Welcome to Freaky Friday, that day of the week when well-dressed children lying in their coffins stare back at you from the covers of out-of-print paperbacks. It’s creepy! Who makes a child wear a tie????
Dating is hard. Especially if you’re Patty Thompson, a divorced 23-year-old mother of two (Janet and Little Frankie). First, her chain-smoking mother, Lydia, lives with her and criticizes everything she does. Second, her dead end apartment complex smells like cabbage (“stale and sour”) which is a huge turn-off for any man she brings home who’s not a leprechaun. Third, the only bar she frequents is the Red Lantern Lounge at the end of her block where toothless alcoholics go to gum their rotgut vodka and their corpses get swept out at the end of the night. And fourth, she has zero self-esteem. Maybe less. “Patty glanced at her reflection behind the bar, then quickly turned away her head…the less she saw of herself the less she’d remember how pathetic she really looked.” Patty’s got so much going against her that it’s really no surprise to the reader that the first man she takes home since her divorce not only gets her pregnant, but turns out to be Satan. Or maybe James Taylor? But probably Satan.
During the horror boom of the Seventies and Eighties the two publishers on the lowest rung of the ladder were Zebra Books and Leisure Books. Edmund Plante wrote almost exclusively for Leisure, starting with Transformation in 1987 and releasing both Seed of Evil and the unrelated Garden of Evil in 1988. Garden is about killer plants that seduce a family into becoming their gardeners of evil, whereas Seed uses “seed” in the literal sense, as in “manseed” or, to be more accurate, “Satanseed.”
Patty should have seen the danger signs. Sam, the glittering-eyed stud with dark black hair she picks up at the Red Lantern Lounge uses lines like “Where, my darling, have you been all my long life?” and “You live on the edge of darkness,” which are both clear indications that this guy is either Satan or a singer-songwriter. In both cases, that’s a dealbreaker. Once inside Patty’s apartment, Sam reveals that he has an inhumanly long penis. Frightened, Patty begs him not to have sex with her, but his penis gets even bigger and has sex with her anyway. To make it even more humiliating, her mom walks in on them in the middle, tries to stab Sam with a butcher’s knife, then he pulls out, urinates on Pam, and disappears, all while laughing maniacally. At this point, it’s still not clear whether he’s a demon from hell or has a Bachelor in Songwriting from Berklee.
Knowing that it’s her body and her choice, Pams sets out to get an abortion but on the way decides that it’s not her baby’s fault he’s either the child of devil rape or of a man who believes that Bob Dylan deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature, so she’s going to make the best of things and just pray she can raise him right and that exposure to human love and kindness will overcome her baby’s natural inclination to commit acts of evil and refer to Bruce Springsteen as “the Boss.” Big mistake. The second he’s born, he’s not very nice. It may be because she names him Richard, thereby opening him up to a lifetime of Dick jokes, but it could also be that the infant seems to be aware that he was only one bus transfer away from his mom exercising her reproductive rights. As Lydia informs Patty continually, while waving one of her ever-present cigarettes, “You should’ve had that abortion, I’m telling you.”
Patty forbids any mention of Richard’s father, or playing of Elliott Smith CDs, hoping everything will just turn out okay if she ignores how Richard was conceived. Her mother retreats to her favorite chair, watching TV and guzzling Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi out of a mug her dead husband gave her, refusing to even speak to Richard for five years. Then, Little Frankie breaks grandma’s favorite mug and frames Richard for the crime. It leads to full on war that climaxes with Richard biting through Little Frankie’s arm and sending him to the hospital. When Patty refuses to hug and comfort him afterwards, Richard has a seizure until she picks him up in her arms.
Still uncertain if her son is the antichrist or the next Paul Simon, Patty endures and times change and her family grow up scarred, but relatively happy. Whenever Richard asks for a hug his grandmother and mother feign headaches, but eventually even someone who looks as pathetic as Patty maybe has a chance to find love once she lands a new job:
“She’ll meet a lot of nice men on her new job, whatever that may be. Maybe she’ll be a legal secretary and meet lawyers. Or maybe a medical secretary and meet doctors.”
Forget it, Patty. Don’t you remember what happened the last time you met someone? In case you’ve forgotten, her hellspawn reminds her by going missing. Time passes, no one gets bitten or has to listen to sincere lyrics written in a journal, Patty gets off welfare and buys stylish clothes for her now-teenaged children. Everything actually seems okay. She’s even dating Myles, a nice man who owns a garage. Then, Richard returns. It’s been eight years, and he’s gaunt, clad in rags, and has impeccable grammar. He keeps correcting everyone’s sentences, and he tells Patty that he’s been living with his father. Finally, he confesses that he spent the past eight years squatting in an abandoned condo with boarded up windows eating rats and bugs and reading books about Hitler and the Marquis de Sade. He’s become completely insufferable and Patty has to face the facts: the man who raped her was probably a folk singer.
Apparently, Richard’s folk singer father spent most of those eight years telling his son that no one loves him, but Richard believes that his mother does and he’s come back to give her a chance to prove it. The fact is, any child who corrects your “who” and “whoms” and brags about reading decadent French writers and doesn’t get immediately tied in a burlap bag and dropped in a pond is being loved, but that’s not enough for Richard. He wants hugs and he has the psychic powers to demand them, like a really needy Carrie White whose favorite class is AP English.
First, Richard has the curtains attack his mother when he spots her wearing a cross. Then he shows his grandmother a special TV broadcast from Hell that reveals her husband is trapped there being dorked by a two-headed penis for molesting little girls while he was alive. Then he psychically crams her face-first through the boob tube like Nightmare on Elm Street III. Relieved that her son is merely the son of Satan and not of a man who might, even at that moment, be busking, Patty is still at her wit’s end, pushed to the edge by Richard’s unrelenting grammatical Nazism. Unable to stand a second more of this torment, she finally takes Little Frankie and Janet and flees to Indiana where she becomes a convenience store clerk. Richard finds them even there.
He tells his mother, “I have so much hatred and negative feelings inside me, but I wish to know more love and positive feelings to offset it.” That’s a beautiful thought but then he gags his brother with a psychic dish towel, levitates him, and twists his head off in front of Patty. Probably not the best way to win a mother’s love.
In the end, he crushes Patty with his mind because she doesn’t love him correctly and goes down to Hell to join his father onstage at the Troubador in the 10pm slot. And his corpse is found hanging in that abandoned condo where it’s gone undetected for months, and the book ends with a classy ad for Leisure Book’s Love Spell Romance 800 number, for their preferred customers, only. The implication being, if you can’t find love at the Red Lantern Lounge, you can at least read about it when you’re sitting at home, all by yourself, waiting for the phone to ring. It’s not as much fun, but you also don’t get peed on, raped by an enormous penis, or have your mom shoved face-first through a TV screen. And no one makes you listen to their poetry.
Grady Hendrix has written for publications ranging from Playboy to World Literature Today; his previous novel was Horrorstör, about a haunted IKEA, and his latest novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is basically Beaches meets The Exorcist.