There is a special kind of joy in picking up a book one has only the sparsest knowledge of and finding inside a brilliantly conceived “plot” that makes one wonder how no one had thought of this before. The quotes around plot are intentional, because while The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman is many, many things, a traditionally-structured work is not one of them. But make no mistake – that is exactly what makes The Remaking so unforgettable and mind-blowingly creative.
Imagine if you will, it is 1931 and the citizens of a small Virginian town called Pilot’s Creek begin to question the techniques of local healer, Ella Louise Ford. Ella is shunned for her folk-style remedies and banished to the woods where she eventually gives birth to a daughter named Jessica. Ella and Jessica are pariahs and despite the lack of concrete evidence, they are burned at the stake for being witches. (Note: none of this is a spoiler as it is all explained in the first few pages of the novel.)
This is where the unique structure of The Remaking begins. Over the course of three hundred pages, readers are led through four very different time-periods:
First in 1951, a group of boys on a wilderness sleep-away near Pilot’s Creek sit around the campfire telling ghost stories – one of which is the tale of “The Little Witch of Pilot’s Creek.”
Then our storyline fast-forwards to 1971 when one of those boys is a budding film director holding auditions for the role of Jessica in his low-budget/no-budget horror film Don’t Tread on Jessica’s Grave. Eight-year-old Amber Pendleton is brought to the audition by her celebrity-crazed mother and is eventually awarded the role – something she will soon come to regret.
Spurred by the shocking events the occurred on the 1971 movie set, Don’t Tread on Jessica’s Grave becomes a cult classic and now in 1995 a new director is aiming to film a remake. As an homage to the original’s legendary status and because of her involvement in the resulting scandal, the director of I Know What You Did On Jessica’s Grave wants Amber Pendleton to play the role of Jessica’s mother this time. Tired of the horror convention/autograph circuit, Amber agrees leading to even greater tragic results.
Finally, the last section of the novel is set in 2016 when an aspiring African-American podcast host is looking to make a true-crime expose combining the actual story of “The Little Witch Girl of Pilot’s Creek” and the pop culture franchises inspired by it. His efforts confirm that some stories demand to be told and will never rest-in-peace.
Woven around the spooky elements from these time-periods is an examination (and condemnation) of the treatment of women and girls by the society surrounding them. With references to everything from The Crucible to Inside Edition, Clay McLeod Chapman peppers the work with cultural reference points that will resonate with all readers. The depiction of child actors and their life-trajectory feels authentic without being too predictable. Despite the fact that Chapman really only scratches the surface on these topics, the novel fuels the reader’s personal examination of Hollywood and media’s fascination with profiting from tragic stories often at the expense of the real people involved. Clay McLeod Chapman’s The Remaking warrants multiple readings in order to piece together not just the meandering tale itself, but also the larger “concepts” that exist within some of the smallest moments along the journey.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was obtained at ALA. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.