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am 16. Januar 2003
This is an exquisitely written book. So beautifully is it written that, at times, its lyricism is almost poetic. The richness of the writing is immediately apparent in the prologue. It is the prologue that draws the reader in, so rich is it in its descriptiveness. It is there that the reader first comes upon "The Church of Dead Girls."
The book itself is not so much about the murder of young girls, as it is about the reactions of the people in the small town in which the murders occur. It is their reactions to the murders that are central to this book and conveyed to the reader through a brilliantly nuanced, first person narrative by the town's high school biology teacher.
The people in the town of Aurelius in upstate New York are like those found in many small towns, insular and inherently suspicious of anything different from that which they are used to. Aurelius is representative of a lot of small towns across America. There is really nothing special about this moribund, complacent little town, until young, teenage girls begin disappearing, one by one.
Through the contrivance of first person narration, the author explores the deepest recesses of human nature, as suspicions and accusations unfold and finger pointing begins. No one in town is exempt from the poison of suspicion. The finger is first pointed to the most likely target, a foreign-born college professor whose ideas run counter to that of mainstream Middle America. He is a newcomer to the town and is as different from the majority of the townspeople as can be. This hapless individual becomes demonized in the frenzy of suspicion, petty hatreds, and fear with draconian results. Unfortunately, he is only the first.
As the townspeople rally to find the killer amongst them, they devolve, letting impulse, suspicion, and fear grow and dictate their actions. It is as if the murders were the catalyst for the rise in vigilantism, the re-opening of old wounds, and the targeting of innocents in the desperate quest to find the killer. One can see the growth of mob mentality evolve on the pages of this book. It is this phenomenon that the author explores through the book's narrative discourse, beautifully, lyrically, powerfully. It is a narrative that will grip the reader from beginning to end.
While the actual ending of the book is somewhat anti-climactic, it should be emphasized that this book was never really about who committed the murders. It is more about the boogeyman of fear that lives deep inside each and everyone of us and about what can happen when that boogeyman is released. It is that, which is truly frightening, as the boogeyman lives in Everyman in Everytown.
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am 2. Februar 2000
As a reader who, for better or worse, is driven to finish any book I start, "The Church of Dead Girls" was an absolute nightmare for me. The characters are completely wooden, and the meandering narrative drains every ounce of suspense right out of the novel. I can't imagine that finding a better book for your buck would be too difficult.
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am 1. Januar 2005
This is an exquisitely written book. So beautifully is it written that, at times, its lyricism is almost poetic. The richness of the writing is immediately apparent in the prologue. It is the prologue that draws the reader in, so rich is it in its descriptiveness. It is there that the reader first comes upon "The Church of Dead Girls."
The book itself is not so much about the murder of young girls, as it is about the reactions of the people in the small town in which the murders occur. It is their reactions to the murders that are central to this book and conveyed to the reader through a brilliantly nuanced, first person narrative by the town's high school biology teacher.
The people in the town of Aurelius in upstate New York are like those found in many small towns, insular and inherently suspicious of anything different from that which they are used to. Aurelius is representative of a lot of small towns across America. There is really nothing special about this moribund, complacent little town, until young, teenage girls begin disappearing, one by one.
Through the contrivance of first person narration, the author explores the deepest recesses of human nature, as suspicions and accusations unfold and finger pointing begins. No one in town is exempt from the poison of suspicion. The finger is first pointed to the most likely target, a foreign-born college professor whose ideas run counter to that of mainstream Middle America. He is a newcomer to the town and is as different from the majority of the townspeople as can be. This hapless individual becomes demonized in the frenzy of suspicion, petty hatreds, and fear with draconian results. Unfortunately, he is only the first.
As the townspeople rally to find the killer amongst them, they devolve, letting impulse, suspicion, and fear grow and dictate their actions. It is as if the murders were the catalyst for the rise in vigilantism, the re-opening of old wounds, and the targeting of innocents in the desperate quest to find the killer. One can see the growth of mob mentality evolve on the pages of this book. It is this phenomenon that the author explores through the book's narrative discourse, beautifully, lyrically, powerfully. It is a narrative that will grip the reader from beginning to end.
While the actual ending of the book is somewhat anti-climactic, it should be emphasized that this book was never really about who committed the murders. It is more about the boogeyman of fear that lives deep inside each and everyone of us and about what can happen when that boogeyman is released. It is that, which is truly frightening, as the boogeyman lives in Everyman in Everytown.
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am 10. Juni 1997
Aurelius is a small upstate New York town situated near Utica. It is a quiet town even though it
has its incidents of minor crime. However, the serenity of the seven thousand residents is slightly
spooked when Janice McNeal, a promiscuous divorcee is killed. Not too long after that grim
incident, the peace of the town is nuked forever when three young girls disappear one by one
over the course of a few days. When the first teenager vanishes, the townsfolk strongly feel a
non-resident must have abducted the child. When the second teen turns up missing, the townsfolk
begin to suspiciously eye each other. When the third girl is gone, the townsfolk become hysterical
and turn ugly.
......Paranoia sweeps through the town as nightmarish thoughts enter the townsfolk's mind. Very
quickly, the trust and the goodwill within the town is lost as suspicion turns former friends against
each other. Soon, the apprehension turns to criminal action as the individuals become an
unthinking mobs that dishes out vigilante justice to anyone who get in their way. The people seek
a killer, who could be any of them, and no one is safe from the nightmarish reactions of the
townsfolk.
.......THE CHURCH OF DEAD GIRLS is a dark thriller that leaves readers to believe that, under
certain circumstances, their town or neighborhood could be paralyzed by a mind crippling
hysteria. This type of horror leaves every citizen in Aurelius succumbing to their mind's image of a
deep gripping darkness. Stephen Dobyns creates one of the best psychological chillers of the
year because he strips away the myth of hometown cohesiveness by proving that mob rule could
happen anywhere.
......Harriet Klausner
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am 29. Oktober 1997
I didn't find this novel to be nearly as good--nor nearly as bad--as most of the previous takes. I do agree with some of the criticism. There was not a clear, strong, convincing motivation for the antagonist to commit his heinous deeds, so that makes his/her actions somewhat less credible. It didn't seem likely that this person could conceal his/her sickness so effectively from the community at large, and particularly his/her own family, given the plight they found themselves in. This is especially true since, as another critic eluded to, the transformation from upstanding citizen to raving psychopath occurred in about two paragraphs. But, and it's a big "but," I _loved_ reading this story. The portrait of the interactions of a small community, and how those interactions were transformed after the abductions began, were for me quite riveting. I disagree with the assertion that the POV of the narrator kept the reader at a distance. I thought the POV was very well chosen, especially as it came to light that community members thought there was reason to suspect our narrator as the villain. This enabled us to experience the paranoia first hand, and to me that seemed to be the main point of the book. It also made for a very satisfying (and quite genius, IMO) epilogue! My other criticisms are: (1) the narrator just knew too damn much about the excruciatingly minor details (i.e. the types of clothes people were wearing, the expressions on their faces, etc.) of dozens of scenes where he wasn't present for the reader to really believe this was his POV. It wasn't--the author was obviously omniscient. And (2) where it is reported that the narrator routinely observes the blind nieghbor girl masturbating in her room after supper and after her evening shower (BTW, this gives away nothing of the story). Why would she have the light on?
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am 11. August 1997
As a long-time fan of Stephen Dobyns---his brilliant insights to the human condition, sometimes quirky subjects and charachters---and having noted the many "10's" received here, I was looking forward to a deeply satisfying read. Instead, I found an average-written, hardly compeling, certainly not frightening story, that, if I had to find the positive, demonstrates an ability to capture local color. There's a reserve in the telling of the story indicative of a seasoned storyteller (which Dobyns is; one of the very best in my opinion), but the story falls flat. It lacks the richness of character, intircate plot, and insight into human nature for which I most admire Dobyns as a writer. The preposterous reason for the killer's being the killer, and---once discovered---the sophomoric depiction of the killer's self-absorbed, psychotic ramblings are so cliche, so Writing 101, I could hardly believe it as I read it. Like last year's major disappointment, "Snow Fallking on Cedars," this novel makes me question whether i simply lack the spohistication to appreciate the supposed subtleties and nuances that make a "great" story. Guess I must, because to me those subtlties et al merely make for boring prose. Maybe it's too many Scwarzenegger movies. If this is your first shot at Dobyns, I urge you to discount it and try "The Two Deaths of Senora Puccini," a truly wonderful creation, "The Wrestler's Cruel Study," Dobyns at his best, sort of a cross of Tom Robbins, Robertson Davies and John Irving, and I especially recommend "Cemetery Nights," probably the absolute greatest volume of contemporary poetry (don't let the genre dissuade you) published in the last twenty years. I haven't given up on Dobyns. Not hardly. I can only hope future works (which are too few and far between) better demonstrate the amazing gifts of a unique too-little-read voice in American fiction
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am 29. August 1999
I've only been moved to write an amazon review twice before. But this is simply one of the best books I've read in years.
This is a book about three missing little girls, but it is really about a small town trying to cope with the fact that there is a monster among them. We know from the prologue that the girls are not only dead, but mutilated -- it is horrifying and brutal, and I can't imagine any reader not wanting to read on to find out how it all happened.
And that's one of the amazing feats of this work. We know at the outset what has happened to the girls, yet we read on, fascinated, about the events leading up to their abduction, and the effect of the kidnappings on this small town. Tensions and suspicions mount, and suddenly every neighbor, every friend, is a suspect.
And Dobyns doesn't stop with just a great, suspenseful story. He raises questions about levels of behavior that are acceptable in society, and how even the best of us slip over those barriers from time to time. This makes the book all the more frightening, because you can really see why this town finds it so difficult to accept that the killer is a trusted friend and neighbor: such acceptance forces us to consider our own secrets and infractions, and recognize that there is all too little separating us from the monster who is capable of the most heinous of acts.
Yes, Dobyns tells us in the end who the killer is. But it is truly secondary -- the point throughout this novel is that it could have been anybody. And that is truly frightening!
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am 24. August 1997
Let me first say that I have an incredible subjective bias in Dobyns' favor (but then again, SO WHAT). I found "Church" to be a fine piece of fiction and a delight to spend time reading. I have read most of his books because he doesnt just entertain, he *speaks*.

If what I want a mindless popcorn read. I would simply go to the library and take out a book meeting such standards (probably by a vastly inferior author.)

If I want a book that makes a subtle, intellegent, thoughful and cogent point about life, love etc. I will BUY a book by Dobyns or Prose etc.

I have the distinct pleasure of having to spend the next three years in Upstate New York. I see what these people are like. And I was a little scared. Suspicion falls like rain in some places around here.

Any person who isnt truly moved (in some way or another) by the metaphor that Dobyns constructs cannot appreciate the fact that what Dobyns is really doing is holding up the mirror to our faces in the form of his brillaint prose.

If you listen to him,, listen to him when he talks. You realize that he isnt jibbler jabbering about nothing for 300 pages. He is *speaking* about some of the more alarming features of humanity.

And I think that Suspicion is an alarming feature.
One that we dont give much thought to.

Let me also say that this piece that I am writing isnt meant to be a critical review of "church."
But rather, unfortunatly, a defense of Dobyns' writing.

There are too many people reviewing this book (and yes, others as well)on line calling it "poorly written" "Cliched" or some other damned thing. The first thing I feel like doing when I read such things is slapping my forehead.

Though words seem to be the remedy to cure ignorance. Many people would rather do without the medicine.
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am 17. März 1999
The Church of Dead Girls: A Novel is supposed to be a chilling, spooky tale. It was, but not, I feel, in the manner the author intended. The story is purported to be about the disappearance of girls from a small town. This was almost a secondary part of the story, as it served as a reason to study the frightening reaction of the townspeople to the disappearances. The real story was how the town reacted. It was told with a very well crafted stream of consciousness type of narrative.
People looking for a "scary serial killer" type of story that causes you to look over your shoulder while you are reading it, or leave you a little edgy when you turn off the lights to go to sleep will most likely be disappointed. It is almost as if the author was writing with two types of stories in mind and combined them at the last minute. I was waiting for either a more in depth analysis of the town's reaction or a look into the development of the obsessions of the killer that led to the disappearances. I did find this book interesting and found it difficult to put down as I came closer to the end. The writing style was wonderful and he did manage to make the overlaying of the two stories work in the end. I have rated the book based on the story as I saw it rather than basing it on the fact that it wasn't the type of story I expected from reading the synopsis and reviews.
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am 15. Juni 1998
In The Church of Dead Girls, Stephen Dobyns has created an atypical thriller; the story does not give the reader the omnipotent view of the evil the protagonist(s) face (a la Koontz or King). Rather, the tension and strangeness of events accelerate at a very even pace throughout the novel to build to the mass hysteria and chaos of the ending. This style can frustrate inexperienced readers somewhat -- it gives the impression that the novel has a very slow start. On the contrary, Dobyns merely applies the proper amount of tension in each chapter as it correlates with the stage in the town's progress toward complete paranoia. This book does not hold to the straight thriller recipe, but instead provides the reader with insight as to the hive-mentality of small town life. Through the observance of this microcosm, Dobyns also gives the reader a subtle peek into the darker nature of humanity, and what lies behind the civilized veneer we all wear every day. I would not recommend this book to inexperienced readers, for its underlying observations will be lost on them. The reader who only wants to be entertained for a few hours should continue reading Crichton or Koontz. However, for the reader who really enjoys watching an artist such as Dobyns weave his elusive web, and who really wants to be asked to _think_ while reading a novel -- this book is for them.
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