I really, really wanted to love this collection. I was so stoked to get my hands on it (as excited as I get about short story anthologies anyways). It...moreI really, really wanted to love this collection. I was so stoked to get my hands on it (as excited as I get about short story anthologies anyways). It contains an original story by Stephen King for heaven's sake, not to mention other original contributions from some of the genre's heaviest hitters including: Ramsey Campbell, John Ajvide Lindqvist and Dennis Etchison.
I think what frustrated me the most about this collection is that the majority of the stories have great beginnings but fizzle out on underwhelming, meh endings. Regardless of how pregnant with potential the premise, none of the authors really nail it, hit it out of the park, stick the landing (pick your metaphor, I got plenty).
That's not to say I didn't enjoy myself, because I did. I just expected more. I wanted that punch to the solar plexus, that tingly feeling of dread or shivery sensation of creep. Instead, I was moderately entertained and mildly amused.
Not surprisingly, one of the strongest is Stephen King's "The Little Green God of Agony", which carries a Twilight Zone or Creepshow vibe. A master of suspense, King controls the mounting tension on this one near perfectly. Anyone who is aware of King's long road to recovery after his near fatal accident won't be surprised to see him turn his writer's eye to the subject of excruciating pain. A pain so intolerable, one can only imagine the body has been possessed by an evil entity that feeds off the agony. While the ending is not that surprising really, it sure is sweet getting there.
King may be my sentimental favorite of the collection, but Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist (author of Let the Right One In) offers the most original and beautifully executed story. "The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer" is a darkly imagined ghost story about grief that resonates with sadness and desperation. A mother dies suddenly, and in the vacuum of a father and son's loss a ghost finds its way in. Not just any ghost. A murderer of children. This one actually wormed its way in and unnerved me. The writing is very good. It's really hard to believe that the same country that exported ABBA, has given us Lindqvist. Both are fantastic, but one of these things is not like the other.
The story idea I was most excited about came from horror legend Ramsey Campbell called "Getting It Wrong". It's a deadly games premise whereby a radio quiz show called Inquisition requires its contestants to answer questions correctly ... or bad things happen. I love the set-up on this one. Imagine taking a show like "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and amping up the stakes so it's not money you're winning or losing, but the right to keep limbs intact, or eyeballs in your head. Now you're really in the hot seat. You have a life line, literally. So, idea? Perfect. Set-up? Pretty damn fine. Final denouement? Meh. This story could have been so much more, with just a little more meat on its bones.
Finally, Elizabeth Hand's novella "Near Zennor" just sucked me in and kept me turning the pages. It takes place on the English moors and has a very Gothic vibe. A man loses his wife suddenly and finds some old letters she wrote when she was just a girl to the author of a series of children's books. It becomes a mystery that he wants to investigate and he travels to the place where she spent one summer in 1971. This is an odd story that I couldn't quite make up my mind about as I was reading it, but still, it's very strong and I couldn't put it down even when there didn't seem to be anything really happening.
Overall, a fair collection with a couple of pieces worth the price of admission.
This was an okay enjoyable read with plenty of atmosphere and gothic elements to recommend it, but for me, it was almost “textbook” gothic… what do yo...moreThis was an okay enjoyable read with plenty of atmosphere and gothic elements to recommend it, but for me, it was almost “textbook” gothic… what do you call it – a pastiche? Right down to calling the sprawling Victorian mansion Hill House. There are some genuine eerie moments and I don’t regret spending an afternoon curled up with this one, but unfortunately it’s one of those books that you know you’re going to forget in a day.
As my friends know I don’t read many mysteries, but when I do they generally fall into the “family secrets” sort where the protagonist goes poking around to uncover some dark and demented family past. The reveal and wrapping up of the mystery here can be seen coming a mile away, even if you’re not paying the least bit of attention, so that was disappointing too. If I’m going to invest the time to unravel a mystery, it better keep me guessing right up to the end. I want to be surprised and shaken. Overall this was a well-constructed novel, ably paced and written, but turned out to be more of a reasonable facsimile of a modern gothic tale, rather than the genuine article. (less)
**spoiler alert** In the Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger does something unique and wonderful to the concept of time travel and weaves a story...more**spoiler alert** In the Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger does something unique and wonderful to the concept of time travel and weaves a story so transfixing I will remain haunted by it for the rest of my reading life. She attempts to achieve a similar feat with Her Fearful Symmetry, only this time Niffenegger tackles ghosts – and in its way this novel is a ghost story unlike any ghost story I have read.
Elsepth’s afterlife experience essentially “haunting” her flat in London and those she has left behind is poignant and rich in detail. Her evolution from a vague mist into a defined presence able to make small changes in the physical world that surrounds her is engaging and well told. However, and this is a big however, the rest of the novel falls apart around this promising nugget.
I could not identify with any of the eccentric and bereft characters that populate this book. The estrangement between Edie and Elspeth seems contrived and I just did not buy “the big reveal” at the end regarding their history, finding it immensely disappointing and wholly unsatisfying. Ditto the other “big shock” regarding Valentina’s ultimate fate, which I found neither tragic nor poetic. Truth be told it pissed me off and felt like a cheat. Robert’s and Elspeth’s guilt-ridden flight out of London and away from their (un)-intended crime made me mad too, especially Robert’s desertion of the reincarnated Elspeth and his unborn child. Was that really necessary and what does it add to the story’s final resolution? Are we to believe he blamed Elspeth for Valentina’s death and perhaps believed Elspeth’s habitation of Valentina’s body was premeditated?
One final note: the twin relationship between Julia and Valentina screamed unhealthy and drove me nuts because I couldn’t think of two rational women behaving in this fucked up way, identical twins or not. There had been no separation, no maturation, to the point where each was stunted emotionally and mentally. You would think that would somehow make them interesting, but it really doesn’t. In the end I found them pathetic rather than sympathetic.
This story really did have the makings of a fabulous Gothic tale – weird sisters, love triangles, a ghost, and the ghostly ability to rip out the soul from a living body. It just didn’t quite make it. (less)
This is a weird one. It had enough in it to keep me reading, but I think I only stuck with it because it was on the short side. Lots of people have co...moreThis is a weird one. It had enough in it to keep me reading, but I think I only stuck with it because it was on the short side. Lots of people have commended McGrath for his writing style, but I found it a bit over done and taxing. I appreciate what he is trying to accomplish here, but it just didn't work for me. No one is sympathetic, let alone the narrator, and the ending bit the big one. Witty? Insightful? Clever? No. No. No. Great idea, poorly executed. (less)
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read such a horror classic by one of the masters who has influenced so many others, including Stephen King....moreI can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read such a horror classic by one of the masters who has influenced so many others, including Stephen King. First off, what I loved:
1) What’s not to love? Matheson manages to accomplish a haunted house story that is not only supremely eerie and filled with a creepy atmosphere that’s sublime, but a full-on assault of the senses as well. This book does not pussy-foot around – it is in your face practically from page one all the way through to the end.
2) Belasco House – even the Overlook Hotel has nothing on the absolutely sordid, depraved history of Hell House. One of the most riveting scenes in the novel is when Fischer is describing the house’s past in gritty and illuminating detail. It created images in my mind I won't ever be able to erase. Ever.
3) Tension and suspense are rife in this novel and so expertly handled. Matheson really is a master of his craft. (view spoiler)[I’m reminded of one scene in particular when Dr. Barrett becomes trapped in the steam room. And how Florence Tanner meets her end in the chapel (hide spoiler)] Positively ghoulish! I loved that I was never quite certain what was going to happen next, on edge with the uncertainty of how far things were going to go.
Why I’m giving it four stars instead of five:
1) What would have been shocking and new to audiences in 1971 has become a tad too familiar today. While this speaks volumes to the book’s cultural and literary impact – the fact that it has been copied and imitated by so many on film and on the page nevertheless detracts from the book’s overall contemporary wow factor.
2) I have to say while I found the scientific explanations to be somewhat interesting, Dr. Barrett’s endless condescending descriptions of his work became insufferable after a while and robbed some of the book’s momentum. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)