BOYS IN THE VALLEY by Philip Fracassi is a chilling classic.
Fracassi’s tale is labeled as horror, but is much more than that: this is a deep, gritty coming-of-age story that delves its own mark on readers.
In 1905, when the priests at a Catholic orphanage in rural Pennsylvania are brought a possessed man to heal, things go horribly wrong, for the clergy and for the 30 boys in their charge.
From the shocking opening to the pandemonium at the book’s ending, BOYS IN THE VALLEY grabs you and does not let up!
Fracassi has a great writing style that combines vivid imagery, tight-knit prose, and a tense build-up of suspense littered with unexpected action, as he creates an in-depth world filled with memorable characters.
It is because of the many aspects of the characters living within the winter-blasted setting that there are quite a few extremely moving scenes.
The following Book Review of BOYS IN THE VALLEY by Philip Fracassi has mild plot Spoilers*
The book starts with its protagonist, nine-year-old Peter, watching paralyzed as his father returns home drunk and faces scorn from his wife for not bringing the starving family any food.
Peter’s father, Jack, snaps. He murders his wife, he stares down his son, and then he turns the gun on himself.
It is the eerily realistic semblance of the defeated father losing it and the powerless boy that sees this play out, paralyzed and mortified, that captures people’s flaws and their humanity so well, and this knowledge shapes Peter, even as the event itself haunts him.
The way Fracassi writes the scene, you can feel how tired Peter’s father is when he “sits heavily” and takes off his battered hat. You get the feeling the man is, at the least, verbally abusive when he is in an angered state, and like the kettle that whistles in the home as Peter’s mother taunts her husband, Jack Barlow simmers on the page until, once boiled, he blows up.
Are the use of ‘Jack’ and ‘Barlow’ a nod to two of Stephen King’s earliest works?
Seven years later, Peter is among the kinder and older boys of St. Vincent’s Orphanage. He is training to become a priest under his friend and surrogate father figure, Father Andrew, and his insightfulness into the difficulties of life, at the orphanage and in general, makes him an interesting lens to watch the tragic story of BOYS IN THE VALLEY unfold.
Peter, now 16, has fallen in love with a neighboring farmer’s daughter, and he has to come to grips with his knowledge that his mentor, Father Andrew, thinks of him like a son, and that to tell Andrew that Peter will not complete his training and become a priest will likely break the man’s heart.
But Father Andrew is a fantastic character and one who continually reminds Peter, despite the priest’s own hopes, that it is Peter’s choice to make.
This is a beautiful display of affection that shines throughout the book and is not forgotten when Peter does not get to make that choice.
Life at the orphanage means strict adherence to the priests’ rules, daily farm work and meager meals that never fill any of the boys’ bellies.
The 30 boys living together act as brothers will, in both caring for one another, especially Peter looking out for the smaller and younger orphans, in entertaining one another, in ribbing one another, and in picking on one another.
Boys are curious.
But the more they learn of the priests’ attempt to heal a possessed man who is then killed and buried on the church grounds, the more a malevolent mood permeates many of them.
Peter’s best friend, another main character and a good foil that makes an impression, as the gruff, ever-cynical older boy, David, is stalwart throughout the book, a pillar that Peter can count on to show no fear. Until he cannot. And when David is afraid, Peter realizes just how wrong things have gone.
Fracassi writes: “David is not easily knocked off his course. He has walls within walls to keep himself insulated from things of the world . . . Any emotions he may or may not feel . . . are buried deep within him, visible only to his inner self . . . [But] to see him so visibly, dramatically shaken is like . . . the first time I saw my mother cry.” [BOYS IN THE VALLEY, Fracassi, Tor Nightfire, Earthling Publications, Orbit Books]
The entire passage is far more impactful than the condensed quote above, but you will just have to read the book, readers.
There are many more memorable characters, from Brother Johnson, the sadistic, lifelong criminal sentenced to serve the priests and therein is often the twisted enforcer of punishments for the boys, and then to Grace, the sweet love of Peter’s life who lends him a great work of fiction every time he visits her.
As the frosty fields are quickly covered with falling snow and then the fell wind of the incoming storm that grows and grows and, finally, blasts St. Vincent’s, so too does the evil follow in its wake.
The possessed boys carry out the most heinous of acts imaginable against their orphan-brothers.
Only the union of the resistant boys under Peter and David stand in the way of the demons.
Fracassi paints so many shades of black.
Though there are parallels between Blatty’s masterpiece THE EXORCIST, Stephen King’s IT, and BOYS IN THE VALLEY, when I think of this book, I keep coming back to two impactful coming-of-age tales: William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES and Kurt Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE.
The latter is a favorite of mine, and I would argue Billy Pilgrim as a young man dropped into WWII Germany grows enough to be a bildungsroman in its own right, just as much as Golding’s tale of boys surviving on their own devices does, if in different ways.
LORD OF THE FLIES pits one group of children against another in a poignant way that is echoed in Fracassi’s boys forming of two opposing sides.
Demonic possession has been depicted throughout culture as an evil being often self-describing itself as ‘many’ or ‘legion’ and in BOYS IN THE VALLEY, the demons that inhabited a child murderer spread, like a disease, so that a horrific army of possessed young boys is formed and bent on further infection of the clergy and their brethren boys and the world, and for any who resist they want only to maliciously harm them.
Dominance and survival are two of the qualities that seep from Golding and from Fracassi.
There are even two orphan boys that are so close in age and friendship, they are called brothers even though they are not related, and these two inseparable characters are pitted against one another in BOYS IN THE VALLEY and it is terrifically terrible.
End of SPOILER Warning*
The horrors of war, the sheer atrocities performed by humans pitted against humans, that Billy Pilgrim is caught in in Dresden, Germany are so harsh as to be revolting, which was the point: the writing is as real as the terrible acts of war were/are.
So too does BOYS IN THE VALLEY invoke violent depictions of its own deeply personal war. But this is also realism and writing at its most effective.
This is how these characters behave.
BOYS IN THE VALLEY sticks with you like a knife in the ribs: it never really goes away.
For horror fans, you may need to read this one in the warm light of the summer sun, because the darkness and the bitter cold stalks the reader, just as it daunts the characters in the book.
Yes, there are some brutal, graphic scenes in BOYS IN THE VALLEY, but they are reflective of the history that the story takes place in, as well as the realistic actions of the characters.
Fracassi’s tale is one you will happily reread even though it still hurts.
I was fortunate to receive an advanced review copy of this book to do a Preview Review of the Earthling Publications signed limited edition for Halloween 2021 that is a stunner, and I have reread the ARCs provided to me by Tor Nightfire and by Orbit Books to do this review to expound on BOYS IN THE VALLEY for their July 2023 release dates. The book is out NOW.
The Exorcist By Blatty S/L by Suntup, Lonely Road & Gauntlet fine presses provides one of the world’s most terrifying and thrilling novels an exceptional book reading experience.
The Exorcist By William Peter Blatty is an all-time great work of fiction.
This cannot be understated; the writing, the tale, the characters are all remarkable.
The film adaptation that Blatty was a part of will forever be a classic, as well, but the novel adds so much more to the brilliant characters, the shocking story, and the uniquely personal detective work.
The following book review of The Exorcist: The Fortieth Anniversary Edition will have mild Spoilers** that will end with the story review and the start of a fine press book review of each of the Holy Trinity: The Exorcist signed and limited editions by Gauntlet Press, Lonely Road Books, and released this year, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of this iconic masterpiece of horror and paranormal suspense, Suntup Editions.
I have a favorite! But now back to the The Exorcist: The Fortieth Anniversary Edition book review!
For those who have read The Exorcist, but not the revised edition, I highly encourage you to take up the endeavor.
On September 27, 2011, The Exorcist was re-released as a 40th Anniversary Edition in hardcover, paperback and audiobook featuring new and revised material. Of this edition, Blatty wrote:
“This will have a touch of new material in it as part of an all-around polish of the dialogue and prose. First time around I never had the time (meaning the funds) to do a second draft, and this, finally, is it. With forty years to think about it, a few little changes were inevitable — plus one new character in a totally new, very spooky scene. This is the version I would like to be remembered for.” [Suntup.press]
From the eerie and ominous opening of the book, we touch on foreshadowing and evil and duty for Father Lankester Merrin, as he meets with a dear friend.
An ancient Assyrian idol of the demon Pazuzu has been found at Merrin’s archaeological dig in northern Iraq.
And this creepy and poignant chapter, the sweat that runs from the elderly Jesuit priest in the full light of the sun spilling over the desert, bespeaks an impending battle, and what may be strife in the spiritual battleground and the physical one.
He must leave his dear friend and go back to the US. Some goodbyes are heartbreaking.
Blatty leaves Merrin behind for much of the book and focuses on a little girl named Regan in Washington D.C.
She is possessed; there is no spoiler there, folks.
Blatty was originally inspired by the story of the demonic possession of a child in the 1940s.
Regan, the eleven-year-old daughter of Chris, a movie actress residing in Washington, D.C. for a film, lives in a creepy old house overlooking a terribly long and narrow stairway outside.
The murder of Chris’ producer, who is found at the bottom of the stairs with his head turned all the way around – quite unnaturally – begins an investigation into the family in the house.
Welcome one of the most fun detectives in fiction: Lt. William Kinderman!
He is an older man, who is jovial, polite, and so very sly and intuitive with regards to human behavior and reactions.
Because the film producer was murdered after he was in Chris’ home, Kinderman has no choice but to thoroughly investigate every occupant of the house, as well as the visiting Jesuit priest Father Damien Karras, who he befriends in part for company and in part to get information out of him.
This is a thrilling, and at times humorous, cat and mouse game, as the two speak and meet again and again.
Meanwhile, Chris, an atheist, is upset as her daughter quickly dissolves before her into what she thinks is multiple personality disorder.
Regan speaks in other languages, lashes out at her doctors, is shriveling away physically, and even makes her entire bed tremble, as if there was an earthquake.
Aside from locking up Regan in an institution, which Chris will not do, one of the psychiatrists suggests that Regan may think she is possessed and so an exorcist may provide a psychosomatic cure.
Father Carris tries desperately to build a case to the Church for exorcism, but Regan’s time is running out.
**Spoilers END here
The Exorcist: The Fortieth Anniversary Edition by William Peter Blatty is truly something special – there is no work of fiction like this.
The research involved in writing this book was extensive, the writing could not be better, and the eerie world is so real, it scares the hell out of me to this day.
And that is my guess as to why the 71-week bestseller is considered one of the most controversial books of all time.
To pay homage to this classic work of literature, I will review the three small press publishers that crafted S/L editions containing Blatty’s preferred fortieth anniversary text, and I will review in the order they were published before I compare the three, Gauntlet, Lonely Road, and Suntup, limited editions.
The Exorcist by Blatty gets the grand fine press treatment it deserves
First released was the interesting Gauntlet Press edition that has a signature sheet for the 25th Anniversary and a publication page for the text version, the 40th Anniversary (I do not know why and am so curious about that).
It is a beautiful book that was limited to 600 copies with an introduction by F. Paul Wilson who signed it, as well as Blatty.
Only the lettered, which I do not have got illustrations in the book, but I will say that the cover art of this book is my favorite of any trade or small press dust jacket art that I have seen.
It is black, simple, elegant, and the warped image of Regan in the light symbolizing a cross is, to many, disturbing.
The boards are a fun iridescent sable cloth too and the pages are of a nice quality.
The Exorcist: The Fortieth Anniversary Edition by William Peter Blatty Signed and Numbered Limited Made By Lonely Road Books
Lonely Road Books produced a phenomenal edition of the work in an oversized 7.5” x 10.5” to highlight the stunning original art by Caniglia.
This edition was limited to 374 numbered and signed by Blatty!
The dust jacket is gorgeous, but I prefer the white faux leather boards and red foil stamping sans dj.
The slipcase is crimson with gold foil stamping and the paper is quality, though not as thick in the hand as the Gauntlet or the Suntup.
The artwork in the book is the real highlight, aside from the author’s preferred text and signature, of course.
This art is tied for my favorite (with the Suntup), and it has a ton of illustrations and I think more than any other illustrated edition to date.
It is a sight to behold!
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty Numbered Edition By Suntup Editions
To celebrate the 2021 50th anniversary of the great book, Paul Suntup and his team went all out to deliver one of the most celebrated numbered editions of The Exorcist and of their own outstanding lineup.
Suntup’s numbered version of The Exorcist is a bar setter.
With William Peter Blatty deceased, his close friend, a man he called his “brother” director of The Exorcist film William Friedkin penned the introduction and signed the book, as well as the marvelous artist Marc Potts.
Getting the award winning director to talk about the book and to sign this edition is nothing short of amazing.
But what is more, the intricate Jesuit priest shirt and collar, done in two-color Japanese cloth, with a white paper tie, is out of this world amazing!
“The EXORCIST by WILLIAM PETER BLATTY Suntup numbered edition unboxing” VIDEO by THE JEFF WORD
From Suntup’s description:
The Numbered edition of 250 copies is a handmade lapped component case binding constructed from purple and black Japanese cloth covers and purple folded single folio endsheets. It features foil stamped titling at the spine, a white Plike paper collar, flush mounted and wrapped at the head of the book, and is housed in a cigar-style enclosure covered in Japanese cloth. The edition is printed letterpress on Mohawk Via Vellum and is signed by William Friedkin and Marc Potts. Each copy of this edition is sewn and bound by hand. [Suntup.press]
This handbound gem has a smooth feel and an effervescent shine to the boards that catches the light in the most beautiful of ways.
The page type is outstanding, and the letterpress printing is truly the finest way to read the book.
You can see the ink on the page so easily and you can feel the impression of each word or device that the letterpress stamped onto the page.
There is no experience like reading this edition of the book.
It is heavy, it is drool-worthy in its visual design, and the fine art illustrated by Marc Potts is by far the darkest of all the editions I have seen.
The artwork in the book is every bit as good as Caniglia’s and tied to be my favorite of all.
And the cigar style case in the vestment purple and black cross insignia is a work of art in and of itself.
The overall transcendent edition of fiction for The Exorcist goes to the rarest of the S/L’s, the Suntup Editions numbered.
All of these books are incredible works of art that pay great homage to the work’s author, Blatty, and I recommend them all.