review

Unmask Alice LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson

What kind of person writes a debunking only to admit that he cannot and will not provide any sources to his work at all? This guy! Rick Emerson!

This book is such a mess I can barely think straight.

This was of the hackiest pieces of nonfiction writing I’ve ever read.

For the first quarter of the book I kept thinking he was deliberately writing in the same florid, child like way that Go Ask Alice was (maybe as a joke? The author appears to be a radio personality) but no, he’s just that poor and flowery of a writer.

He did a huge amount of speculation of what nearly every person in the book thought or felt in specific moments in ways he couldn’t possibly have known. Who knows what was in the mind of Sparks’ mother when she gave birth? The author seems to think he does. He does this for nearly every person he writes about. He writes out their innermost thoughts and motivations when there is no possible way he could know them. He’s very critical of Sparks not doing enough research and recycling her own work but a lot of this book is straight fiction. He clearly did do research and archival research (or hired someone to do so) but he bizarrely chose to rather than stick to facts to fantasize about the people and events and write how they were and how they felt when he really could have no idea. It’s a strange path for any nonfiction book but a truly bizarre choice for a book that is literally debunking faked teenage diaries. I am truly flabbergasted.

He also missed the biggest and most obvious subtext in Go Ask Alice—that the girl (whoever wrote her) was clearly attracted to women and didn’t seem to know or accept that. There is one brief mention where he talks about how the book might resonate with children struggling with identity but that’s it. I really wish someone more savvy and aware wrote this book. He failed so badly and now can’t imagine anyone else getting a book deal to write about the same “diary”.

His handling of the LDS Church was odd. He refused to call it that (or the Church of Latter-Day Saints” because it was “too long”, he “didn’t want to type it out” and could be confused with LSD which is frankly nonsensical. He clearly is contemptuous of the religion and is snide every time it comes up. He never really connects Sparks’ faith to Alice which was only sort of nominally Christian in theme—drugs are bad, families are good. It read like he was looking for an excuse to write about how he found the church strange.

He basically blames Sparks for sparking the Satanic Panic but doesn’t really give any details why beyond the fact that Sparks second ”diary” about “Jay’” came out in in 1978/1979. He mentions movies like the Exorcist but doesn’t seem to assign them as much weight as the this YA diary. Why not? Why were movies and books about satan so popular in this era? He never seems to think about it. Isn’t it more likely that she wrote Jay’s Journal (using a real life but non-satanic diary as reference) to capitalize on the satanic craze that had already been going on for years? The Exorcist, Amityville Horror, Wicker Man, Suspiria, The Omen, Demons of the Mind, and Rosemary’s Baby all predate the book by years. Yet he paints he paints her at the forefront. Why? Even Satan’s School for Girls ( a TV movie that aired in 1973) explored the suicide connection. This was well trod territory by the late seventies (which was not “nearly 50 years” ago as he states in the epilogue) Surely her biggest crime was using a child’s real life as inspiration for her devil made me do it tale? He also never addressed that the Satanic Panic coincided with the rise of awareness of child abuse and that as improbable as it sounds, thinking your child was abused by Satan (or satanists) was better than believing that your loved ones were abusers.

He repeatedly points out that Sparks warped a real life child’s suicide into a money making Satanic panic book but then in his own epilogue he focuses on the music and movies Alden missed and points out had he lived, he could have seen Nixon removed from office. What? Why not that this child missed out on life, period not just Star Wars.

Yes, Sparks seems like a strange woman with a murky past and inflated (and invented) credentials but he seems to elevate her to a status in the general culture that doesn’t seem quite earned. If she was anything like how he guesses and implies, she might even have been pleased to see that he found her so important!

An aside but his referring to Toni Morrison as “articulate” made me cringe. I truly think he has much, much more in common with Sparks than he may want to believe or realize.

One last thing—

He doesn’t mention Linda Glovach who has been mentioned as a possible Go Ask Alice collaborator. No idea why not. I guess it didn’t fit his narrative.

Great idea for a book, I just wish any one else (maybe a journalist with a research background?) had written it. I don’t know why he did or how he got a book deal. It read like bad fiction straight out of a pulp novel in the best parts and bordered on nonsense in the worst. It really read like he didn’t know anything about drugs, science or teenage girls

One thought on “Unmask Alice LSD, Satanic Panic, and the Imposter Behind the World’s Most Notorious Diaries by Rick Emerson

  1. Pingback: What I Read in July | Rachel Reads Books

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