Twenty years ago, Sara Gran, then an up-and-coming author with one book to her name, published Come Closer, a horror book about losing control of one's life and self. Gran has since launched a successful career writing for television and film; written several more books, including the acclaimed Claire DeWitt series; and founded a small press, Dreamland Books. Yet, Come Closer continues to be Gran’s seminal work, and its recurring themes of anxiety and instability still resonate two decades later.
Come Closer, widely considered to be one of the best horror novels of all time, is a story focused on demon possession or a psychic break, and the overlap between the two. With spare prose, Gran tells the story of Amanda, an architect who is trying to make the most of her routine career while also hoping to revitalize her routine marriage to longtime husband, Ed. It is these moments of dissatisfaction and disappointment in one's given circumstances that both resonate and set the story in motion.
Everything takes a turn when Amanda begins to hear tapping everywhere she goes. Unsure whether the tapping is coming from the walls or pipes (or elsewhere), Amanda ignores the tapping until it simply becomes too loud to ignore. Who or what could be the source of the tapping? Why is it even happening in the first place? What also becomes difficult to ignore are the vivid dreams and dramatic visions of a figure, a girl, following Amanda wherever she goes. Who is the girl? What does she want? Is she connected to the tapping?
Meanwhile, Ed notices the tapping only follows Amanda. And he notices that Amanda has been acting strange lately. She’s growing increasingly irritable and irrational. And she’s becoming extremely impulsive. She’s not quite like herself, and Ed can’t quite put a finger on what is happening and, most importantly, why. Ed begins asking himself the questions: What is happening to the person I once loved? Do I still love this person anymore?
It isn’t until Amanda reads (and rereads) quizzes on demon possession that she realizes that she is, in fact, possessed by a demon. In Amanda’s case, she is possessed by a demon, named Naamah, with an appetite for shopping, cigarettes, and men. This explains the unusual noises that follow Amanda wherever she goes. It also explains the mischief and petty theft that she has been engaging in lately.
For better or worse, it also explains the frequent fights Amanda has been picking with Ed, as the demon takes over, and Amanda loses control of mind and body. It also explains Amanda’s newfound smoking habit as well as the men she has been bringing home with no recollection of what happened the night before. It explains the blackouts, lasting for minutes or days, and the slices of consciousness as Amanda feels as if she is outside of her body, looking in at a person or being she cannot control.
In a compelling sequence of events, readers follow along as Amanda visits a series of people, from a psychic to a psychiatrist to a spiritual counselor, to get rid of the demon or attempt de-possession from Naamah. With roots in Jewish folklore and mysticism, Come Closer interweaves historical aspects of Naamah with a story of possession, leading to a fast-paced read on what it means to live each day not knowing what will happen and how it will impact the rest of your life—that is, if you’ll ever remember it at all.
This is among the reasons why Come Closer continues to resonate today, in a time where each day is a step toward the unknown and, in some ways, many of us are learning to co-exist with a constant state of anxiety, dread, and fear as we navigate forces beyond our control. In the case of Amanda, this leads to figuring out how to co-exist with an unpredictable force that lives inside you; could you get rid of it, even if you tried?
Whether you are reading the book for the first time, or rereading it years later, the book offers poignant themes on losing oneself, finding oneself, and learning to accept discomfort.
Lastly, Come Closer resonates because of its dark, haunting ending. The darkness lingers even after you finish the last page. Both sadness and sorrow are still omnipresent. There is no magical cure-all for our anxieties, worries, and fears, as Gran aptly shows. Sometimes the only solution is to co-exist, however awkward or painful that may be.
This is a book that will resonate with anyone dealing with a difficult situation, and who has asked themselves: Why me?
As Naamah says in Come Closer: “Why, why, why?” There are no easy answers.
If you enjoy this book, here are some others like it, spanning the 1970s to the present day.