One of the best books I have ever read, and the horror novelist in me wants to claim it for my own genre. Here's the slew of adjectives: dark, funny,One of the best books I have ever read, and the horror novelist in me wants to claim it for my own genre. Here's the slew of adjectives: dark, funny, disturbing, and beautiful. These are some of the best, most perfectly captured characters I've ever had the pleasure to spend time with.
The writing is beautiful without getting in the way of the story itself, which rolls forward at a perfect clip. I found myself underlining passages quickly so I could hurry up and turn the page.
And what a story. A novel hasn't gotten this far under my skin for a long, long time.
This is the second time through reading this book, and I have to say: MUCH better than I remembered! I read it originally as a freshman in high schoolThis is the second time through reading this book, and I have to say: MUCH better than I remembered! I read it originally as a freshman in high school, and I think it just flew right straight over my idiotic head. This book is brilliant. The atmosphere is great, the characters are likable (and FUNNY! how about that? amazing humor in a horror novel!), and the mystery is pitch-perfect. This really is a gem of a haunted house story; certainly the best I've ever read. ...more
Eight great short stories about people, dogs, life, light, and darkness. Watson can write the hell out of a sentence while telling some of the most suEight great short stories about people, dogs, life, light, and darkness. Watson can write the hell out of a sentence while telling some of the most surprising stories you're likely to find. These are rough Southern pieces, steeped in an unflinching but fair view of humanity, recommended for serious readers who aren't looking for sentimental Disney-ish stories about people and the pets they love. A few of these qualify in my opinion as flat-out horror stories. So ... be warned. Marley and Me this is not.
Standouts in the collection for me are the title story, "Agnes of Bob," and "Kindred Spirits," but really they're all terrific. I'm always inspired by Watson's prose and gift for the unexpected.
Highly recommended for adventurous readers who don't mind some harsh realism....more
An amazing horror novel because of its devotion to characters that were unusual and frightening. There's hardly a character in this that isn't in someAn amazing horror novel because of its devotion to characters that were unusual and frightening. There's hardly a character in this that isn't in some way dangerous. Rich, complicated, and suspenseful ... and absolutely the single best vampire novel I've ever read. ...more
When I was a sophomore in high school in 1993, I wrote a big preposterous novel that culminated in a school shooting. I'd read The Basketball Diaries,When I was a sophomore in high school in 1993, I wrote a big preposterous novel that culminated in a school shooting. I'd read The Basketball Diaries, seen Pearl Jam's (apparently misunderstood) video for "Jeremy," and read King's short novel Rage, so it really didn't seem anything special to me to write something like that. It was angst-ridden wish-fulfillment of the most obvious kind, sick with its own melodramatic self-righteous anger and autobiographical details. By the time I finished it, I hated the main character only slightly more than I hated myself. I vowed to grow up, and when I wrote my next novel I made it about a girl so it would have less of a chance to be about me.
Then came all the real-life school shootings, and I started to feel even worse--superstitiously complicit, or at least guilty of some kind of thought crime. Watching the CNN coverage of Columbine made me sick to my stomach, and part of the reason I felt so horrible was because of the manic glee I'd had writing some of the worst scenes in that idiotic novel.
So when I heard someone had written a well-reviewed book about a high school massacre, I recoiled. There was simply no way anyone could get it right, and, besides, that was my book. If anyone was going to write it, it should've been me.
Well, after reading Lionel Shriver's book, all I can think to say is: I was so wrong. I knew nothing about this subject, and I've just been schooled by a master. I'm so grateful someone better than me took this subject on. Shriver gets everything right in this book, and keeping the novel in the point of view of the mother of a teenager who goes on a killing spree in his high school is a masterstroke.
The plot centers around the efforts of Eva Katchadourian, mother of Kevin Katchadourian, nicknamed KK by the press (which recalls both the initials of Kipland Kinkel as well as, yes, disturbingly, my own), who is in jail after murdering nine people, to put together what it all means and why it happened and come to terms with her culpability as the parent of a murderer.
The triumph of this novel is its ability to put you in the mind of a woman tortured and psychologically abused by her own progeny. Reading this as I did after The Psychopath Test, I found myself often making mental checkmarks as Kevin displayed classic sociopathic tendencies. But even so, this is not a book interested in labels or easy answers so much as it's a book about the mysteries of character, even Eva's own. Was she abused by her son, or did she abuse her son? There is no objective answer. There was certainly a war between mother and son, but at the same time it could also seem like an agonized love affair. It's all so disturbing and uncomfortable and compellingly readable.
Not to mention Shriver's wonderful prose style, which is literate and still easy to read. It's great writing that doesn't attract attention to itself, which is really tough to do.
One thing I still don't like is the title, which is just a little too "the more you KNOW" and after-school-special-ish for me. But so it goes.
This is one of the best horror novels about being a parent that's ever been written. ...more
Okay, disclaimer: I had Brad Watson as a creative writing professor for several years back in my undergraduate days. With that in mind, this collectioOkay, disclaimer: I had Brad Watson as a creative writing professor for several years back in my undergraduate days. With that in mind, this collection of short stories was a really emotional ride for me. A lot of the stories focus on the disintegration of relationships, and as a guy with a divorce only three years in his past, the details in these stories and the amount of incredible poetry and sadness Watson brings to his material really hit home. There's maybe one or two stories in here that didn't quite work for me, but for the most part these are knockouts. This is a terrific collection. ...more
LOVED this one! While I was reading the book, I couldn't decide if I liked any of the characters; by the end, I'd come to love them on their own termsLOVED this one! While I was reading the book, I couldn't decide if I liked any of the characters; by the end, I'd come to love them on their own terms. Walter, Patty, and Richard are those kind of real characters you always hope to meet when you open a book. This is a classic novel with a lot on its mind, and I liked it a lot more than The Corrections. This one really got through to me. Very emotional ride. ...more
Nathan Ballingrud's debut collection of short stories sank its claws deep into my brain and refused to let go until I'd read the whole thing. He writeNathan Ballingrud's debut collection of short stories sank its claws deep into my brain and refused to let go until I'd read the whole thing. He writes clear, powerful tales, where the monsters in question flush out his characters' humanity in traumatic clarity. Most of these don't end well, but they're all gorgeous pieces.
Often, the obvious monster of the story is not the worst monster. Take, for example, the story "Wild Acres," where an early, bloody attack suggests an obvious sort of supernatural tale. Yet Ballingrud doesn't go down that road, instead taking the reader through the emotional consequences of surviving the ordeal and the choices made during such an event. Or the eponymous "North American Lake Monsters" itself, where an unidentifiable beast washes up on the shore of a lake and yet remains only a lightning-rod metaphor for the things going on within the family that discovers it.
[Personal note here: I read that story with a mixture of adoration and sadness, as I recently submitted a story that featured almost exactly the same situation. Ugh. The outcome in my tale was far different, but it's still quite frustrating to be scooped on a story I really liked.]
In another standout piece, "Crevasse," about a sled team in Antarctica running into trouble, Ballingrud manages to concoct a Lovecraftian story that challenges even the best of Lovecraft's work.
My favorite story in the collection is, unexpectedly, "Sunbleached," which is a story about a young kid's relationship with a vampire in his basement. I'm sick to death of vampire tales, and yet this one bowled me over. The details were captivating, and I still can't shake the ending.
This collection represents some of the finest literary horror I've read since devouring Shirley Jackson's short stories. I'm an instant fan of Ballingrud, and North American Lake Monsters is a powerful, disturbing beast. ...more
Read the original article in The Atlantic and loved it; reading this expanded book-length edition was even better. One of my favorite books on writingRead the original article in The Atlantic and loved it; reading this expanded book-length edition was even better. One of my favorite books on writing style and criticism. ...more
Not quite the classic I wanted (is it just me, or is it impossible to figure out who's talking in this book?), but still effective. The final page isNot quite the classic I wanted (is it just me, or is it impossible to figure out who's talking in this book?), but still effective. The final page is genius. ...more
What a great debut issue of a promising magazine! I also enjoyed listening to the podcasts for two of the four fiction pieces (if you want something tWhat a great debut issue of a promising magazine! I also enjoyed listening to the podcasts for two of the four fiction pieces (if you want something to listen to this Halloween, I'd highly recommend going to iTunes or wherever great podcasts are available and downloading the Tales to Terrify episode from this week, featuring Laird Barron's story, "Frontier Death Song"--the reading and the story are both a lot of creepy fun). The interviews with the authors seemed a little cursory (I've enjoyed interviews of this nature a little better in One Story, for example), and I'm looking forward to the column discussing the horror genre digging deeper in the coming months; this issue's defense of horror is fine, but it also makes points Peter Straub has been making for decades. Overall, however, this magazine is exactly what I want showing up at my door every month.
The standout stories in this issue for me are definitely Barron's aforementioned "Frontier Death Song," about a man chased by some nasty heavies from the Alaskan wilds (Barron himself raced the Iditarod three times, and his authority over such material here is a real benefit), and also Sarah Langan's "Afterlife," which is a clear lock for inclusion in any self-respecting anthology of the year's best horror. "Afterlife" tells the story of a woman, trapped in her abusive mother's house for forty-plus years, trying to convince the ghosts in the attic to move on before it's too late. The gift for grim, inspired details in Langan's story reminded me a lot of the same quality I loved so much in Katherine Dunn's Geek Love.
The other two stories were good, but they weren't quite knockouts for me, but I'm sure there are people who will like them better. What's nice about the magazine as a whole is that it found four distinct voices to highlight the potential range of this great genre.
"Frank wasn't born: he escaped from somewhere else ... "
George Mangels quickly became a bit of a mysterious legend to me: a cab driver who appeared ou"Frank wasn't born: he escaped from somewhere else ... "
George Mangels quickly became a bit of a mysterious legend to me: a cab driver who appeared out of nowhere and dropped a one-sentence-long rant about the world (told from the point of view of someone embodied by the spirit of Frank Booth, otherwise known as the character played by Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet) on the doorstep of literature and then vanished to Mount Shasta--a place not entirely without its own sense of mystery, being the last known residence of the mythological Lemurian race (referenced in the book).
His vocabulary is off the charts. I study word use in the books I read, and this man's work stands alongside heavyweights like David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, and Don DeLillo. Published in 1995, Mangels has long been struggling to find a publisher for the follow-up, which he tells me is called Franksegesis, in an apparent nod to Philip K. Dick. I hope he finds a publisher. I'd love to see what the last seventeen years have done to this man's mind.
"no, one cannot return CHILDREN--God does not give receipts"
The book's also incredibly funny and smart. It's seemingly out-of-print now, but you can find it in used bookstores, or on Amazon via some resellers. I bought a first edition online and sent it to Mr. Mangels, who was gracious enough to sign my copy.
"DOES A COW KNOW THAT IT BIRTHS BUTTER AND THAT ITS SACRED JUICES WILL BE SPREAD UPON SLICES OF SCORCHED, COMPRESSED GRAIN?"
Yes, to passages like the above. Yes, to this whole book, which attacks the brain with great wit and literary accomplishment.
"... amber waves of situation comedy rippling outward in every direction ... "
I'm really just sharing my underlined passages with you now. And sure, it can be a lot to take--the book is not an "easy" read, to be sure--but savoring it can be a real joy.
Frank is a force in the world, and he traumatizes people, but the trauma he inflicts is often quite psychological. So much so that the true effect spills out for years, and Mangels has a real gift for writing about what happens to his characters after they run into Frank. At times, these passages can be quite beautiful and heartbreaking.
You should read this book for the description of Mister Ed alone:
"...Mister Ed, the vehicle that transcends three dimensions and sails beyond space, existing and living forever, teaching through millions of box-lips at once, transcending time, living the hipster sunglasses-at-night horse good life throughout time, throughout space, roaming the eternity that is syndication, a transdimensional consciousness wedging its way outwards through the spaces between worlds and into eternity ... hell, Mister Ed is ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE..."
The trouble with reading passages like these is that they made my own writing feel dreadfully boring.
Seek this book out. It's a treasure: earnest and energetic, fully committed to getting into your head and trying to say something worth hearing in some of the best passages I've read.
Finding and reading this book was one of the highlights of the year.
I've been holding off on this review, because I feel like I should say more, but I have nothing more to say:
Read this collection because I think The Haunting of Hill House is one of the greatest horror novels ever written. The twenty-five stories collected hRead this collection because I think The Haunting of Hill House is one of the greatest horror novels ever written. The twenty-five stories collected here are not exactly horror, but they're usually dark enough to suggest that even if creepy things aren't happening in these rooms, horror is never that far down the hall.
"The Lottery" is still probably the best in the collection, although I might prefer "Flower Garden," which is a nicely nuanced story about racism in a small town. Other standouts include "Elizabeth," about a woman realizing her disposability to her boss; "Seven Types of Ambiguity," which is a fantastic bit of quiet cruelty; and "Renegade," about a woman who is left to deal with a chicken-killing dog.
Almost all the stories here echo "The Lottery" in their depictions of society strangling the individual. Often, there's a battle between the city and the town, as well, as Jackson writes quite well about people moving from one population density to another. As someone who grew up in a small mill town in Maine and now lives in New York City, I related to a lot of the troubles some of the characters were having.
While the balance of the stories are well-written and evocative, some others fail to have the punch I think Jackson was intending. "Charles," in particular, was dreadfully predictable. So, a few gentle points off for that and for some of the other shorter pieces that didn't work so well, but overall a wonderful collection. ...more
I used to hate this book. Then I read it again. I still like it's got a crippling number of unlikable characters, but Gatsby's story is still affectsI used to hate this book. Then I read it again. I still like it's got a crippling number of unlikable characters, but Gatsby's story is still affects me. ...more