Stories about stories can be interesting, whether they fail or succeed in their own right. Clay McLeod Chapman, in The Remaking, has given us a story about ghost stories which is itself a ghost story in which the tale of Ella Louise and her daughter Jessica is being relived over and over again through different eras of telling. The particular focuses are the classic campfire tale, the 1970s low budget horror film, the self-aware 90s remake, and the modern podcast.
The book begins with a man asking for a drink in exchange for telling a story. It’s the 50s when he tells it, and he claims it happened in the 30s. As it goes on it is made clear there are at least a few factual elements in the tale, and as a result the reader finds themselves guessing which they might be. The style here is appropriate to a man telling a story, perhaps around a campfire or perhaps while sitting on a bench getting himself drunk.
The second segment features a director, fresh to the job and eager to work with a script about the story he long ago wrote, working with a pair of individuals attempting money laundering in order to get it made. The focus of the story alternates between him and young Amber Pendleton, a little girl who has been cast as the child mentioned in the previous ghost story. She has a rough home life, particularly in relating to a single mother who believes the girl is her second chance for fame. They do location shooting because it is noticeably cheaper, and the girl, overwhelmed by the set of a horror movie, finds herself increasingly imagining horrific events relating to the film.
The third section covers Amber Pendleton as the focus, as she deals at the start with having virtually no film career and only being remembered for the 1970s version of the story. A trauma related to those events has left her shaken; because of a rough upbringing combined with chemical dependency, she has become jittery and bitter. Shortly after learning someone is attempting to remake the film, Amber is offered a major role in it, and finds herself pulled back into experiences which she had previously pushed away, and a film she had derided. The parallels to 90s self-aware horror that borders on horror-comedy are obvious, and the book will later even reference this little piece in relation to Scream. It’s an effective portion, and the horror fan will probably find Amber somewhat less sympathetic for the way she looks down on fans, although on a human level she becomes quite sympathetic thanks to the understanding the reader has of her upbringing and trauma.
The final segment covers a self-involved man of color as he attempts to create a true crime podcast on the subject of not only the initial burning of mother and child, but also the strange incidents in the two film versions. It’s a clever turn of events, giving a very different point of view from the ones that had dominated the majority of the book, keeping a minority understanding while at the same time giving the reader a character that, like the director in the 1970s version, is quite interested in making his own star rise. Indeed, in an interesting twist this new character who hunts down Amber Pendleton is clearly the most aggressively self-interested character in the book, with the second most self-interested being the man trying to con a drink at the start by telling a story. This is an excellent use of circular storytelling, particularly thematically. That said, the choice to make a man of color the most obviously self-interested one is interesting, and the fact that he sees what he is doing as a clear and good thing connects him to the director from the 1970s who merely wished to make sure the story was told on top of cementing his own career.
Amber Pendleton is the only living human being to appear in the majority of the book, remaining a fixture through three of four major sections. The reader sees her go from a scared but overall normal little girl to a broken old woman. They see her encounter tragedy after tragedy, and attempt to make sense of not only life in a traditional sense, but a supernatural trauma that affects her deeply. Other characters each have their own short parts to play, and the breakdown of the town of Pilot’s Creek gives a village its own character arc. The town is described in each version of the tale, how it has adjusted and broken down over time and how it learns to relate to the urban legend that has become the most famous thing about it. One cannot help but think of Roswell or Amityville when one sees the depiction of the town rejecting and reluctantly having to accept its legacy.
Intolerance and the refusal to understand others play a very large part in the book. This starts as early as Ella Louise being harassed by her mother, and lasts until the very end of the book when Nate Dennison casually makes assumptions about Amber and the people in Pilot’s Creek. Neither come across particularly well in those moments, though both Behavior patterns are of their time and entirely understandable due to cultural inputs. A modern reader is far more likely to find Nate’s behavior forgivable, due to similar sensibilities and provocations. The relationships between mother and daughter permeate much of the book with the ghost story, making of the 70s film, and making of the 90s film each taking time to highlight different examples of such relationships.
A good story grows in the telling. The Remaking is Clay McLoed Chapman’s attempt to address this on a generational level, and is quite entertaining for it. The fan of horror fiction and the fan of ghost stories will both find something worth while here.
(Quirk Books, 2019)