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Literature / Ariel (Block)

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I am Ariel, the Adopted.

Written by hardboiled detective author Lawrence Block and marketed as a horror novel, Ariel is a very subtle story about the scapegoating of a "different" child, communication failure and the destruction of a family, with supernatural elements crawling in at the windows.

Ariel Jardell is thirteen years old and a bit too perceptive for her own good. Now that her mom Roberta has had a child of her own, she's ready to dispose of Ariel, and Ariel knows it. Her father David is well aware the little boy, Caleb, is not his and that Roberta has been seeing an old boyfriend, lawyer Jeff Channing. One night, Roberta has a strange dream, and wakes to find that Caleb has suddenly died. And Ariel takes one look at her and says Is Caleb dead?....


Provides examples of:

  • Absentminded Professor: Mr. Wold, the father of Ariel's friend Erskine, may be a teacher (as his wife is); certainly he's extremely absent-minded and preoccupied. When Erskine half-jokingly suggests Ariel move in with him to avoid leaving the neighborhood, he claims "My father could live in the same house with you and never notice you were there. At dinner you could ask him to pass the salt and he'd pass it and still not notice."
  • Black Comedy: Erskine is fond of this.
  • Bookworm: Ariel. She's got all the Oz books, plus young-adult novels, and cites several books she loved but didn't finish, including Rosalyn Drexler's I Am The Beautiful Stranger. She's also read at least some of Moby-Dick and actually did finish Poe's The Purloined Letter, which is where she gets the idea to keep her diary in a school notebook. (She talks about knowing better than to keep it in one of those My Secret Thoughts books around Roberta.) Sylvia Plath and her book Ariel are mentioned several times.
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  • Creepy Child: Roberta thinks Ariel is. Also, Ariel's klutzy friend Erskine Wold. Ariel hints that Erskine may turn out to be Beautiful All Along behind those Nerd Glasses: "What he should really do is get contact lenses when he's older. His eyes are really quite attractive." Jeff, observing Ariel walking home from school, thinks she might be beautiful as she matures.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ariel, and Erskine has some of this too.
  • Diary: Ariel keeps hers in an ordinary spiral notebook.
  • Dreaming the Truth: Ariel may have done so, but she may also be dreaming what she fears or what her mother thinks happened.
  • Driven to Suicide: Jeff and Roberta.
  • Evil Orphan: After Caleb's death, Roberta is completely convinced Ariel is this. She even suggests at one point that Ariel might be the offspring of a Manson-like cult. Her obsession infects Jeff, with fatal results for both of them. By book's end, Ariel hints that she might believe it herself, especially after what she had to do to prevent Jeff from murdering her.
  • Game Show: After seeing Jeff (not knowing who he is) at Caleb's funeral, Ariel begins to think of him as a host for The Dating Game, then imagines a new show, The Funeral Game — pick the right coffin and win an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Forest Lawn.
  • Haunted House: Itself a character in the story. Ariel's family has just moved into the big old house at 42 Legare Street, in an older section of Charleston, South Carolina. While Ariel loves it, Roberta comes to believe it is conscious and evil.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Ariel's flute, to Roberta — but especially at the climax.
  • Hey, You!: Roberta rarely uses Ariel's name. She speaks of "the child".
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Jeff and his, er, gun.
  • Jail Bait: Ariel, to Jeff as he goes off his rocker.
  • Magical Flutist: A spooky version thereof. It's never described just where Ariel got her tin flute. She plays it all the time. David enjoys it as did little Caleb, but Roberta hears it as Hell Is That Noise. Or maybe Ariel is just a Dreadful Musician — but at the end, combined with another instance of communication breakdown, it's what finally drives Roberta to suicide.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's left ambiguous whether there really is something supernatural about the house or whether the events are just a result of the insanity of the people involved.
  • Mind-Control Eyes: Ariel learns to make people who fear her obey her by "making her eyes look like those of the lady in the portrait" she's found.
  • Out-of-Clothes Experience: Ariel lights candles and contemplates the lady in the portrait. She begins to do it without being aware she's doing it, and when she comes out of it she's naked and being yelled at by Roberta.
  • Pater Familicide: Jeff eventually kills his wife and children before killing himself.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The novel's main theme.
  • Psychic Children: Jeff suggests that Ariel might have some psychic ability and could have sensed Caleb's death without Roberta having to say anything. (Roberta thinks Ariel said "Is Caleb dead?" because she killed him. Ariel tells Erskine that she knew Caleb was dead from the look on Roberta's face as she left his room.)
  • Puppy Love: Ariel and Erskine, although they agree they don't want to "do that" because they're friends. The author says that their scenes together are his favorites, and he's very fond of them.
  • Sanity Slippage: First Roberta, then Jeff, both becoming obsessed with Ariel.
  • Secret Diary: Kept in an ordinary school notebook so Roberta won't snoop, and it works; it remains safe throughout and at the end, while Ariel says she hasn't felt like writing in it since Roberta's suicide, it's open ended and she may return to it at any time.
  • Sleepwalking: Everyone in Ariel's family does this at some point, either because they're tired, drunk, or.... something else.
  • Spooky Painting: Found in Ariel's attic and "adopted" by her. May or may not be a portrait of Grace Molineaux, who may or may not have been an Ax-Crazy murderess and/or Ariel's ancestor or former reincarnation.
  • The Alcoholic: David becomes a functional one of these. But he also loves Ariel, so things may work out for him. Roberta is hooked on prescription sleeping pills.
    • Jeff's information on alcoholism and the descriptions of David's blackouts are Truth in Television for the author according to him. He says he wrote the first drafts of Ariel (which he titled The Adopted) on alcohol and cough syrup.
  • The Beautiful Elite: Jeff Channing comes very close to being one of these. Ariel and Erskine say "he's got those television good looks."
  • Unable to Cry: Ariel, in front of people. Part of the communication breakdown is caused by Roberta's belief that Ariel never cried for her brother. She actually did, but alone in her bedroom.


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