Sunday, April 24, 2011

Audrey Rose By Frank DeFelitta

Audrey Rose
By Frank DeFelitta
Copyright 1975

Whose child is she now?

Bill and Janice Templeton have constructed the perfect life for themselves. He is a successful Madison Ave. advertising executive; she a stay at home mom with a lovely and vivacious daughter named Ivy who attends an elite Manhattan private school. They live in a Central Park West apartment famous for being constructed by and for artists. They are happy beyond the dreams of most people.

Then Elliot Hoover entered their lives.

Janice notices that over a period of days, there has been a strange man outside of Ivy’s school, watching her and watching Ivy. One day, this man follows them home. Janice is concerned, but not overly worried because the city is full of crazy people.

One day, Ivy is forced to miss school because of a fever. Whilst at home with her daughter, Janice receives a phone call from a mysterious man, concerned about Ivy’s health since she was not in school. Now that the man has invaded her home life with his call, Janice resolves to tell Bill. Bill wonders if it is the strange man that he’s seen outside of Ivy’s school in the morning when he drops her off.

A few days later, the cab in which Janice is traveling is involved in an accident and she receives a minor concussion. While recovering her wits on the sidewalk under the watchful eye of a policeman, she realizes that she is late getting to her daughter’s school. In a panic, she flees the scene and heads for the school, only to find Ivy gone.

She hurries home in a panic. As she approaches her building, the mysterious stranger steps out of the shadows and assures her that Ivy is fine, that he has seen her safely across the dangerous intersections and to her home. He asks her and Bill to join him for dinner in their building’s restaurant for dinner where he will explain his surreptitious observation of their daughter.

Bill and Janice arrive at the restaurant to find the man sans the fake beard and mustache he’d worn while scooping their daughter. He invites them to join him at his table where he tells them his incredibly sad life story.

His name is Elliot Hoover. Once upon a time, he’d been a respected engineer and steel industry executive from Pittsburgh. His life crumbled, however, when, on one tragic afternoon in October 1964, his wife and daughter were involved in a traffic accident on a Pittsburgh freeway. After being hit, the car rolled over an embankment and caught fire. An eyewitness said that as the car caught fire and burned, they could see a five year old girl inside the car, clawing at the windows to get out. Hoover’s wife and young daughter, Audrey Rose, burned to death in the accident.

Hoover was devastated beyond consolation. Shortly after his family’s death, he visits a medium who tells him that his daughter is not dead; that she lives on in the body of another little girl. A couple years later, he is in New York on business and encounters a spiritualist at a party who tells him his little girl lives in the body of a girl born in New York City shortly after his daughter died.

He left his job and went on a spiritual quest to learn more about the afterlife. That spiritual quest took him to India where he learned of the Hindu belief in reincarnation. He fully embraced that belief, then set out to look for his daughter he knew to be reincarnated somewhere in the world.

His search led him to New York where he found that Ivy Templeton had been born just minutes after his daughter died. Ivy Templeton, their daughter, he tells them, is the repository for the soul of Audrey Rose Hoover. He asks the Templetons to allow him to become part of their lives and share in Ivy’s upbringing so he can be close to his daughter again.

Bill quickly dismisses Hoover’s tale. He tells him he is sorry for all of the horrible events that have transpired in his life, but he wants Hoover to leave him and his family alone. Bill and Janice leave the restaurant and Mr. Hoover to head home to their daughter.

The next day, Bill contacts his attorney who advises Bill that he should meet with Hoover again, this time at their apartment. The plan is to get Hoover to spill his wacky story one more time while the conversation is taped and the lawyer witnesses it. The material will then serve as evidence to obtain a restraining order against Hoover.

Hoover shows up at the Templeton apartment just as planned. Ivy is sent to a neighbor’s apartment. As Hoover starts to retell his tale, the Templeton’s phone rings. Their neighbor tells them they need to come quickly because Audrey is in the throws of a nightmare from which she will not awaken.

Bill, Janice, and Hoover rush to the apartment. There, they find Audrey running about the place, screaming, DADDY! DADDY! DADDY! and HOTHOTHOT! She runs into furniture and makes a shambles of the place. She runs to windows and touches them, only to quickly withdraw her hands as if they were burned. Bill and Janice try to awaken her. Bill tries to calm her, telling her that Daddy is here, but she wrestles free and continues her vain attempt to escape from whatever haunts her nightmare.

Finally, Hoover steps forward and says, “Daddy’s here Audrey Rose!” With a little more coaxing on Hoover’s part, Ivy finally falls into a restless sleep. An Angry Bill tells Hoover to stay away from his family and they take their child home.

The Templetons decide to contact a child psychologist that has treated Ivy before. This is not the first occurrence of these dreams, for they had also occurred over a period of days a few years before when Ivy was a toddler. The doctor examines Ivy, who has no recollection of the dreams, and promises to get back to the Templetons after doing some research. She finds that the first occurrence of Ivy’s nightmares correspond to Hoover’s first visit to New York when he met with the spiritualist.

A few nights later, Janice is home alone with Ivy while Bill wines and dines clients. The nightmare starts again. Janice his helpless to stop her daughter as she scurries around the apartment, falling down the stairs and knocking over furniture. As Janice is trying to coral her daughter, the house phone rings and the doorman informs Janice that Mr. Elliot Hoover would like to see her. In desperation, Janice asks that he be sent up. Upon arriving, Hoover immediately acts to calm the child by assuring Audrey Rose that daddy is here.

As he prepares to leave, Hoover gives Janice his journal that he kept during his sojourn in India. He asks her to read his observations with an open mind, combine them with what she has just witnessed, and ascertain whether or not he is earnest in his belief.

This time, Ivy has injured herself. She has burns on her hands and a bump on the head. Witnessing the event, Janice is sure Audrey burned her hands on the cold glass of her bedroom window. Bill, whose disbelief in Hoover’s story grows as the evidence mounts, assures Janice that the burns came when Audrey touched the radiator even though Janice is certain Ivy never touched the radiator.

A few nights later, The Templetons are awakened when Ivy again flies into a nightmare rage. Bill and Janice try to restrain her, finally tying her to her bed to keep her from injuring herself. As they are dealing with this horrific scene, there is a knock on the door. Bill goes to answer it and Elliot Hoover is in his doorway. Bill immediately attacks Hoover. Janice, hearing the commotion, runs to the door. Hoover puts Bill in a police sleeper hold to subdue him, pushes Janice out of the way and enters the apartment, locking the door behind him.

Neighbors call the police and the doorman informs the Templetons that Elliot Hoover has sublet an apartment in the building. The police arrive as the doorman opens the Templeton apartment with a passkey. They find Hoover has absconded with Ivy.

They go downstairs to Hoover’s apartment and the police demand that Hoover open the door. After some initial resistance, Hoover opens up and allows the police and the Templetons into his apartment where they find Ivy sleeping peacefully. Hoover is arrested and charged with kidnapping.

Hoover hires a young attorney who is eager to fight for his client, but is also eager to make a name for himself by taking on such a fantastic client and more fantastic defense strategy. The case is assigned to a judge whose entire career has seen him relegated to handling the most mundane cases to come before the New York courts. Both are eager to see the case make headlines. The scene is set for one of the most fantastic trials New York and American jurisprudence have ever witnessed.

To shield Ivy from what’s going on, the Templetons send her to a private Catholic school miles away from their Manhattan home and their apartment. Despite all that has happened to her, Ivy has no idea that her soul and the soul of a girl who died at the time of her birth are the source of the court proceedings that are about to commence.

As the trial proceeds, Janice reads Hoover’s journal. She finds her beliefs in Hoover’s story growing. Bill’s disbelief hardens every day. One weekend, while visiting Ivy at the private school, Janice is awakened by her daughter talking to herself. Janice opens the bathroom door in their hotel room to find Ivy standing naked before a mirror, admiring her early adolescent body, chanting, “Audrey Rose. Audrey Rose.” Janice’s resolve crumbles further.

As the defense is wrapping up its case, the Templetons are summoned to Ivy’s school. During an annual bonfire ritual, Ivy, seemingly in a trance, walked directly into the ring of fire and set herself ablaze. An alert custodian, observing Ivy crawling into the fire is able to save her and keep her injuries minor. However, the school tells the Templetons she is not to return.

The prosecutor pitches the Templetons on an idea he is certain will destroy Hoover’s case. He wants a hypnotist to regress Ivy back through her childhood, to the womb, and then further beyond the womb, to prove that Ivy Templeton’s existence started at her conception – not upon the death of Audrey Rose Hoover. Bill, now desperate to disprove Hoover approves the plan. Janice, having read Hoover’s journal and witnessed Audrey Rose interacting with her daughter, is horrified and frightened at what can happen.

Janice decides to testify for the defense. Her testimony where she divulges her belief in Hoover’s claim that Ivy Rose’s soul is indeed an inhabitant of her daughter’s body devastates the prosecution case. Bill insists on the hypnotism. His need to destroy Hoover now dominates his every motivation. Janice and Bill’s once perfect love, life, and family are now asunder.

Audrey is brought to an operating room and the jury and court personnel, including Hoover, are placed in the observation theater. A hypnotist places Ivy into a deep sleep and begins taking her back through her short life to various birthdays, through her infancy, then into the womb. The audience watches stunned as Ivy strikes a fetal pose in the chair.

He then starts to take her back beyond her conception. Ivy grows restless and agitated. Bill, now realizing he’s made a terrible mistake, starts screaming for them to stop the test. Janice, now resigned to what is about to happen, looks on from a separate room, weeping.

As the hypnotist takes her further back, Ivy then jumps from the chair and starts running about the room, screaming her litany of pleas for daddy and running from the hot. The hypnotist tries desperately to bring Ivy from her trance, but she is unresponsive. From behind the one way viewing glass, Hoover implores the hypnotist to call for Audrey Rose. The scene in the operating room grows more frantic as Ivy runs from place to place trying to escape her nightmare. In an act of final desperation, Hoover jumps up and throws a chair through the glass and struggles into the room. However, Ivy is now unconscious. She is rushed to an emergency room where she dies for no evident reason.

There, the narrative of the book ends. What follows is a newspaper clipping telling of the not guilty verdict in the trial and the autopsy records of Ivy Templeton, a healthy 11 year old girl who died of no apparent reason.

The book closes with a letter Janice writes to Elliot Hoover who, grief stricken, returns to India. She assures him that she is confident that both Audrey Rose and Ivy have moved on to new lives and are at peace. Bill, in his grief, is coming to believe in Hoover’s tale and they are repairing their marriage. She wishes him good luck and a good life.

I enjoyed this book a great deal when I first read it as an adolescent having picked it out of my mother’s library. I enjoyed reading it just as much as an adult. However the perspectives were much different. As a child, I enjoyed what was a fascinating tale. I was particularly taken with the creepy autopsy notes at the end. I had never read a tale whose resolution was presented in such an unconventional manner.

My perspective as an adult was more emotional. As a middle-aged man, I am the father of a nine year old daughter. My attachment to the emotional turmoil of the parents, and of Hoover having lost a daughter to such tragic circumstances transfixed me more than the unconventional ending.

What makes this book interesting is that there are no real villains. The Templetons love their daughter. Bill, acting with the male instinct to protect, is trying to shield his family from this unpleasantness, even when the evidence clearly demonstrates the truth of Hoover’s belief. Janice acts with the maternal instinct of doing anything, no matter how desperate to protect her daughter. Hoover has no desire to wreck the Templetons’ lives. He is a grief stricken father who is certain he has found a way to reconnect with his lost daughter and will risk his life to make that connection.

What emerges from the story is the selfishness of all those involved. Although the story revolves around Ivy Templeton, her character is not developed. It is never told from her point of view. DeFelitta uses her and her actions to advance the story. But she is not a central character in the narrative. The story is told from the point of view of the adults, each acting to satisfy their own independent needs.

Bill allows his daughter to die because his resolve to have Hoover put away forever motivates him. Hoover would have been found guilty, jailed for life, and been out of Ivy’s life forever had Janice not testified. Since it was Hoover’s presence that triggered Ivy’s nightmares, had she not acted, her family’s life would have returned to normal.

Then there are the judge and the defense attorney who were the most selfish. The attorney puts forward his fantastic case to defend his client. But more important to him is the headlines and reputation he will garner. The judge, bitter about having a nondescript judicial career, allows the dramatic theater of the case to proceed, not because he thinks it is sound jurisprudence, but because he will finally be able to make a name for himself.

All of this goes on while the life of an 11 year old girl hangs in the balance. Other than Janice, none of the characters in the story pause to think of Ivy and her fate.

My only criticism of the writing is DeFelitta’s need to show us what a snob he apparently was. His description of the apartment’s architecture and artwork read like a marketing brochure and was entirely overlong as was his descriptions of the various meals and liquors consumed by the characters. These were but minor distractions however. DeFelitta otherwise told a riveting tale with seldom a lull in the tension.

As an author, Frank DeFelitta had an obscure career. He published this book and a 1982 sequel entitled For Love of Audrey Rose. This is a shame. For a first book by an author, Audrey Rose is a stellar effort.

DeFelitta was a screenwriter by occupation. The dust jacket says he was the writer on a number of television documentaries. His IMDB entry lists several movie scripts he penned along with numerous television scripts and directorial credits.

The novel was adapted to the big screen in 1977 with DeFelitta penning the screenplay. Anthony Hopkins plays the role of Hoover. I will review the screen treatment later.

The book, movie, and author may be lost to the ages now, but if you can lay your hands on a copy, the book is well worth reading.

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