To be honest, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this book when I first picked it up. It came to me through a book club that I completely failed to keep up with. I wasn’t entirely certain whether this book was supposed to be fiction or non-fiction, and I had not heard of the author.
This is a really good example of why it can be awesome to jump into a book that you know nothing about. I found the book compelling from start to finish. What would a demon write in his memoir? It was time for me to find out!
It is normal for books to have “blurbs” from other writers. My copy of this book had one on the cover from James Frey. I recognized his name because I read A Million Little Pieces back when it was new (and before it inspired a million people to question how factual a memoir is required to be).
On the one hand, this showed promise. I remember that I struggled with James Frey’s writing style. It was unique, and I have dyslexia, so it wasn’t super easy for me to read. Even so, the book was interesting and worth the difficulty I had in reading it. James Frey liked An American Demon. That was a good sign.
On the other hand, I was now even more unsure whether I was supposed to view An American Demon as the fictional memoir of a demon, or as the real memoir of someone who likened himself to a demon. I recalled the brouhaha when Frey’s A Million Little Pieces was found to be less than 100% factual. Does that mean Grisham’s book is a sort of fiction-ish memoir?
And then… there was the cover. The copyright page of the book says that the cover was designed by Ingrid Paulson and the cover art was by Tim Smith. It is glossy, and in the style of a very well done graphic novel. The front and back covers go together in order to form a portrait.
This segmented, attention grabbing image, speaks volumes about what to expect in the memoir. Early on in the book, Jack makes it clear to his readers that he is a demon, born to human parents. Starting from early childhood, he tells the reader about all of the selfish, and horrible, things he had done. Many of those things include violence. This book is not for the squeamish, that is certain.
I remember thinking, as I read my way through the book, that I didn’t like this demon character. He was just plain mean, and anti-social, and regularly did terrible things to people that he knew full well loved him. What else would a demon be like, right? It seemed fitting.
What kept me reading were two things. One, that nasty demon had a hell of a lot of charisma, and knew how to use it. I wanted to know what happened next, and after that, and then what? I was halfway between considering the book fiction, and realizing that at least some of the events must have occurred the way they were presented. Even the most outrageous stories seemed to have a believability buried within them.
Two, Jack Grisham did a masterful job of creating a “universe” (so to speak) that explained the world as seen by a demon. He is under the authority of the “not-quite”, a powerful entity who isn’t quite God. Then there’s God, who shows up in different forms to try and convince Jack to join him. The not-quite also visits Jack in different forms, and usually starts berating him for fucking something up.
Part of the book is from the viewpoint of a demon who had been warned (by other demons and by the “not-quite” himself) to stay away from alcohol. Of course, the young Jack starts out huffing, eventually starts drinking, and discovers that alcohol gives him something that nothing else can. In a fictionalized way, part of this book is talking about addiction.
The book also talks about the formation of the band, T.S.O.L. (including how they picked the name). The band exists – you can “Friend” them on Facebook. I hadn’t heard of the band until I started reading An American Demon. The band formed in 1978, and I was a little kid at the time, with uncles that played me Black Sabbath and KISS records. T.S.O.L. was/is punk. I doubt my uncles knew about them – wrong genre.
Here’s an example of what T.S.O.L. sounds like. The song is called “Code Blue” and it’s from 1981.
The lyrics are making me crack up – which means I might actually be the target audience for An American Demon after all. I mean, I know from the book that the lyrics in T.S.O.L. songs were intended to shock people, but I’m having a different reaction to them.
I’m laughing because… imagine being so fed up with people that you’ve come to the conclusion that fucking the dead would be a reasonable alternative. There’s a bitter sarcasm in those lyrics, and I get the feeling it’s more about an aversion to live people than an attraction to dead ones.
There isn’t much more I can say about the book without giving away key parts of the story, and I’d rather leave readers to discover those things for themselves. This memoir is a simmering mix of fiction and reality, and I wanted to read it straight through. I found myself wondering about the “universe” Grisham created, and still do, long after finishing the book.
It’s a hell of a good read, even for people like me, who had absolutely zero real-world context to use as a basis of understanding. I suspect that fans of T.S.O.L. would dig this book even more than I did.