Front cover of Night Mother: A Personal and Cultural History of The Exorcist, featuring a photo of a family home's carpeted stairway, lit in a green light.

Night Mother

A Personal and Cultural History of The Exorcist

Marlena Williams

240 pp. 5.5 x 8.5

EXPECTED Pub Date: October, 2023

Subjects: Creative Nonfiction

Series: 21st Century Essays

Imprint: Mad Creek

Preorder Paperback $19.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-5876-7

“I devoured this book—its intense cultural analysis, its candid personal history, and its philosophical inquiry—like a woman possessed. Gutsy and deeply researched, Night Mother is a keen investigation of American cinema, American girlhood, and American fear.” —Elena Passarello, author of Let Me Clear My Throat and Animals Strike Curious Poses

Never watch The Exorcist, Marlena Williams’s mother told her, just as she’d been told by her own mother as a Catholic teen in rural Oregon when the horror classic premiered. And like her mother, Mary, Williams watched it anyway. An inheritance passed from mother to daughter, The Exorcist looms large—in popular culture and in Williams’s own life, years after Mary’s illness and death. In Night Mother, Williams investigates the film not only as a projection of Americans’ worst fears in the tumultuous 1970s and a source of enduring tropes around girlhood, faith, and transgression but also as a key to understanding her mother and the world she came from.

The essays in Night Mother delve beneath the surface of The Exorcist to reveal the deeper stories the film tells about faith, family, illness, anger, guilt, desire, and death. Whether tracing the career of its young star, Linda Blair, unpacking its most infamous scenes, exploring its problematic depictions of gender and race, or reflecting on the horror of growing up female in America, Williams deftly blends bold personal narrative with shrewd cultural criticism. Night Mother offers fresh insights for both fans of the film and newcomers alike.

Marlena Williams is a writer from Portland, Oregon. Her work has been published in the Yale Review, Literary Hub, Electric Literature, Catapult, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.


Note to Readers

Part 1         Invocations

Mercedes McCambridge Eats a Raw Egg
My Mother and The Exorcist
The Loud Silence

Part 2         Summoning the Evil Spirit

Six Visions of the Devil and His Demons
Magical Mirrors
Something Sharp
James Baldwin Sees The Exorcist in 1973

Part 3         Profession of Faith

The Priests of My Youth

Part 4         Laying of Hands on the Possessed

The Operating Theater
Father Karras Dreams of His Mother

Part 5         Concluding Prayer of Thanks


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Edited by Dawn Keetley