2016 could not kill us, and 2017 will not be our undoing either. It’s Freaky Fridays, back from a holiday-shaped grave and still your tiny and adorable paperback sump pump hooked up to your eyes and filling your skull with weirdness on a weekly basis.
As we head into the new year it’s important to remember that everything is dangerous. Temp jobs (The Shining), traveling for work (Dracula), going to university (Frankenstein), sleepovers (The Haunting of Hill House), studying hard (Doctor Faustus), buying a car (Christine), or even just minding your own business (Red Dragon). Once kids are involved you’re in truly terrifying territory because everything about them is scary: having a baby (Rosemary’s Baby), babysitting (The Turn of the Screw), bringing your baby back from the dead (Pet Sematary), going on a school trip (Lord of the Flies). But nothing is generally accepted to be as completely off-the-rails insane as adopting a child. Even a totally rad orphan with mad guitar skills.
Author Frank Lauria has written novelizations of Dark City, Pitch Black, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s End of Days, and he’s even written a horror paperback about communion (Communion). But he’s probably best known for his seven-volume Doctor Orient books from the Seventies about a groovy psychic taking on Satanists: Raga Six, Lady Sativa, Baron Orgaz, and so on. His bio claims “A contemporary of Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, Frank Lauria uses his beat era influences, along with travel experiences on freighters to Morocco, and decades of research on the roots, forms and rites of occult sciences in Italy and the Middle East to inform the Doctor Orient character.” Not surprisingly, he also earned a BS from Manhattan College.
The Foundling begins with successful jingle producer, Jeff, and his sexless wife, Ruth, buying a place in Bridgeport, CT because they somehow think moving to the suburbs will inject some juice back into their dead bedroom. But Jeff makes jingles and Ruth lacks juice for good reason. Back in the Sixties, Jeff was lead singer for Jeff Austin and the Vigilantes, and Ruth was his good-time gal with an adorable three-year-old daughter in tow and another baby in the oven. Then, at an outdoor concert full of hippies, their little girl grabs an electrical cable and turns into a crispy critter right in front of mom, who responds by miscarrying. This may not be a bad thing, considering how much pot Ruth has been smoking while pregnant.
No more marijuana for these mopes! Now, Ruth works in a fashionable boutique and Jeff has them isolated way out in the wastelands of Connecticut where they finally surrender to the inevitable and adopt a baby. Problem: not enough white babies on the market. Solution: they meet the adorable Dani in a Catholic orphanage. She’s 12, the same age their dead daughter would be if she had known better than to play with electricity. Bonus points: during the entire time they are around her, Dani doesn’t once stick her tongue in an electrical outlet, drink bleach, or try to lick the whirling blades of a food processor. She’s a clear improvement over their first daughter, then again she probably didn’t receive quite so many in utero bong hits, either. Now that they’ve adopted the creepily well-mannered Dani, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, if they’d read the prologue they’d know that Dani’s mom was a hooker who dumped her daughter with nuns, one of whom bought her a camera for Christmas. Sister Rose loved Dani like a daughter but hooker babies are bad news in horror paperbacks, and the wrapping paper was barely off that camera before Sister Rose caught Dani using it to take pictures of a lesbian lovemaking session with her roommate. Sister Rose, jumped into a cold shower, it didn’t work, she tried to hump Dani, got rejected, raped the roomie, and finally stabs herself to death in the guts with a crucifix, thereby bringing home the gold medal in the Crazy Nun Triathlon.
Blissfully unaware of Dani’s effect on nuns, Ruth and Jeff are happy as clams, and Jeff notices that Dani has a great singing voice, something that’s awful hard to miss since she’s constantly engineering situations in which he can “catch” her singing, recording demo albums in her bedroom, and accidentally playing her own demo during one of his recording sessions with Eric Jordan, a fading rock star who talks like a drunk kangaroo and wears mascara. Ruth notices something too: Dani has psychic powers centered on her hormones. When she gets her first period all the matches in the house explode into flames and also the car being driven by some mean boys who saw her boobs drives into a gas tanker and explodes into flames, too. Then, after Eric Jordan puts the moves on Dani, a supernatural wind blows all his cocaine out the penthouse window then, as if that’s not bad enough, a glass patio door explodes in his face and drives a huge shard of glass into his wiener “like some grotesque erection.”
Ruth is suspicious of Dani and her suspicions turn out to be well-founded when she catches Dani making lesbian love with her best friend and taking pictures of it with a Polaroid camera. Again. Ruth isn’t a nun so she doesn’t need a cold shower, but she certainly needs a drink and within pages Dani has managed to persuade Daddy Dearest that mom is swilling so much white wine they need family counseling to deal with her alcoholism, and that those photos of her bumping nubbins with the neighbor are just artsy shots she’s taking to try to come up with a cover concept for her upcoming debut album. Proving he’s an idiot, dad buys it and shuffles Ruth off to therapy with the Catholic priest, Father Bernucci, who hates all women, modern marriages, and liberated mothers because he’s celibate.
If she can’t convince Father Bernucci she’s not an alcoholic, Ruth figures she might as well become an actual alcoholic. Big mistake. She’s treating herself to a great big valium and Scotch sandwich when all the taps in the house turn on and she drowns in the basement while rescuing her good linen, at the exact same moment that Jeff is across town being seduced by his studio assistant, Pam, using a strategically placed spotlight and a transparent silk robe. And maybe some of Dani’s psychic powers. Ick.
The root of all this evil is clear: nipples. The Foundling is a book that has a lot to say about nipples. The nipples in this book have a lot to say for themselves, too, and are almost acrobatically expressive as they tauten, flare, and unfurl with great regularity. But The Foundling is most emphatic on the topic of exactly how many nipples we each should have: two. One is weird, and three is too many and turns people evil, a fact Jeff discovers when he realizes that Dani’s third nipple is what drove Sister Rose insane. Then he learns that Dani inherited her third nipple from her mom, now a tired old lounge singer in Vegas named Diane Shelley who wears black leather catsuits and has shaved her vagina and gotten the face of Satan tattooed across it. Where did she get ideas like this? From the ranch she lived on in the Sixties…THE MANSON RANCH!!!!!! Even worse, Charlie was Dani’s babysitter!
This is why orphans are scary. You pick one up who’s all adorable and has musical talent but you don’t know how many nipples she has, which serial killer babysat her as a child, or whose face her mother has tattooed across her pudendum. These are important facts that should be there on your birth certificate and driver’s license, right next to eye and hair color, and probably above height and weight. But until we pass a law requiring that, it’s just a hard truth we, as a country, are going to have to face: adopting orphans will probably get you drowned in your basement while you’re drunk on Scotch.
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.