After two poor showings, I feel I can say that Open Road Media has out-covered the original edition with this one. Just. While the 1990 April Fools cover is more literal–there is an actual doll’s head in a mailbox in the story, and I don’t care how macho you think you are, but if you found a bloody, mutilated doll’s head in your mailbox I know you would drop a load in your shorts and then scream like a little girl at her first clown-themed birthday party–this one brings the horror to the fore, what with the knife and the blood and the doll’s cold dead eyes hidden beneath colder, deader lids.
‘You are so easy to scare…. Anybody could scare you–‘
Martha? Is that you?
A windblown leaf scraped across the pavement, and she jumped.
Oh no, it is you, except this time your name is Belinda and instead of screaming at light and shadows and everything in between you have a serious issue with seasonal foliage. What the fuck is your malfunction, Belinda?
Sorry, sorry…I shouldn’t be as hard on Belinda as I was on Martha. I mean, if I killed a man just to watch him die and then my best friend turned out to be a massive dickhead, I guess I’d be a bit jumpy too.
Here’s the 411, or the lowdown, or the deets–whatever the kids call it today: Belinda, her best ‘friend’ Hildy and Hildy’s personality-disordered boyfriend Frank are driving home from an April Fools’ Day party, because that’s a thing, when drunk Frank decides to play a prank by grabbing the steering wheel from Hildy and repeatedly ramming the back end of a passing vehicle while they’re on a twisty dark road and it’s raining. Haha funny! Just like The Hitcher, and that was a hilarious little prank, right?
So Belinda watches, helpless, as her psychopathic ‘friends’ (you’re going to see quotation marks around that word a lot) run this poor car off the road. Belinda gets out to help but her companions won’t let her; when the car bursts into flames, as cars always do, Hildy and Frank break out the marshmallows and form a Satanic prayer circle instead.
I’m kidding about that last bit…but seriously, close enough. Because Frank and Hildy are assholes.
Two weeks later everyone’s back at school and Belinda is the only one who seems to think there might be repercussions to the accident–possibly quite horrible repercussions of the You Literally Killed People kind. Get this conversation between Improbably Named Hildy and Belinda:
‘Car wrecks happen every day–‘
‘But they don’t have anything to do with us!’
‘And this doesn’t either. You’re acting like this is some huge tragedy or something….’
Oh. My. God.
‘It is a tragedy! I just keep–keep feeling that somehow we’ll be…paid back for what we did.’
We can only hope.
I’ve mentioned in other reviews how much I tend to like the supporting characters in Cusick’s books–particularly the protagonist’s female friends, who are often far more brave and rounded than the stars of the show–but April Fools is a complete reversal. And it should have worked well: make our hero Belinda truly isolated, truly on her own as she dealt with the creeping horror of a car-wreck victim out for revenge. Unfortunately, I didn’t find Belinda particularly heroic, or even anti-heroic, for the same reasons Martha rubbed me the wrong goddamn way. I suppose that’s why her ‘friends’ are just beyond the frikkin’ pale, to provide some kind of meaningful foil, but they all end up being a bit of a shitshow and I found myself rooting for the bad guys instead. And they were, you know, pretty bad. (Which is, of course, meant to make the vehicular manslaughter thing at the beginning less terrible, but that’s total bullshit.)
After Teacher’s Pet, I can’t help but feel we’ve backslid here, particularly with the protagonist who’s once again let us down as readers, as women and as non-joyride-murderers. I’m starting to see why Point came under fire for the characterization of its female protagonists back in the day, but then again, I don’t remember feeling this way as a teenage reader. I’m going to think about why this might be and write a separate post on it at some point. Lucky you.
April Fools gets two out of Seven Psychopaths, for the attempt rather than the accomplishment. I swear had no idea my blog title would turn out to be prophetic.