Monday, June 13, 2011

Satan's Best Friend by Darlene Eichler

Satan’s Best Friend by Darlene Eichler is an evocative exploration of cults, cult mentality, and how easily on which the young and impressionable are preyed by manipulative leaders.  Eichler chronicles the tale of Maggie, a girl who is unmarried and pregnant in the still largely conservative society of the 1960s, after a devastating turn of events on her wedding day. Left with nowhere to turn, she becomes a part of Preacher Pat’s cult, where she remains for a decade; time lost that will later torment her soul.

Although Maggie is only looking for “a special place to go and get my mind and my spirit back” feeling “completely empty” after being abandoned by the man she loves and is forced to make a difficult decision, she is inculcated into the cult of Preacher Pat, whose deceptive nature skillfully twists scripture and skews reality.  One of the true strengths of the novel is its presentation of cult life from all perspectives, telling the story not only of Maggie, but also of Preacher Pat, and how Maggie’s family is affected.  Eichler chronicles the events that led Preacher Pat to become a cult leader, using a fictional   medium to treat the topic of the frequently troubled childhood of cult leaders as well as the typical characteristics of egoism, manipulation, and a prowess for storytelling.  Although Maggie attempts to convince the outside world that she has control, in reality, she is incapable of independent decision-making.  The anger of family members who feel forsaken by the cult member is heart-wrenchingly portrayed in a letter from Maggie’s mother, telling her that, while she loves her; “Sometimes I don’t think I like you because of your absence from me.”

Eichler’s personal experience in losing her son to a cult for twenty years, where his family remains, adds many layers of depth and inner knowledge to the workings of the cult, cult leader, cult members, and the families of those who have lost loved ones to a cult.  By examining the cult from every possible human angle, readers are shown the reverberating and far-reaching effects of cults, which have the power to destroy the lives of many people through a single convert.  Satan’s Best Friend moves readers to their very cores, raising awareness about the destructive nature of cults by interweaving meaningful themes into a compelling and artfully written plot.