Sign Here by Claudia Lux (book review).

Peyote Trip (real name redacted) needs one more soul to complete his plan. He’s gotten four generations of the Harrisons to sign on the dotted line. Just one more and things are going to change for him. It’s taken a while but he’s finally going to get it done.

Time has no meaning in Hell. He knows it’s taken a while because he’s made his way up from the production line Downstairs to the comparative comfort of the Deals Department. Level five is better but it’s still hell. The only drink available is Jäegermeister. Any puddle you step in may or may not be knee deep. That car alarm is always going off just loud enough to be annoying. Just one more soul and things will be changing for Peyote Trip.

The Harrison family has decamped to their summer home on the lake. Generations of Harrisons have vacationed there. Choices have been made there and secrets kept. But secrets always come out in the end and every choice has a consequence.

I hate to always harp on about genre…no. Wait. I love genre as it tells us to expect just like a green square on a map tells us there’s a park. ‘Sign Here’ is not a horror novel even though much of it is set in Hell and a main character is a demon who bilks people out of their souls. Horrible things are definitely referenced because…well, it’s Hell, which is a place where bad things happen and many people work hard while on Earth to damn themselves. There is body horror in Hell’s Downstairs.

There is child abuse in a cult compound in rural America. There are teenagers with self-harming tendencies. There are bad things in this novel but it is not horror. It does not evoke fear but pathos. None of the truly awful things happen on screen. ‘Sign Here’ is not horror, it is fiction. A family drama that just happens to include infernal elements. When I considered it that way, I liked it much more.

Each character has a sad story that tugs at the heartstrings whether they’re human or demon. Except for that guy that actually likes the Jäegermeister. That guy can stay in Hell. Even with limited screen time, each character is well-rounded and fully-formed. Their motivations feel real. Their actions are understandable because they have well established inner lives.

‘Sign Here’ is Claudia Lux’s debut novel. Her style is humorous with a touch of snark and easy to read. I expect there will be more to come from her. I did enjoy this book but I won’t be recommending it to my nerdy friends unless they stray into chick lit or fiction once in a while. If you take the cosy vibes from T. M. Baumgartner’s ‘Shift Happens’ and the familial drama from Sarah Gailey’s ‘The Echo Wife’ and dial down the geek you get ‘Sign Here.’

It’s more Jennifer Crusie than Stephen King but have their place but are very different and fill very different needs. I would take ‘Sign Here’ on vacation and then leave it with my very non-geek mother.

L.K. Richardson

November 2022

(pub: Berkeley, 2022. 416 page hardback. Price: $27.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-59354-576-8)

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