writer. However, this morning I am more in tune with the last 50 pages of the book than I was last night. I see the whole effect, and how the ending actually rounds it off. I'm staying away from "If it were me, I would have written it this way...". It works. Working perhaps better were the ghosts, the effects of the curse, and the way I really came to care about these characters, and wanted them to somehow get around the horrible mistake of their childhoods.
Campbell's The Long Lost was a 4 star book all the way through. Obsession hit me a bit different; it's a 5 star book that became a 4 star book - and who knows, that's just what happened to me; maybe it's really a 1 star book, or 5 stars because I just need a few more hours today to completely come around to how the circle got closed. I'll reflect a little more...this book will be on my mind for quite a while. But I'm not doing any quick-fix deals with the Devil, just for instant clarity or epiphany. I get it.