Hi! Welcome back to Thrift Store Finds — a series of digital reviews for analog books. Before we begin, these plunges into all things appalling truly deserve to be told in full, so be prepared for SPOILERS. You’ve been warned!
I had high hopes that THE LILITH FACTOR by Jean Paiva would do one of two things:
- It would soar to the highest heights of 80s feminist awesomeness, every page brimming with wacky witchy rituals, sexy spells, and head-scratching philosophy
- It would be written by someone who couldn’t spell feminist to save their life in a Spelling Bee hosted by Jigsaw, which, though problematic, would have been something to unpack
Either would have been an accurate representation of the wild world of 80s paperbacks, and either would have served to underscore the importance of supporting female-identified writers in the genre.
Instead, I got a book that shakily did both without committing to either.
THE LILITH FACTOR begins in the backwoods of Kentucky. Twins sisters Elise and Talia are nearly identical, but there is still something indefinable that sets them apart. A certain golden quality surrounds Elise, while a cool winter’s glow follows Talia.
The girls and their mother want for nothing living out in the woods. Their church sees to their every need because you see, these girls are special.
Jump cut to . . .
In modern-day NYC, Elise has become a doctor and is getting ready to open a private practice with her new husband Dr. Jeff Vaughn.
Their world is nearly perfect, and we can tell because all of their movements have been hyper-accelerated thanks to their love for one another. Even making a sandwich imbues Jeff with octopus-like abilities and the speed of The Flash.
“Jeff had the refrigerator doors open and the shelves raided before Elise filled the coffee pot with water. He swiftly plucked leaves from a head of spinach; simultaneously he unwrapped a loaf of bread and with a sharpened utility knife made swift work of a ripe tomato . . . Lunch swiftly appeared in the form of double-decker, toasted rye bread sandwiches.”
I’m not saying I wouldn’t eat it, just that I’d need a nap after all that swifting around.
Meanwhile . . .
We’re introduced to our other hero/villain set. Bree has been hired by the Vaughns to work as their nurse and receptionist. She also happens to be the daughter of the dying head of a coven of witches.
Although Bree has no interest in becoming the next head of the coven, her brother Michael does. We meet Michael in the first (and nearly last) true horror scene of the book. Michael believes he can steal his mother’s power before it transfers to Bree through a Satanic ritual. Sadly the ritual goes totally sideways because Michael’s followers are a bunch of heroin addicts who can’t keep the teenage virgin that is central to the ritual’s success from jumping out the window.
So Bree gets her mother’s power after all, which ends up not really mattering, but cool.
Anyway . . .
We’re also reintroduced to Elise’s twin sister Talia. Thanks to her insatiable desire for power, she’s playing every angle available, which includes forming a shaky alliance with Michael and having sex with her boss while laying completely still.
Back in the land of general practitioners, Jeff pushes his wife to tell him more about her mysterious past. Elise hasn’t seen her sister in a long time. This prompts the beginning of a story that’s drawn out through the book about Talia killing Elise’s crush at their high school and Elise trying to bring his post-autopsied body back to life.
“His eyelids were sewn shut — I didn’t know they did that — and I stood over him and cried and cried. My tears fell and streaked the makeup they’d put on him. He, it, struggled to open his eyes, but the thin lids couldn’t pull the threads apart.”
It’s pretty darn cool imagery, and clearly (kinda) establishes (ish) that one sister holds the power of life and the other death.
Overwhelmed by Talia’s growing powers, Elise nearly faints while hanging with Bree and Jeff. “She felt as if her heart had stopped after one frighteningly intense, final beat and had plunged into her bowls.” Her first thought, of course, is to wonder if it’s her time of the month, but then she remembers it isn’t, and she also (I hope) remembers that heart palpitations aren’t really a symptom of PMS generally speaking.
Not that this line of thinking is strange in this book. In fact, nearly every time Elise has any reaction to things happening around her, the other characters wonder if it has something to do with her period. Smh.
After her fainting spell, Elise confides in Bree that she feels like something may be different about her. It turns out that Elise and Talia are from an ancient race of women that are never expressly said to be descended from the mythical Lilith, but we can guess that they must be thanks to the title of the book. But there’s a twist. Just like Highlander, there can be only one descendent per generation. This means, either Elise or Talia must die for the other to truly live.
Back at camp emo . . .
Talia and Michael can’t see eye-to-eye on how to destroy their better halves, so Talia throws a fireball at him. This pisses Michael off so much that he has the totally normal reaction to turn into a giant demon with a forearm-sized penis. But Talia isn’t going to be offed that easily. Filled with the strength of Lilith (I’m guessing), Talia grabs a fire axe and chops off Michael’s head.
Sadly for Talia, demon monster heads don’t die that easily, and she’s forced to fight Michael’s dismembered head like Barbara Crampton in Re-Animator. “Rearing back, [Michael] held the head above. A spasm, a final shudder, gave it the momentum to throw the horrific head at Talia, hitting her full in the chest. Snapping jaws caught the thin fabric of her blouse and clamped down.”
Talia fights back, and while we don’t get to see how she defeats Michael, we know she must have because she’s the one who answers the door when Elise confronts her for the big standoff.
The sisters face off, but their power is so strong, they’re transported into space in a giant bubble. Naked, they face each other (nipple-to-nipple Paiva points out) fighting an internal battle of wills completely still with their eyes closed.
In the end, life prevails over death, and Elise explodes Talia / makes her have a heart attack irl. This leaves Elise super dehydrated (???) but otherwise fine, and no one really even understands what happened in this book, so they don’t ask any questions.
As our heroes recoup in the hospital, both Elise and Bree finally accept their incredible powers. And with such good, strong women in the world, this witchy corner of Manhattan can live happily ever after.
THE LILITH FACTOR in an interesting little read with some metal horror imagery and cool pagan ideas, but far more scenes of people just talking about their feelings without much forward momentum. Give it a shot if you like your horror in spurts with lots of long relationship building scenes in between.
Now, as I place this book back on the shelf, I ask you, dear readers, what should come next? Giant evil worms? Jogging horror? Werewolves? You tell me horror fam, you tell me . . .