Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Demonology” consists of chronologically discontinuous fragments, many of which detail the last two days of Meredith’s life; the rest offer apparently random vignettes through which the narrator remembers his sister. The story begins with Meredith taking her children out trick-or-treating on Halloween, and initially, it appears to be a sympathetic portrait of a woman by her loving brother.

Various flashbacks show that Meredith comes from a reasonably well-off family and that she lived an exuberantly hedonistic life as a young woman. Members of both her immediate and extended family (including the unnamed narrator) have had problems with alcohol, but Meredith controlled her drinking, settled down, and become a devoted mother to her son and daughter. Meredith, who works hard at a lackluster job in a photo lab, enjoys amateur photography, and this passion is reflected in the story’s disjointed paragraphs, which resemble narrative snapshots. Through these snapshots, Meredith is revealed to be a spirited woman who once sold a camera to the British rock star Pete Townshend of the Who and made a point of telling him she was not a fan of his music.

Her brother, the narrator, does not mention until more than halfway through the story that Meredith has died. He meticulously describes her final moments, though it is evident that he was not present and is imagining what actually occurred. After returning from choir practice and tucking her children into bed, Meredith suffers a seizure, possibly an aneurysm, and collapses in her daughter’s bedroom. The remainder of the story describes in considerable detail the physiological changes that took place in Meredith’s body after her collapse and her family’s immediate response to the emergency and then concludes with the narrator self-consciously deliberating on the story’s inadequate narrative and compositional strategies in the face of his sister’s death.

Sources for Further Study

The Boston Globe, March 23, 2001, p. C9.

The Boston Herald, January 21, 2001, p. 068.

The Daily Telegraph, November 11, 2000, p. 12.

The Guardian, November 11, 2000, p. 12.

Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2001, p. E1.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 21, 2001, p. 06E.

The New York Times, February 15, 2001, p. E10.

The New York Times Book Review 106 (February 25, 2001): 12.

The Observer, October 29, 2000, p. 12.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 14, 2001, p. F10.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 28, 2001, p. F8.

Sunday Telegraph, November 19, 2001, p. 17.