- Lauria, Frank, Communion, NY: Bantam Books, July 1977. 179 pages 5/10
I should not have read this book. If only because the movie appears decidedly better. Directed by Alfred Sole and released in 1976, Communion has the reputation of being a little-known thriller that deserves to be well-know, a "lost classic," essentially. It deals with a horrifying murder and touches on issues of repression, child abuse and the ills of organized religion. The novelization is simply unnecessary. But the cover is quite nicely creepy.
Communion deals with the murder of a young girl named Karen Spages. The better half of a pair of sisters, Karen is brutally killed in her church moments at the start of her first communion. Many believe her mischievous twelve year-old sister Alice is responsible, while Alice is convinced that Karen has returned from the dead to commit further crimes, wearing her communion dress and a grasping a butcher knife. Her divorced parents Catherine and Dominic believe she is innocent and are trying to figure out what is really going on. There is a good contrast between the parents, the orthodox mother and seemingly sex-starved and professionally ambitious father, which help to illustrate the conflicts within young Alice.
Adding to the list of characters is a taunting and jealous aunt Alice, her own passive husband Jim and their two children. Father Tom is the good-looking priest and childhood friend of Catherine's and Dominic's who is just too good, with a helpful assistant in Father Pat, a grumpy housekeeper in Mrs. Tredoni, and a stroke-afflicted monsignor. There are also two police officers, Captain Raymond Beame and Detective Mike Spina, who don't seem to do very much in the novel, though Beame is given a fair amount of weight at his introduction. And then there is the landlord Alfonso, an excessively overweight cat-lover, for whom I just couldn't help but feel pity.
At 179 pages, the read is quick enough to complete in 179 minutes. There is no poetry to the prose, no finely-tuned sentences or clever similes (the only simile to stand out actually made me laugh: a character is stabbed and "stared at the gray fat curling back like the lips of an oversized vagina" p.169). While I wasn't expecting Faulkner, I would have been happy with John Coyne, who did a great job novelizing The Legacy, another forgotten horror film of the 1970s. I was disappointed with Lauria's elementary style, the overused adverbs (everything is said gently, or soothingly, or angrily, or sternly...) and the terrible concept of point of view. In terms of point of view, the novelization is disorganized and completely nonsensical. Not only are we jarringly hoisted from one person's thoughts to another, the thoughts themselves are often completely foreign to the owner. The vagina simile, for instance, is not a comparison that particular character can be comfortably associated with. At the beginning, the good daughter Karen sees her sister's face "grinning like a succubus," something not possibly associated with this innocent ten year-old's mind. The author was clearly thinking of effect on an adult reader rather than what might truly flash through the character's mind, so that all the players become a little too foggy and generic.
Plot-wise, I managed to pick out the true culprit early on, mostly because of a single sentence that appeared out-of-place, as though the author decided that he should give the reader a clue and maybe I'll stick it right about...(eyes close and finger twirling above the pages)...here! I'm assuming the movie is more subtle.
Overall the novel reads like a clear-cut and straightforward novelization, complete with stage directions (Dominic walked across the room, looked at the chair and sat down). There are occasional attempts at delineating thought, at describing the priest's or the mother's guilt, or to illustrate a character's back-story which is most likely the author's own invention rather than something borrowed directly from the script (this is guesswork on my part since I haven't seen the film). These moments are awkward and end up slowing the prose which is otherwise descriptive and physically vivid, the author trying to literally translate the on-screen action.
As one hand is now slowly moving over to my black and grey mouse in order to gently click on the orange "PUBLISH POST" icon...
Having recently seen the movie, and having read the book, sometime ago, I can testify that Laura has written better stuff. I was a fan of his pseudo-hero Dr. Orient way back when. But, back to the point. “Communion” the movie was very much in the mode of an Italian Gallo, the movie’s viewpoint also jumped around, and since I never try to guess whodunit, I was surprised, not that there was a lot of logic to any of it. I liked it, but I’m an old trash brat from way back. The novel was probably churned out on a quick schedule on the author’s lunch hour, and was never meant to do anything more than be a product for the movie. However, as I wander aimlessly, I should point out that many of your complaints go back to the movie itself. You really can’t make gold string out of used dental floss.
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