I really wanted to like The Remaking. It had an interesting premise, and interesting material to draw from. Unfortunately, it just didn’t stick the landing.
Inspired by a true story, this supernatural thriller for fans of horror and true crime follows a tale as it evolves every twenty years—with terrifying results.
Ella Louise has lived in the woods surrounding Pilot’s Creek, Virginia, for nearly a decade. Publicly, she and her daughter Jessica are shunned by their upper-crust family and the Pilot’s Creek residents. Privately, desperate townspeople visit her apothecary for a cure to what ails them—until Ella Louise is blamed for the death of a prominent customer. Accused of witchcraft, both mother and daughter are burned at the stake in the middle of the night. Ella Louise’s burial site is never found, but the little girl has the most famous grave in the South: a steel-reinforced coffin surrounded by a fence of interconnected white crosses.
Their story will take the shape of an urban legend as it’s told around a campfire by a man forever marked by his boyhood encounters with Jessica. Decades later, a boy at that campfire will cast Amber Pendleton as Jessica in a ’70s horror movie inspired by the Witch Girl of Pilot’s Creek. Amber’s experiences on that set and its meta-remake in the ’90s will ripple through pop culture, ruining her life and career after she becomes the target of a witch hunt. Amber’s best chance to break the cycle of horror comes when a true-crime investigator tracks her down to interview her for his popular podcast. But will this final act of storytelling redeem her—or will it bring the story full circle, ready to be told once again? And again. And again…
The Making and The Remaking and The Re-Remaking Etc.
The book starts in a traditional style, with a folksy campfire tale meant to scare the kids. Afterwards, a budding film writer/director from the area determines to make a movie based on the tale. This, in turn, inspires another up-and-coming director to remake the film. Finally, a podcaster takes up where the films left off.
The one constant, at least from the first film onwards, is Amber Pendleton. She plays young Jessica in the first movie and Jessica’s mother, Ella Louise, in the second. When it comes to the podcast, she’s…present? I think that’s the best way to put it.
Amber struck me as inspired by young actresses like Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Drew Barrymore (ET, Firestarter), and Heather O’Rourke (Poltergeist). Barrymore is probably the best comparison. Amber’s mother never attains her dreams of stardom. Instead, she pushes Amber to succeed where she failed. After the fallout from Don’t Tread on Jessica’s Grave, Amber slides into substance abuse. Unlike Barrymore, Amber doesn’t pull herself out of the tailspin she finds herself in.
The X-Files called. It wants Vancouver back.
There are clever moments. The folk tale itself has a Blair Witch vibe. The first movie tries to make itself the fore-runner of the child horror genre such as The Exorcist and Poltergeist. The second movie is a mashup of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. The cast is even inspired by the same sorts of stars the 90’s slasher flicks enjoyed. I remember slightly tarnished GenX and purity-pledge-gilded coming-of-age TV starlets were a thing.
There’s even an allusion to Vancouver’s “Hollywood North”. As a Canadian, I appreciated the nod. You couldn’t turn around in the 90’s without Vancouver doubling for half the gloomy, misty sites in America.
The book held a lot of promise, and I remember thinking somewhere around page 169 that I really hoped the book was able to stick the landing.
Unfortunately, for me, it did not. Your mileage may vary.
What went wrong?
I’m still trying to make heads and tails of The Remaking, and I think it has something to do with the shifts in point-of-view. We start with the folk tale, told in first person by the aggravated soul relating the story. The events of the first film are told in third person, with Amber as the main character. The second part of the book continues with the same main character, but in first person. The third section is a mishmash of first and third, told from the points of view of both Amber, and the new podcaster, Nate.
Point of view matters.
I found the technique messy and confusing from a structural point of view. More than once, I wished that the author had chosen a main character and point of view and just stuck with it. Who is the main character? What are the themes we’re exploring? Stay with Amber if she’s the main character.. The shift between first and third POV between the first and second movies was unnecessary. If it’s a matter of needing intimacy with the main character, you can get as close as you like with either perspective. Choose one.
Starting the third section in Nate’s point of view, after being in Amber’s head for two-thirds of the book, was jarring. Gone are the themes of mothers and daughters and the men who manipulate them. We’re in the brain of a man who wants to exploit Amber for his own gain. Who has absolutely no respect for her. Added onto this, he’s a black man doing his research in a small, insular Virginia town that refuses to open up to him. Yes, it’s racism.
Yeeted into another book, entirely.
The problem is…do I care? Before I get put on blast, let me explain. We spend the better part of 200 pages learning to empathize with a washed-up, drug-addicted child star who never breaks out of her genre. With this change, we are
yeeted 180’ed into a totally different story. If we’d started the The Remaking in Nate’s perspective, using him as the narrator, I could sympathize. To tack him and his themes into the third part of the book feels almost gratuitous. Particularly as we go right back to Amber’s perspective for the ending. An ending that, to me at least, resolved absolutely nothing. It just felt like more “fun and games with Amber in the woods.”
The Remaking isn’t a romance, and it doesn’t need to have a happy-ever-after, but it does need a satisfying conclusion. And I just wasn’t satisfied. I wanted better.
I had to find an interview with the author to track down the “true story” the folk tale is based on. Having a nod to that in the author’s notes would have been awesome.
He also explains how he told the story many ways due to the way storytelling has changed over time. I’m not convinced the structural gymnastics in the book were necessary to convey this.
This isn’t a bad story, and for the most part, I enjoyed reading it. I was 200 pages in before I realized how far I’d read. Clay McLeod Chapman does have talent for writing. There’s another review on Goodreads that pegs a lot of the themes and problems I also came across. This book just didn’t make the impact I would have liked. I’ll look forward to the next one.
TL;DR A folk tale becomes a cult classic movie and a disastrous remake years later. Fun for folks who enjoy horror movie nostalgia.
The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman
Published by Quirk Books
Source: Edelweiss +
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I received this book for free from Edelweiss + in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.