4 out of 4 stars
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Before I read The Cult Next Door, I had a completely different idea of cults. Based on the title and my misconception, I thought this would be about a community of people living in a neighborhood home who were banded together by some offbeat ideology. Elizabeth R. Burchard's memoir is about her experiences with a group of misguided individuals. The events are depressing, pathetic and eye-opening. I had a hard time reading this book without screaming, "How can you be so gullible?" at Elizabeth, the protagonist.
Elizabeth begins her tale in her childhood with her dysfunctional parents who allow her to be physically and mentally abused by George, the main antagonist. She stays under the power of this charlatan sacrificing most of her life and all her inheritance. Although she recognizes that her decisions are unduly influenced by this unscrupulous and evil man, she is powerless to escape. Finally, the one likable character in this whole book surfaces in the form of Judy, a friend who helps Elizabeth find her way out of the grave that she dug for herself. This person is also the co-author of the book which might explain why she comes across so saintly.
The scenes of George holding the rotting corpse of his dog while he preaches to his congregation are disgusting. The scenes of Elizabeth being subjected to group sex are horrendous. The idiocy of people marveling at the head-shaking phenomena of George getting revelations is hard to accept. Everything in this story is incredible. It is challenging to feel any empathy for the victims because, like drug users, they are addicted. Unless you have had an addiction, it is hard to understand the problem of quitting.
The authors have accomplished their goal of showing how easy it is to become entrapped in a manipulative relationship. All the characters in this true story have actual jobs and families and live separately from George; yet, they are completely under his influence and will make no decisions without consulting him first. I did not like that there was more emphasis placed on describing the sordid details than on the process of getting free from the situation. The use of figurative language offers a welcome respite from the gore. "Mom shoved health foods into our mouths and her newfound religion down the throats of bored friends and relatives who were too polite to protest."
I did appreciate the author's honesty. This can't have been an easy book to write. Reliving all the events must have been a therapeutic, but difficult, task. Typically, I can read a book straight through rather quickly, but I could only take this one in small doses. I am glad that I now have a better understanding of what a cult can be. I recommend this book to every relative or friend who suspects that someone they know is in a hostage situation. The appendix contains a list of literature to read and contact information for groups who can offer assistance.
This book appears to have been professionally edited. I noticed very few errors. There are some odd, but intentional, capitalizations of certain words such as Energy, Girls, and Group. The chronology is easy to follow, and although there are many characters, it is easy to keep them sorted out. My rating for this heartbreaking book is 4 out of 4.
The Cult Next Door
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