The Beloved @ Joe Bob Briggs

There’s something rotten in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It corrupts relationships, threatens children, drives people to murder, and leaves a wake of destruction whatever it touches. It would be one thing if it were a hideous monster or some crazy murderer on the loose. What if it was your boyfriend or girlfriend? The Beloved by J.F. Gonzalez tells the tale of Ronnie Baker and Diana Marshfield, a new couple facing resistance from Ronnie’s family. Ronnie, a recovering drug abuser and recently divorced from Cindy, met Diana online. Now Diana has agreed to move in with Ronnie, despite never having met his family. Once the family meets Diana, they find that she is a little off. The family also notice her two children exude the same uncomfortable strangeness as Diana. Having a Rottweiler named Himmler also doesn’t help.

Gregg and Elizabeth, Ronnie’s parents, remain puzzled about why Ronnie would choose Diana to be his girlfriend. Not particularly attractive, she spends all day on the computer, refuses to cook or find a job, and pressures Ronnie into working double shifts. His parents know this wouldn’t be the first time Ronnie had a self-destructive relationship. Ronnie, a former drug addict, comes to realize that love is a drug, like the Roxy Music song, but this time love is like high-grade heroin.

On the surface, this would make for yet another novel about crumbling relationships and drug abuse in the suburbs. Gonzalez masterfully draws us into this ordinary, quotidian, almost boring world. The reader is lulled into the security of the petty foibles and minor misunderstandings that make up the everyday life in the contemporary United States. Then Ronnie’s daughter Mary tells Elizabeth and Cindy about some strange things that happen when she is home with Diana and her two children.

When Cindy realizes Mary might be subject to emotional or physical abuse, she prepares to get her out of there. Unfortunately, Cindy might not be the greatest candidate for the job. Her messy divorce from Ronnie has driven her into a downward spiral of drug abuse, arguing, and sexual escapades. In a spat with a male companion, she inadvertently threw a phone that hit his child. At this point, Diana still had not done anything to Mary, but Mary is a perceptive child and deeply suspicious.

Following Cindy’s botched rescue attempt and death, people start noticing Diana as more attractive. As the wake of destruction piles up and keeps pointing to Diana, it becomes more apparent she is not what she seems. Is she human? Mary’s story about the blob thing attached to Ronnie when he slept sounds like the product of a child’s runaway imagination. But is it?

Gonzalez ropes the reader in deeper and deeper. Whatever Diana is, one cannot be sure. Diana’s rampage and increased seductiveness wreak havoc in small town Pennsylvania. Walking the tightrope between supernatural mythology and biological horror, Gonzalez creates a sense of the uncanny. Something’s not right, what is it?

For those who enjoyed David Cronenberg’s early classic The Brood, a movie about therapy and the nightmares it produced, will enjoy The Beloved.

4 stars
Publisher: Leisure Books
Date of Publication: 2006
Price: $7.99 US ($9.99 Canada)
ISBN Number: 0-8439-5694-1

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