Rereading Christopher Pike: Whisper of Death
December 22, 2011
I recently came across a box of books from my teenage years, and most of them are Christopher Pike novels. I used to get every one of his new books and read them over and over. Some of them were just straightforward dramas but others involved supernatural elements, so I thought I’d post about them here as I reread them.
Whisper of Death is about Rox, a young woman who takes a stressful out-of-town trip with her boyfriend, Pepper. The pair return home to find that their town is empty. Their family, friends, and neighbors have disappeared. The radio and television play only static. Even long distance phone calls go unanswered. Rox and Pepper eventually find three other teens, and the group starts to wonder if their predicament can really be related to a dead classmate who seemed to have the power to control those around her.
I’ve got hazy, nostalgic memories about all the Pike books I’ve read, but rereading this as an adult was troubling. A lot of things about the book were creepy (in a bad way). A plot summary and my full spoiler-filled reactions are under the break.
Some parts of the story make no damn sense at all. Rox goes to get an abortion, but changes her mind after being given anesthesia. On the way back to her town, she catches a glimpse of a figure who looks like Betty Sue, a local girl who committed suicide a few weeks earlier. As the other characters share what they know about Betty Sue, it becomes clear that she’s got the vague supernatural ability to change or compel people by writing about them. The teens start dying one by one, in ways that match Betty Sue’s stories about them, and everyone’s connections to Betty Sue are revealed. Rox is especially upset to learn that Betty Sue had also been pregnant before she died, and that Pepper was the father of that unborn child as well.
At the end of the book, we learn that the demented Betty Sue is Rox and Pepper’s child. But we can’t be too hasty to add “evil time travel” and “having sex with her own father” to Betty Sue’s list of crimes. It turns out that Rox, who thinks she left the clinic in time to stop the abortion, suddenly finds herself back there dying from an unexpected surgical complication. Rox realizes that she can go to Pepper and restart the cycle of Betty Sue’s revenge, but she stays in her body and lets herself die, presumably in order to spare Pepper and the others a second horrible death. So was any of Rox’s experience real, or was it all just the dream of a dying woman? Who knows? And honestly, who cares?
Betty Sue tells Rox that the abortion gave her the power to trap and kill the people who had hurt her. Thinking about that too much makes my head hurt, so I’m not even touching the logic of it. The upsetting part of that idea was that the book warped around the responsibility for Betty Sue’s killing spree back to Rox rather than focusing all the blame on, for example, the crazy time-traveling witch who killed people with her writing. Rather than just letting Betty Sue be a troubled teen with a cool power, Pike centers everything around an unnecessary abortion plot and makes the entire experience a massive guilt-trip. It was squicky, especially when you throw in the incest angle that nobody in the book commented on at all.
The other big “oh no you didn’t” moment for me was when it came out that one of the characters had raped Betty Sue. This was followed by a nasty little suggestion that she had magically coerced her own assault. This repeated point didn’t come from Betty Sue’s diary or anything, the other characters just thought it was likely because, hey, you know how freaky she was. She was a strange girl, and she had the power to make people do things, so she must have made him rape her.
Yes, this book actually used “she was asking for it” to provoke sympathy for an admitted rapist. It went there.
The misogyny of blaming a rape victim for her attack and telling a young woman that her abortion caused the murder of her boyfriend (and several others) went completely over my head as a teen. And Rox and Pepper’s relationship also had some moments that I found disturbing, like their interactions after she backed out of the abortion. Rox said he didn’t need to help raise their baby or even pay child support, and the dialogue made it sound like this was somehow a noble offer that she’d bear all the responsibility alone. Pepper said he’d be there for her, but he didn’t treat her very well during or after that conversation.
All this makes me really apprehensive about what else I’ll find as I read back through my other old Pike books, and now I’m even more determined to do that. I want to see what else I missed when I was younger.
(Some sentences from this post were taken from my much shorter Goodreads review of the book.)