Love, lust, and the occult combine in Allende’s deliciously humorous debut novel.
A small cottage in Venice, California, 1912. The household matriarch—a witch with a nefarious past—is dying and looking for absolution. She leaves behind three daughters: a pair of beautiful and narcissistic brats and one ugly, forgotten young girl. The youngest becomes the novel’s woeful protagonist whose misadventures form the backbone of this unique tale. In an unexpected twist on “Cinderella,” the nameless and voiceless girl becomes the household slave. Shunned from infancy, she has been kept in a crate, reviled by her family, and forced to care for her ungrateful half sisters. While the older sisters enjoy raucous satanic parties, cavorting with scores of dark creatures, the youngest sits at home and is told that if only she would clean more, maybe she could make it to the next demonic ball. As the years drag on, the nameless woman becomes increasingly obsessed with a desire to become young and beautiful, stumbling along as she attempts to achieve her goal. The novel’s strength is its humor, a tongue-in-cheek examination of all things occult. Allende juxtaposes the grotesque and the absurd, with often hilarious results. Readers are treated to the scene of a mother berating her youngest for ruining her prized curtains as she’s literally being dragged into hell. The novel is full of these moments in which characters fervently pray to God that their evil, murderous plans will be successful. It's darkly funny, but at times, gratuitous violence blurs the line between humor and gore: child sacrifices, multiple beheadings. A multitude of richly drawn characters adds color, such as a demon with a penchant for lipstick who helps his mistress in her quest for youth. Readers with an interest in Southern California history will enjoy subplots that look at Venice’s beatnik past as well as the rise and fall of The Gas House, a real landmark.
A decidedly dark tale for those with funny bones, strong stomachs, and open minds.