Content note: this is a spoiler free review. The book depicts rape, which is briefly discussed here.
PZ Myers brought to my attention to Hits and Mrs., a new novel by Karen Stollznow. The book is about Claudia Cox, and her efforts to expose her ex-fiance Gil Godsend, a famous psychic medium. This book was of particular interest to me, because of its topical nature, and because PZ mentioned its negative view of organized skepticism. Although, as it turns out, the negative view of organized skepticism plays only a very minor role.
The first thing that struck me about the book was its similarity to TV series Jessica Jones. Jessica Jones is a former superhero, currently working as a private detective specializing in cheating husbands. In the series, she faces off against an abusive ex slash supervillain with the power to control people. In Hits and Mrs. Claudia Cox is a former skeptical activist, currently working as a private detective specializing in cheating husbands. In the book, she faces off against a manipulative ex slash villain with the power to read people.
The similarity to Jessica Jones did not hold for very long, as well it shouldn’t. However, once the comparison was in my mind, I found the differences disappointing. The villain of Jessica Jones is a metaphor for abusive relationships or drug addiction. If the villain of Hits & Mrs. is viewed within such a metaphor, then the denouement is rather unsatisfying. Furthermore, Jessica Jones was praised for refusing to depict the actual acts of rape, refusing to give in to the inevitable sensationalizing. Hits & Mrs. goes ahead and shows it, which is representative of the book’s less sensitive attitude towards sexual violence.
But let’s talk about this book for what it is. It felt like an attempt to explain how psychics work. It walks the reader through all the little details of hot reading and cold reading, and it explains the social dynamics surrounding celebrity psychics. If this were a work of nonfiction, it would end up being rather dry and didactic, but since it’s a work of fiction, it can actually depict examples of psychic techniques in their full glory. And while it’s usually difficult to garner sympathy for skeptics who debunk cherished beliefs, a work of fiction manages it handily.
But for a work of fiction, it’s still kind of didactic. I think maybe there were a few too many hot reading scenes. There was also a plot hole or two that really bothered me, as if the author paid more attention to the details of the infodumps than to the details of the plot. I was just thinking, why aren’t there more works of fiction that dramatize debunking? But maybe we have our answer already.