This classic short story popped up in my feed this evening, and I decided to hunt it down and read it for myself. Gorgeous gut puncher is all I can sa...more This classic short story popped up in my feed this evening, and I decided to hunt it down and read it for myself. Gorgeous gut puncher is all I can say. I love a story that can sneak up on you like that and demand from you everything in you to give. It's one of those stories that insinuates itself into your soul, that lingers in the mind.
LeGuin poses the age-old question, does the end ever justify the means? Is the sacrifice of one or few ever worth it if it means protection of the many? Humans have played those odds since the beginning of time with varying results, and varying degrees of guilt. And we will continue to do so. Because life is messy and perpetually grey. Very seldom is it simple and black and white. It's what you can live with. And those that can't? We all have an internal meter that measures bullshit and our humanity. In a perfect world, should the bullshit get too thick, should our humanity become too thin, that's when it's time to walk away from Omelas.
Or is it? What's worse, staying and doing nothing? Or leaving and doing nothing? You can stand up and say something is wrong that you cannot stand it, that you cannot bear it, but if you do nothing to change it, what have you really accomplished? And who among us has the energy, will, courage and daring to change the things we know are wrong? All the daily wrongs that we see every single day. All of the unhappiness, desperation, cruelty. Child soldiers in Africa, dehumanizing labor camps in North Korea, women being stoned to death, children being worked to death. Maybe our happiness does come at a high price after all.
This is so awesome. For anyone (like me) wanting to try Lovecraft for the first time (or to read more of him) this complete collection is available FO...moreThis is so awesome. For anyone (like me) wanting to try Lovecraft for the first time (or to read more of him) this complete collection is available FOR FREE in both EPUB and Kindle format. Enjoy!(less)
I've never read anything by Ambrose Bierce and this was a great place to start. It is a very immediate, visceral sort of story that's all about the se...moreI've never read anything by Ambrose Bierce and this was a great place to start. It is a very immediate, visceral sort of story that's all about the senses. There is nothing like being so close to Death that you can reach out and shake his hand to bring everything into sharp focus. Bierce's vivid prose captures the desperation and drive of a man about to be hanged, who may just be given a second chance after all. It's a story filled with dramatic flair and urgent energy. Thanks for the rec, Stephen!
Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.
This is one instance where I'm painfully aware of the inadequacy of a star-rating system for books. To give Ballard's High-Rise three stars does very little to capture its strengths, but more importantly, its ultimate failure as a novel. I'm going to try and do that in my review here, but just in case my rambling goes right off the rails, check out Jeffrey's spot-on assessment here.
What brought me to this book is an endless fascination with "group in peril" stories that look at how quickly our civilized veneer can be stripped down to our lizard brain impulses. Great writers have shown us that human beings as a species seem to be hard-wired to regress to a primitive state when confronted with the total absence of social rules and obligations.
In Blindness, Saramago's characters revert to their most primal and baser urges when forced to confront the fallout of a plague of blindness. William Golding manages to show this very same regression to a primitive state in Lord of the Flies when there is a profound absence of law and order and other recognizable earmarks of "civilization" in place. Using the example of a bunch of British school boys stranded on a deserted island, Golding shows us it doesn't take long for humans to throw off the shackles of civilized conduct and resort to a more brutal "survival of the fittest" approach.
Blindness and Lord of the Flies are two great novels that ruthlessly give us a nightmare portrait of human regression that is frightening because of its very realism and believability. And this is where Ballard fails in his attempt because there is no realism or believability in his tale. It is strictly an exercise in description. Create a sprawling high-rise edifice, make it a contained society with all the luxuries of a modern city, populate it with 2,000 tenants, and then, with no tangible reason whatsoever have these people begin to transmogrify into a bunch of cannibalistic savages within the course of a few months. As Jeffrey points out in his review: "the outside world is perfectly normal. Civilization is existing just fine. There is no cataclysmic event that has ruptured the natural order of things. To return to the world of order is as simple as leaving the building."
So yes, the zombies haven't risen up, the aliens have not landed. There is no pandemic flu or super volcano eruption. Beyond the concrete walls of the high-rise, people are going to work, shopping for groceries, putting their kids to bed. Yet within the concrete walls, what you have is a total post-apocalyptic decline into delusion and depravity and for what? This is just too cheap and easy for me to respect. If you're going to make humans go there, I want a reason. Show me how it could really happen.
Alright, no question the novel fails that litmus test. Do I give Ballard the benefit of the doubt here anyway? So he doesn't trouble himself with a realistic scenario, but maybe that was never the point. Published in 1976, maybe Ballard was going more for an allegorical vibe on the dehumanization of modern city living. Maybe this novel is his statement on the rise of urban disconnect -- as we cram more and more people into their self-contained units, living elbow to chin, something fundamental to our higher-brain humanity is being eroded away. This is a book that also has characters who start out very class conscious. When the breakdown begins, fractures open and tribes form along class lines. Yet, strip civilization away, and we all go feral in the same way no matter how much money is in our bank account. Succumbing to our lizard brain seems to be the true great equalizer.
If you so choose as a reader, you could go all LIT 101 on this sucker, but at the end of the day, I can't really be bothered. I'm reminded of the frustrated actor who cries out: "but where's my motivation?" Yes, where is the motivation in this story? What exactly is motivating the characters to behave in such a depraved way? Without that motivation, the other "elements" of the story that may or may not be there are lost on me. I do not care to engage.
So why three stars? Ballard's writing is very good. The execution of this novel may have failed for me, but I still recognized his prose as effective. He put me in that high-rise where I could smell the stink of putrid garbage and human waste. I felt a little on edge at all times, like the fillings in my teeth were vibrating. There are several well-described scenes that chilled me to the bone (view spoiler)[especially the last one of the abandoned wives on the roof as they circle around Wilder to make a meal out of him as the children play with a pile of bones. (hide spoiler)] Just a lukewarm recommendation this time for fans of classic dystopian literature and science fiction of the 60s and 70s. I can say this however -- High-Rise won't be my last Ballard. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I'm actually shocked by how utterly and completely this book frustrated and bored the hell out of me, how crushingly disappointed I am by t...more* 1/2 stars
I'm actually shocked by how utterly and completely this book frustrated and bored the hell out of me, how crushingly disappointed I am by the whole affair. I mean, this is John Wyndham for Chrissake -- author of The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids (both of which are all levels of awesome).
This? This just pisses me off. It's made me want to make my Jules face -- yeah, I got one ... what of it?
I mean, you have GOT to be fucking kidding me. How does such a fantastic idea in the hands of a gifted writer turn into such tepid, meandering ruminations on ethics, philosophy, the human condition and God himself. Rather than action or character development we are treated to long rambling speeches that go nowhere by characters we could care less about which add nothing to the story's drama nor our enjoyment of it.
The only reason this book didn't get slapped with one star is because it contains an awesome premise -- a staggering golden nugget of an idea alluded to in its clever title -- that has gone on to embed itself in popular culture influencing many authors and filmmakers since its original publication in 1957. The Children of Midwich are phenomenally creepy, the ramifications of their existence fraught with peril presenting a terrible, terrifying dilemma. I can dig that. British filmmakers dug that very thing and turned it into the unnerving and unforgettable classic Village of the Damned (1960).
Do yourself a favor -- skip the book, watch the movie. Now how many times in a life do you get to say that?
Wow, freaking wow. I had no idea I would be sucked into this novel the way I was -- I couldn't put it down! I know that phrase is overused, but seriou...more Wow, freaking wow. I had no idea I would be sucked into this novel the way I was -- I couldn't put it down! I know that phrase is overused, but seriously, I couldn't put it down! And when I did have to abandon it for life and work, I couldn't wait to get back to it. This is so different than Cain's other noir novels where sex and violence, scheming, backstabbing and a dead body feature so prominently. Unlike Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce is a full-length novel that takes its time delving deep into character and focusing on the minutiae of one woman's epic financial rise during the Great Depression (and her extremely damaging and twisted relationship with her eldest daughter Veda).
Veda -- what a vile and loathsome (and brilliant) literary creation. Don't get me wrong; I had my problems with Mildred too, but Veda just takes the cake. I've never wanted to scream and slap someone across the face so badly as I wanted to with her. (view spoiler)[When Mildred FINALLY loses her cool and starts to choke her, I'm actually cheering her on! Yes! Choke on that, you witch! (hide spoiler)]
There's something very Shakespearean tragic about the entire Pierce clan -- such flaws and blatant hubris marking their unraveling. Cain isn't writing a love story or a novel of redemption. He shines a light on greed and pride in such a way that you must look, even though it's so ugly, so distasteful. Cain is a master in this, capturing 1930's California and a woman's place in it. Without ever losing the propulsive thread of his tawdry, daytime drama narrative, Cain is able to show the sneering side of class consciousness, the brute realities of gender roles, and the poisonous type of love that can bring a family to its knees.
Veda may be a villain, and easy to despise, but I became so frustrated with Mildred's choices and blind (not to mention unhealthy) devotion to her daughter that I came to despise her a little too. Can we say that by the end of all this mess everyone gets what they deserve? Well, this is Cain, so I'll let you figure it out.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Stealing a man's wife, that's nothing, but stealing his car, that's larceny. ~The Postman Always Rings Twice
If Noir can be said to have a cold, black heart it’s Postman that provided the juice to electroshock it into a beating, breathing existence. It is without a doubt one of the most important crime novels of the 20th century (of any century really) and has gone on to influence entire generations of writers and filmmakers. As a debut, it shocked, titillated and disgusted, banned upon publication in Boston and in Canada. Before I even knew anything about this book, or the films that were based on it, I adored that title. To this day, it remains one of my favourites.
What Cain accomplishes in just a mere 100 pages is impressive. He finds the voice of the common man, and the dark and dangerous shortcut to greed, lust, and violence. More than anything, Cain understands how easily man is corrupted, how easily he can corrupt others, like an infection. And I use “man” here in the generic sense encompassing both genders, because when it comes to villains and black hearts, Cain is an equal opportunist.
Entire books and dissertations have been written about Cain’s women – the good, the bad, the rampant sexism, the alleged misogyny – whatever. Cain’s characters don’t bleed political correctness that's obvious – what they are is a symbol of their time and circumstances – hewed from harshness, beacons of egocentrism, proprietors of antisocialism. The women like to be smacked around a little (it helps get them in the mood), and the men are only too willing to oblige the ladies in that regard. Men aren't asking for what ought to be freely given, and should it be denied to them, why... they'll just take it anyway, won't they?
Based on all of this, Postman easily garners five stars, so why am I only giving it four? My only hesitation stems from this: I just didn’t enjoy it as much as Double Indemnity. Neither Frank nor Cora drew me in to quite the same extent that Walter and Phyllis did – the former are cold, dislikable and a bit icky, whereas the latter duo are fascinating in their terribleness and villainy. They are even sympathetic in their own messed up way … whereas Frank and Cora felt like reptiles crawling on their bellies, sniffing for a blood meal. Plus, Phyllis is simply an awe-inspiring, terrifying creation – a walking, talking sociopath before the term was even widely known. She is quiet, sexy, subtle and deranged -- I love her.
Having said that, Postman is lean and mean hard-boiled pulp fiction and you gotta respect that. It’s not shy about going for the jugular with absolutely no foreplay. But Cain doesn’t need it, requiring so little time and so few words to get the reader foaming at the mouth -- when he’s ready to go, so are you. This is a must-read, but you know that already. (less)
There's a reason this is a classic and has stood the test of time, and you only have to read the first few pages to fully understand why. It all start...more There's a reason this is a classic and has stood the test of time, and you only have to read the first few pages to fully understand why. It all starts with a delicious chill up your spine, your eyeballs riveted to the page, your breath held, the "gotta know what happens next" monster rattling the bars of his cage. Your first thought: Strap on baby, this is gonna be g-ooood
Cain is a MASTER storyteller: his cutthroat instincts for plot and pacing unerring and enviable. His ear for dialogue is enough to make grown men cry and women purr. It's sharp, with staccato beats and primal rhythms. And he makes it all look so easy which anyone who has ever put pen to paper knows, easy it is not ... ever. Whether you believe Cain to be a genius, an idiot savant or the prince of pulp, there's no denying his enduring appeal and lasting legacy to the world of literature. And not just the written word, but film as well, since so many of his stories have been adapted into silver screen classics that resonate with awesomeness to this day.
As a movie, Double Indemnity is pure gold, yet the vein from which it is mined is richer still. Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis is THE femme fatale, yet there is so much nuance and depth missing from her character in the film (in what is already an amazing performance). Cain's Phyllis is so much more than a sultry seductress and the cold-blooded spider hanging in her web. But I will leave the pleasure of that discovery to you.
He had not heard her coming. Girls were like that. Their shoes never squeaked. No boards whined under the tread. They slunk like cats on padded claws. ~The End of the Party, Graham Greene
I don't read a lot of short stories; it's not a format that appeals to me usually. However, when a story finds me that is so exceptionally good and unforgettable, so fine and filled with jagged teeth, there is no one on this green earth who will become a bigger pimp for said story.
...Graham Greene's "The End of the Party" is one of those stories.
So here I go a-pimping. First of all, I want to give a shout out to Wendy Darling and Stephen, both of who have done an awesome job pimping this story royally (without such pimpage I wouldn't even know of the story's existence).
Secondly, if I'm going to go ga-ga over a short story, there's a 99.9% chance it will have a twist ending, an ending that makes your skin crawl, or heart pound, or stomach drop down to the floor. Stories like: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, The Jaunt or Children of the Corn by Stephen King, or the more recent sleeper hit Ponies by Kij Johnson.
This story has a twist ending that goes right for the jugular. It's not sensational, but rather filled with creep and laced with unforgetableness (now I'm just making up words as I go along; I tend to do that when I get excited). Because this classic story is written by a literary master, you know the prose is going to snap and sing. There's a sadness in the story, about the powerlessness children often feel, and how often they can find themselves in threatening situations not of their own choosing. This is a story about fear and how unrelenting and merciless it can really be if left unchecked.
Above all, Greene accomplishes so much in so few words that your jaw will gape open in amazement (and envy). He makes Every. Word. Count.