"Mrs. Wakeman Vs. the Antichrist" Book Review
Written by Ron Williams
Published by Tarcher / Penguin Books
Written by Robert Damon Schneck
2014, 320 pages, Reference
Released on October 2nd, 2014
Author Robert Damon Schneck's Mrs. Wakeman Vs. the Antichrist has a lurid and promising title. Who is this Mrs. Wakeman and what exactly is her beef with the Antichrist? It's a fantastic title that jumps right off the shelf and grabs your interest. Being a fan of the strange but true genre, I looked forward to meeting this Mrs. Wakeman and finding out what exactly her problem was.
MWVtA has 11 odd reports from America's past. Like all anthologies, some of these tales are better than others. Some also seem a little bit truer and a little bit stranger. The lead story, about a neighborhood being driven insane by a Ouija board, is great, and told very well using the source material from the time. Another story, about an 18th century poltergeist in West Virginia that cuts cloth and quotes the Bible, is... well, honestly it's boring as hell and goes on seemingly forever. But of course, that's the magic of books like this. What I hate you'll probably like, and vice versa. Regardless of my thoughts on the entertainment value of a given section, Schneck does an excellent job telling it.
The namesake chapter, "Mrs. Wakeman Vs. the Antichrist" is especially well researched and written. Taking place in a time of what one might call religious upheaval, when tent revivals and traveling Bible shows made their way across the country, it is here that we meet Mrs. Wakeman, an unlikely murderous cult leader. I'm not going to spoil it for you, but I will use it as an example of what's right about this book: Being set in the past, most of these stories take place in a time and culture that 21st century readers can't understand. Schneck is really good at explaining that culture and that time. He wants to make sure that we can understand and appreciate some of the nuances that might otherwise be lost on the casual reader. More importantly, he does this without being condescending or dumbing down the ideas.
That said, there are several small and forgivable points where Schneck left the role of reporter and began asserting theories or drawing conclusions that aren't needed and aren't necessarily accurate. Some items he presents as is, no judgment. Others he drops in his own thoughts and attempts to draw two otherwise unrelated items together. Perhaps it's because he had two or more anecdotes that aren't full-on stories on their own, so he attempted to combine them into a patchwork of sorts. This makes for an uneven book at times.
I have an uncorrected proof copy for review. Your copy may be different, likely better. Mine has a section to list the copious amounts of author's notes. There is also a holding page for an index that was not printed in my copy. I hope your copy includes the Notes section, as Schneck lists his bibliography and other references here, as well as the odd note or two that when followed on your own (use Google) can lead down some interesting rabbit holes.
The problems with this book are easily forgiven and many readers are unlikely to notice or be as picky. There are dozens of Strange But True collections out there, and if you're a fan, then this is worth your time. As a reader, I appreciate having the listing of sources, something not always included. You can tell Schneck has a passion for this genre and his research is top notch. If you collect, buy this. If you want to read it, check your local library.
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