The Drowning Girl is a difficult book to characterize. Baldly, it’s the story of India Morgan Phelps (aka “Imp”), a highly functional schizophrenic whThe Drowning Girl is a difficult book to characterize. Baldly, it’s the story of India Morgan Phelps (aka “Imp”), a highly functional schizophrenic whose life is turned upside down by the appearance of Eva Canning, who may or may not be a ghost, a werewolf, a mermaid or a stalker. If you don’t like unreliable narrators, ambiguous (and sometimes downright confusing) plots and – in the end – not really knowing “what happened,” then you will loathe this book. If you can wrap your mind around the idea that what we perceive as reality is a story that our mind constructs, then you might enjoy this tale.
Kiernan has been a favorite ever since I read Alabaster. She’s a master at creating characters, settings and moods, and comes highly recommended. In Imp, the author has created an extraordinarily believable and sympathetic person. She’s not someone to be pitied – though we can sympathize with her troubles – but to be admired. She doesn’t retreat from the world but stands up to face it and find a way to be part of it. She’s an outlier – a schizophrenic – but her journey is essentially what we all have to do.
I think the moral of the book is best summed up in a quote from a review of Oliver Sack’s Hallucinations in the London Review of Books:
What hallucinations have to tell us might be that the inner workings of our senses are a riotous carnival, driven by an engine of unimaginable processing power whose most spectacular illusion is reality itself. (Vol. 35, No. 5)
Highly recommended, though not for the faint of heart.
My 2012 reading schedule has gotten off to a good start with Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. I’ve managed to avoid the zombie genre (with the honorable eMy 2012 reading schedule has gotten off to a good start with Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. I’ve managed to avoid the zombie genre (with the honorable exception of Night of the Living Trekkies, which is – of course - Star Trek) but ever since reading The Intuitionist, I’ve been a fan of Whitehead’s, and was more than willing to see what his take on it would be.
It is, in a word, bleak.
Whitehead doesn’t go into the origins of the zombie apocalypse nor does he offer any scenes of derring-do as heroic survivors fight off hordes of brain-munching zombies. What we have instead is a world of shell-shocked survivors (pheenies) who have been chivied into refugee camps and enlisted in Project Phoenix (queue “Stop! Can You Hear the Eagle Roar? (Theme from Reconstruction)), the reconstituted government in Buffalo’s attempt to restore matters to the status quo ante-apocalypse. The narrator is Mark Spitz*, as he describes himself, a mediocre “average Joe,” who has managed to survive and now operates as a sweeper in Zone One. The Zone, formerly Manhattan, is the government’s showcase project – the elimination of the island’s zombie population as prelude to recolonization. Sweeper teams (Mark’s includes himself; Kaitlyn, the squad leader; and Gary) move through the deserted city taking care of the remaining skels and stragglers.** Usually it’s a routine job. The sweepers wear the latest in anti-zombie armor, and as long as they don’t get careless, can handle matters.
But as Whitehead makes explicit in the end, the pre-apocalypse world is forever gone, something new has arisen, and there’s no hope in trying to restore it:
He dropped his new rifle and picked up his old one. It had gotten him through the Zone. It would get him out of it. Why they’d tried to fix this island in the first place, he did not see now. Best to let the broken glass be broken glass, let it splinter into smaller pieces and dust and scatter. Let the cracks between things widen until they are no longer cracks but the new places for things. That was where they were now. The world wasn’t ending: it had ended and now they were in the new place. They could not recognize it because they had never seen it before….
In the stream of the street the dead bobbed in their invisible current. These were not the Lieutenant’s stragglers, transfixed by their perfect moments, clawing through to some long-gone version of themselves that existed only as its ghost. These were the angry dead, the ruthless chaos of existence made flesh. These were the ones who would resettle the broken city. No one else. (pp. 257-58)
I wasn’t turned off by the coldness of the writing – Mark Spitz is nearly affectless in his reactions to events – since it was part of the world Whitehead was creating. In fact, I found myself identifying very closely with the narrator and didn’t find the story dragged at all. And despite the tale’s emotional distance, I still found a number of characters to care about – Kaitlyn, Gary, the Lieutenant, the brief glimpses of how other survivors cope. In this latter category, the most memorable character for me is Mim, a woman Mark Spitz comes across in a toy store one day and with whom he shares a few days together before she disappears on a foraging expedition.
In the end, I would recommend the book.
* “Mark Spitz” is not the real name of the book’s narrator but an ironic nickname that he picked up when he refused to jump into a river to escape a group of ravenous zombies (he can’t swim) and wound up gunning them all down (an ironic homage to the typical Rambo-esque slaughter scenario).
In that vein, Whitehead has a little fun with satirizing many of the zombie genre’s tropes, including – in my favorite example – when the resident religious fanatic opens the gates to the zombies because they’re part of God’s latest punishment on His people.
** “Skels” are the regular zombies – shambling, decaying wrecks with a taste for living brains. “Stragglers” don’t wander and generally don’t pose a physical threat. They’re dead who have found a location that meant something in their past and now molder there: A janitor who endlessly mops the same spot; a copy boy who stands forever before his Xerox machine; or a goth Gypsy fortune teller eternally poised over her Tarot cards.
*** Favorite quotes: “We make the future…. That’s why we’re here.” (p. 228) “There were plenty of things in the world that deserved to stay dead, yet they walked.” (p. 231)...more
A lackluster collection of stories. There were no real "stinkers" here but not much to write home about. The stand outs were:
"Jane Doe #112," Harlan EA lackluster collection of stories. There were no real "stinkers" here but not much to write home about. The stand outs were:
"Jane Doe #112," Harlan Ellison: I'm not an Ellison fan but this was a decent comment on the waste of lives not lived.
"The Man Who Drew Cats," Michael Marshall Smith: I've read stories with similar themes but this was well done and kept my interest (as I write, I remember an episode of the old Japanese series Ultraman that dealt with the same idea).
"At A Window Facing West," Kim Antieau: A surreal look at how a woman faces her fears.
"Lord of the Land," Gene Wolfe: Wolfe is always an interesting writer even if his experiments fail. Here we have a tale about an anthropologist and an alien parasite (for another movie reference, think The Hidden).
As this was anthologized in 1991, nostalgia buffs might be amused at references to green computer screens and floppy disks and the complete absence of cell phones & social media....more
Coming down from reading All Men Are Mortal, I needed a brain breather and Laymon's The Traveling Vampire Show nicely fitted the bill.
Laymon does twoComing down from reading All Men Are Mortal, I needed a brain breather and Laymon's The Traveling Vampire Show nicely fitted the bill.
Laymon does two things very well: (1) He powerfully invokes the "horror" of being a teen-age boy. If you're a man and not squirming at being reminded of all the awkwardness of that age, you were raised by wolves. (2) He keeps you on the edge of your seat. You really don't know what's going on or what's going to happen next for much of the novel.
There are parts of the book that skirt dangerously close to reading like a Penthouse Forum letter but in the end, The Traveling Vampire Show should be read as a teen-age boy's wish-fulfillment fantasy, and a well written one at that....more
**spoiler alert** First off, I'd like to say, "Elizabeth (et al.) you are forgiven for the Kay Incident." The Monk more than makes up for any unconsci**spoiler alert** First off, I'd like to say, "Elizabeth (et al.) you are forgiven for the Kay Incident." The Monk more than makes up for any unconscious animus I may still harbor for The Lions of al-Rassan.
The Monk is not a great novel but it is a good book. The introduction (which should be read after reading the novel, if you’re going to read it at all) makes some interesting points about the Gothic tradition and how Lewis both follows and suborns it but I’m not a Lit major and I don’t want or need to know that Lewis absorbed the works of German writers like Goethe or that some see the book as an expression of the author’s homosexuality. I’m not insensitive nor adverse to having my mind expanded or my assumptions challenged by a novel, and if this had proven to be such a book I wouldn’t have minded the experience.
But it wasn’t – not for me, at any rate – it was a vibrant and lusciously written tale of love, lust, murder, rape, ghosts, demons, witchcraft and incest. Lewis carries you along on a breathless ride that culminates in the sepulcher under the Convent of St. Clare, where Ambrosio’s designs upon Antonia achieve horrid fruition. There is little subtle about the characters or the story, which is not to say that Lewis is a hack. The book is very carefully put together, and there are layers of meaning that deserve a careful reading for one so inclined.
But I wasn’t. Not on this first read. I simply wanted to read an entertaining story, and I got my wish.
I don’t have much more to say about the book but I did want to leave you with several examples of Lewis’s writing. You’ll forgive me if they’re all quite spoilering but I did mark the review so you’ve been warned.
The first example is Lewis’s description of Ambrosio, the monk of the title. A foundling who has lived his entire life within the walls of the Capuchin Monastery in Madrid, Ambrosio has only been forced out into the world because his fellow monks have elected him Abbot on account of his piety and perceived wisdom. It’s not hard to see that the author is setting Ambrosio up for a long, hard and thorough fall from grace:
“He was a Man of noble port and commanding presence. His stature was lofty, and his features uncommonly handsome. His Nose was aquiline, his eyes large black and sparkling, and his dark brows almost joined together…. He bowed himself with humility to the audience: Still there was a certain severity in his look and manner that inspired universal awe, and few could sustain the glance of his eye at once fiery and penetrating. Such was Ambrosio, Abbot of the Capuchins, and surnamed, ‘The Man of Holiness’….
“The monks having attended their Abbot to the door of his Cell, He dismissed them with an air of conscious superiority, in which Humility’s semblance combated with the reality of pride.
“He was no sooner alone, than He gave free loose to the indulgence of his vanity. When He remembered the Enthusiasm which his discourse had excited, his heart swelled with rapture, and his imagination presented him with splendid visions of aggrandizement. He looked round him with exultation, and Pride told him loudly, that He was superior to the rest of his fellow-Creatures.
“‘Who,’ thought He; ‘Who but myself has passed the ordeal of youth, yet sees no single stain upon his conscience? Who else has subdued the violence of strong passions and an impetuous temperament, and submitted even from the dawn of life to voluntary retirement? I seek for such a Man in vain. I see no one but myself possessed of such resolution. Religion cannot boast Ambrosio’s equal! How powerful an effect did my discourse produce upon its Auditors! How they crowded round me! How they loaded me with benedictions, and pronounced me the sole uncorrupted Pillar of the Church! What then now is left for me to do? Nothing, but to watch as carefully over the conduct of my Brothers, as I have hitherto watched over my own. Yet hold! May I not be tempted from those paths, which till now I have pursued without one moment’s wandering? Am I not a Man, whose nature is frail, and prone to error? I must now abandon the solitude of my retreat; The fairest and noblest Dames of Madrid continually present themselves at the Abbey, and will use no other Confessor. I must accustom my eyes to Objects of temptation, and expose myself to the seduction of luxury and desire. Should I meet in that world which I am constrained to enter some lovely Female, lovely…as you Madona…!’” (p. 18, pp. 39-40)
The second example is Ambrosio’s first fall – his seduction by Matilda, a young woman who has infiltrated the abbey in the guise of the young monk, Rosario:
“As She uttered these last words, She lifted her arm, and made a motion as if to stab herself. The Friar’s eyes followed with dread the course of the dagger. She had torn open her habit, and her bosom was half exposed. The weapon’s point rested upon her left breast: And Oh! that was such a breast! The Moon-beams darting full upon it, enabled the Monk to observe its dazzling whiteness. His eye dwelt with insatiable avidity upon the beauteous Orb. A sensation till then unknown filled his heart with a mixture of anxiety and delight: A raging fire shot through every limb; The blood boiled in his veins, and a thousand wild wishes bewildered his imagination….
“The hour was night. All was silence around. The faint beams of a solitary Lamp darted upon Matilda’s figure, and shed through the chamber a dim mysterious light. No prying eye, or curious ear was near the Lovers: Nothing was heard but Matilda’s melodious accents. Ambrosio was in the full vigour of Manhood. He saw before him a young and beautiful Woman, the preserver of his life, the Adorer of his person, and whom affection for him had reduced to the brink of the Grave. He sat upon her Bed; His hand rested upon her bosom; Her head reclined voluptuously upon his breast. Who then can wonder, if He yielded to the temptation? Drunk with desire, he pressed his lips to those which sought them: His kisses vided with Matilda’s in warmth and passion. He clasped her rapturously in his arms; He forgot his vows, his sanctity, and his fame: He remembered nothing but the pleasure and opportunity.” (pp. 65 and 90)
My third example, a twisted reflection of that above, is Ambrosio’s rape of Antonia, the too innocent child of Elvira and – as it turns out – Ambrosio’s sister, surrounded by moldering corpses:
“With very moment the Friar’s passion became more ardent, and Antonia’s terror more intense. She struggled to disengage herself from his arms: Her exertions were unsuccessful; and finding that Ambrosio’s conduct became still freer, She shrieked for assistance with all her strength. The aspect of the Vault, the pale glimmering of the Lamp, the surrounding obscurity, the sight of the Tomb, and the objects of mortality which met her eyes on either side, were ill-calculated to inspire her with those emotions, by which the Friar was agitated. Even his caresses terrified her from their fury, and crated no other sentiment than fear. On the contrary, her alarm, her evident disgust, and incessant opposition, seemed only to inflame the Monk’s desires, and supply his brutality with additional strength. Antonia’s shrieks were unheard: Yet She continued them, nor abandoned her endeavours to escape, till exhausted and out of breath She sank from his arms upon her knees, and once more had recourse to prayers and supplications. This attempt had no better success than the former. On the contrary, taking advantage of her situation, the Ravisher threw himself by her side: He clasped her to his bosom almost lifeless with terror, and faint with struggling. He stifled her cries with kisses, treated her with the rudeness of an unprincipled Barbarian, proceeded form freedom to freedom, and in the violence of his lustful delirium, wounded and bruised her tender limbs. Heedless of her tears, cries and entreaties, He gradually made himself Master of her person, and desisted not from his prey, till He had accomplished his crime and the dishonour of Antonia.” (pp. 383-84)
And the final example, is Lucifer’s brutal slaying of the monk:
“As He said this, darting his talons into the Monk’s shaven crown, He sprang with him from the rock. The Caves and mountains rang with Ambrosio’s shrieks. The Daemon continued to soar aloft, till reaching a dreadful height, He released the sufferer. Headlong fell the Monk through the airy waste; The sharp point of a rock received him; and He rolled from precipice to precipice, till bruised and mangled He rested on the river’s banks. Life still existed in his miserable frame: He attempted in vain to raise himself; His broken and dislocated limbs refused to perform their office, nor was He able to quit the spot where He had first fallen. The Sun now rose above the horizon; Its scorching beams darted full upon the head of the expiring Sinner. Myriads of insects were called forth by the warmth; They drank the blood which trickled from Ambrosio’s wounds; He had no power to drive them from him, and they fastened upon his sores, darted their stings into his body, covered him with their multitudes, and inflicted on him tortures the most exquisite and insupportable. The Eagles of the rock tore his flesh piecemeal, and dug out his eye-balls with their crooked beaks. A burning thirst tormented him; He heard the river’s murmur as it rolled beside him, but strove in vain to drag himself towards the sound. Blind, maimed, helpless, and despairing, venting his rage in blasphemy and curses, execrating his existence, yet dreading the arrival of death destined to yield him up to greater torments, six miserable days did the Villain languish. On the Seventh a violent storm arose; The winds in fury rent up rocks and forests: The sky was now black with clouds, now sheeted with fire: The rain fell in torrents; It swelled the stream; The waves overflowed their banks; They reached the spot where Ambrosio lay, and when they abated carried with them into the river the Corse of the despairing Monk.” (pp. 441-42)
All is not misery and violence. The mood of the novel veers from comic to tragic, from the scene where Don Christoval pretends to woo Leonella so Lorenzo can talk privately with Antonia or Jacintha’s vow to force Simon Gonzalez to marry her so she won’t have to re-enter the home now haunted by Elvira’s ghost or the reactions of the convent nuns when faced with remaining among the crypts or facing a murderous mob – they opt to face the rioters before the terrors of the tombs – to Raymond and Marguerite’s desperate escape from the banditti or Lorenzo’s discovery of his emaciated sister Agnes and her dead child beneath the statue of St. Clare. Lewis manages to carry it off without jarring the reader, however, and it was one of the story’s strengths.
And he manages to get off a few jibes at literary critics when Raymond discusses the merits of his servant Theodore’s verse:
“An Author, whether good or bad, or between both, is an Animal whom every body is privileged to attack; For though All are not able to write books, all conceive themselves able to judge them. A bad composition carries with it its own punishment, contempt and ridicule. A good one excites envy, and entails upon its Author a thousand mortifications. He finds himself assailed by partial and ill-humoured Criticism: One Man finds fault with the plan, Another with the style, a Third with the precept, which it strives to inculcate; and they who cannot succeed in finding fault with the Book, employ themselves in stigmatizing its Author…. In short to enter the lists of literature is willfully to expose yourself to the arrows of neglect, ridicule, envy, and disappointment.” (pp. 198-99)
Overall, I feel good recommending this to all my GR friends who’ve put it on their “to-read” or “wish list” shelves. And even if you haven’t, I’d still recommend it as an enjoyable way to idle away an afternoon or weekend....more
Caveat emptor: I picked this off the New Books shelf at one of my libraries because it sounded intriguing – a desperate group of Russian officers recrCaveat emptor: I picked this off the New Books shelf at one of my libraries because it sounded intriguing – a desperate group of Russian officers recruits a band of voordalak (vampires) to help defeat Napoleon’s Grande Armée only to realize that Bonaparte is the least of their worries.
The idea is still intriguing and it might make a good novel but this isn’t it.
The writing is dull and turgid, giving neither a sense of place nor a sense of dread, and the info-dumps are painful (I’m still nursing a black eye and a swollen jaw). I understand that a general readership might not have a broad knowledge of Russian history but there have to be better ways of informing you than this:
“‘Perhaps you should tell us what makes them so remarkable,’ said Vadim.
‘It’s hard to describe,’ said Dmitry, considering for a moment. ‘You’ve heard of the Oprichniki?’
Vadim and I both nodded agreement, but Maks, surprisingly, had not come across the term.
‘During the reign of Ivan the Fourth – the Terrible, as he liked to be called – during one of his less benevolent phases, he set up a sort of personal troop of bodyguards known as the Oprichniki,’ explained Dmitry. ‘The job of the Oprichniki was internal suppression, which is obviously not what we’re talking about here, but the method of an Oprichnik was to use absolute, unrestrained violence. Officially, they were monks. They rode around the country wearing black cowls, killing anyone that Ivan deemed should die. Although they weren’t monks, they weren’t educated, but their faith gave them the fanaticism that Ivan needed.’” (p. 18)
Up to this stardate I've managed to avoid the zombification/vampirization-of-beloved-literary-icons genre (though I have enjoyed the GR reviews of theUp to this stardate I've managed to avoid the zombification/vampirization-of-beloved-literary-icons genre (though I have enjoyed the GR reviews of these works) but based on Brad's review and the fact that it's Trek...well, "resistance is futile," as they say.
I'll probably warp through this over the weekend. ________________________________________________________________
A surprisingly good Zombie-Star Trek adventure. You actually kind of really care about what happens to the people in the book: Jim Pike, ex-Army Afghan vet, reluctantly accepting the burden of leading the survivors of the zombie plague; Rayna, his sister; "Princess Leia" (aka Shelley), convention model and kick-ass amateur zombie killer; Gary, overweight software-company owner; "Willy Makeit" (aka Kenny Dyes), hapless redshirt; "T'Poc," a Vulcan from the "Mirror, Mirror" universe; and "Martock," a Klingon weapons smith. I have a feeling it will join The Havard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings: A Parody of J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings on my shelf - to be read every decade or so as a pleasant diversion.
I shouldn't, upon reflection, use the word "surprisingly" in the paragraph above because I came across this little gem via Brad's review and his eye for quality material - even if brain candy - is pretty good.
As he points out, this is fun for any Trekkie or Zombie fan or both, and really should be made into a movie.
* My favorite riff on the "Red Shirts Are Expendable" trope is the West Texas Red Tunic Club - Half the club dies in a car accident on the way to the convention, the other half succumbs to the zombie plague and the last survivor's real name is "Kenny Dyes" - and he does.
** Also, I might mention that though "Princess Leia" does spend much of the novel slaughtering zombies in her gold bikini, she also sports a smashing pair of slippers shaped like the USS Enterprise....more
I'm going to echo some of the other reviewers on this site and agree that this is one of Kiernan's better novels (though alRating: between 3.0 and 3.5
I'm going to echo some of the other reviewers on this site and agree that this is one of Kiernan's better novels (though all of her stuff, that I've read, is good and highly recommended). As is true of her earlier work, it's never certain that what the narrator narrates is what happens, and our narrator's (Sarah Crowe) mental and physical capacities are always in doubt. As she often concedes in the course of this first-person tale.
It reminds me of Sylvia Townsend Warner's Lolly Willowes in that every supernatural event can be explained by the machinations of the unconscious mind. Kiernan's vision is far bleaker but both authors are masters (mistresses?) of mood setting and evocative writing. Though I should mention that, IMO, this is Kiernan's least lyrical novel. There's almost none of her, at times, ecstatic/euphoric use of words; I kept thinking that she was holding herself back as I read.
Regardless of the "truth" of Sarah Crowe's experiences, for lovers of Lovecraft, Machen and other horror authors who value the psychological power of terror over gore, I'd recommend The Red Tree. If your idea of "horror" is graphic descriptions of butchery and the "Saw" franchise, you'll be bored out of your mind and probably should avoid this novel....more
I'm rereading this based upon Stephen's review so if I do not appreciate it more, it will be entirely his fault :-) ___________________________________I'm rereading this based upon Stephen's review so if I do not appreciate it more, it will be entirely his fault :-) _______________________________________
In The Case of Charles Dexter Ward HPL ventures a novel-length story about his Elder Gods and one man’s tragic fate when he delves into mysteries better left unexamined. Charles Dexter Ward is the scion of a well established Providence family who begins investigating esoteric matters and discovers that an ancestor, Joseph Curwen, was killed by a terrified town when they discovered his unhallowed necromantic studies.
The reader doesn’t actually spend a lot of time with Charles Ward. Instead HPL tells the story through the boy’s doctor’s attempt to find out what happened to him. HPL’s strength as a storyteller does not reside in memorable characters but in the ability to evoke an atmosphere of mounting horror and despair, and he does that very well here. You can feel the terror Dr. Willett experiences when he’s trapped in the lightless vaults beneath that ill-omened Pawtuxet farmhouse where Curwen raised up monstrous entities from Outside:
But Marinus Bicknell Willett was sorry that he looked again; for surgeon and veteran of the dissecting-room though he was, he has not been the same since. It is hard to explain just how a single sight of a tangible object with measurable dimensions could so shake and change a man; and we may only say that there is about certain outlines and entities a power of symbolism and suggestion which acts frightfully on a sensitive thinker’s perspective and whispers terrible hints of obscure cosmic relationships and unnameable realities behind the protective illusions of common vision. In that second look Willett saw such an outline or entity, for during the next few instants he was undoubtedly as stark mad as any inmate of Dr. Waite’s private hospital. He dropped the electric torch from a hand drained of muscular power or nervous co-ordination, nor heeded the sound of crunching teeth which told of its fate at the bottom of the pit. He screamed and screamed and screamed in a voice whose falsetto panic no acquaintance of his would ever have recognised, and though he could not rise to his feet he crawled and rolled desperately away over the damp pavement where dozens of Tartarean wells poured forth their exhausted whining and yelping to answer his own insane cries. He tore his hands on the rough, loose stone, and many times bruised his head against the frequent pillars, but still he kept on. Then at last he slowly came to himself in the utter blackness and stench, and stopped his ears against the droning wail into which the burst of yelping had subsided. He was drenched with perspiration and without means of producing a light; stricken and unnerved in the abysmal blackness and horror, and crushed with a memory he never could efface. Beneath him dozens of those things still lived, and from one of the shafts the cover was removed. He knew that what he had seen could never climb up the slippery walls, yet shuddered at the thought that some obscure foothold might exist. (pp. 102-03)
And this is a description of the relatively empty vaults found in 1928; nothing at all like these same vaults from 170 years earlier when the men who descended into those hellish catacombs emerged unable to speak about what they had seen and heard – the only account of the venture coming from the journals of a man who remained above ground.
I’ve got the entire Ballantine collection of HPL’s stories sitting on my bookshelf but poor Charles Dexter has languished there while I favored its brothers such as The Lurking Fear or The Doom That Came to Sarnath. It took Stephen’s review mentioned above to prompt a reread and I’m glad that I did.
So, Stephen, you may not have steered me to a tropical paradise, but I did manage to avoid any literary ice bergs....more