In long: One of the great things of being a reader is to watch a writer you admire grow with each publication. Usually, with books coming out between...moreIn long: One of the great things of being a reader is to watch a writer you admire grow with each publication. Usually, with books coming out between biannually and semiannually, the change is subtle. But every so often, a writer finds a story, or needs to write a story, that goes beyond the subtle. It is a story that take the writer to a new place in their craft, which every story after it will be affected by it. The Language of Dying is Pinborough's landmark tale.
You may come across this review in a myriad of ways, but I'm sure a number of you are looking at the genre line and doing a double take. Magical Realism? Yes, it is the closest I could come to a genre with out giving Ms. Pinborough her own. I say that because at the heart of the story, it is a clean, eloquent fiction piece told through the eyes of of a middle child who is taking care of her father dying of lung cancer. But, and this is a very significant but, to each reader it can be a different kind of tale.
For those that have had to deal with the lose of a love own to any kind or wasting illness, be it cancer or something else, it is tale of affirmation that the complex emotions you feel through the whole process of watching a love die. Pinborough's honesty and realism in the emotions of not only the Point of View character, but her four siblings as well are the driving force of the story. It reminded me of when I read the last chapter of Ulysses and how I thought the stream of consciousness writing lent a more honesty to the character of Molly Bloom. I was wrong, Pinborough proved that it was just great writing and great talent that creates that kind of honesty in a story.
For those unacquainted with death, it can be an almost Borgesian horror tale. Pinborough's style has matured in this novella. And I say matured for a specific reason, and it is not to be condescending or patronizing. As I writer I have seen the growth of my own writing over the years. But for many writers, it takes a long time to get out of the process of learning, adding, and refining your style though a multitude of tales and only in later half of your writing career to find not just the voice of your writing but the voice of where all your stories come from, the voice of your Muse. Pinborough has achieved, at the very least, the first stage of writing her Muse's voice. A part of that voice is always going to be a little bit frightening in her tales. Like all that start in horror, she sees the darkness not as purely evil, but a universal constant.
For those that have a desire for freedom for the lives they are in and have lived for so many years, it is a tale where dreams and fantasies can come true. That endings, while not emblazoned with "Happily ever after," can still be happy endings where dreams do come true. Some dreams just take longer to be realized because one must live through nightmares first.
Three very distinct tales, all be told at the same time. It is real. It is wise. And, it is magical to read and experience. How much closer to magical realism can you get.(less)
This review is going to be completely different than every other view I've done and possible will do after this one. I struggled with trying to figure...moreThis review is going to be completely different than every other view I've done and possible will do after this one. I struggled with trying to figure out how to write it. Why? Because for me to talk about the writing of the book as as both a reader and a writer, it would mean I would have to get incredibly personal. Now, I have no qualms talking about myself in a conversation with a person who asks intimate questions about who I am. But there is difference in my mind when a person posts those same personal details on an impersonal web page for any passerby to read. It makes it seem needy and attention seeking. And that's not what I want this review to be about, because this book is an amazing accomplishment by a brilliant writer and it deserves all the attention. But if I don't talk about those personal aspects of myself, no words I write will do justice to the work or the writer. So, when you read this, please remember that I'm talking about the book and it just happens that my history adds a layer of Technicolor in my experience that I can't separate. Remember that this is a conversation between you and I, not myself and the whole of the internet.
When you read The Taken, I would be willing to bet many seasoned horror literature fans could see this as simply a interesting take of the classic ghost story. And on the surface, they are right. Pinborough takes the convention and makes it her own. A trait as important to any writer of any genre as the ability to craft ordinary words in new and exotic ways. But there is so much more to that. In this book, she reveals to us why, of the horror stories that can be written, only "ghost story" is ever paired with "classic."
Horror is a genre of fear. While you may be quick to quote Lovecraft and is "greatest fear" line from "Call of Cthulhu," I ask you to wait. Yes, the unknown is greatest fear, but that isn't the point. The point is, "what is the greatest unknown?"
In a way, that is why zombies and vampires will never have "classic" pegged next to them. They are undead; they have a get out of jail free from that great unknown. And that is why they will be so popular. We live in a world that doesn't want to look at death anymore. And that is a shame because at some point we all end. Horror, as a genre, can talk about all kinds of fear, but what most people have forgotten is that all fears stem for the fact that we fear death because we know nothing of the moment after we draw that last breath.
That is where Sarah Pinborough and The Taken are in a class from so much of what constitute horror literature today, if not in a class of it's own.
The main character of the novel, Alex, is a woman dying of ovarian cancer with only six months left to live. I have read many books and watched many movies with other characters with terminal illnesses and, to be honest, none them were as real as Alex. So many of them are either used as inspirational symbols of the power of the human spirit or give this "fatal flaw" to add a realism to the character. But as Pinborough so astutely weaves through the plot, themes, and symbolism through out the book, it is not just one or the other, but something in between.
I know that feeling all too well. I was born with a genetic disease called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. Not only born with it, but born with the worst possible gene pairing of the disease. Back in 1982, when I was born, no doctor Knew of the disease. The few years of my life was only life in the base definition of the word. And for any other child at that time with severity of the case of the disease, I should have died by the time I was two. And most doctor's thought I was in fact going to die at that age for, at that time, unknown reasons. But somehow, I didn't. And for the next eleven years, I was blissfully unaware of that fact. It wasn't until I was thirteen and a doctor ran a blood test to that showed I had this disease that I was let in to that in between world. I can remember when I walked through that door into it. When that same doctor said, "You should be dead," but was really saying "You can't be alive, yet you are." Since then, every day I have live the fact that I never know when my time will be up. That every day I wake up is one more day of borrowed time. Life changes when you know that you may not many tomorrows left, but that there are enough that you have to live with a wasting condition. People like to say they live as if there is no tomorrow. And that is good for them, but I bet if you quizzed them enough, they would admit to knowing they still have a tomorrow. But tell some one they have forty, a hundred fifty, a thousand tomorrows, and see if they can be as carefree. I doubt it. I think they will become just as Alex is, just as I am. Everyday is a fight with the realization that there is one less tomorrow.
It is funny existence, one I still struggle with. And that is where the true brilliance of The Taken resides. In every moment that Alex exists on the page, Pinborough describes the existence just as it feels to live it. All that Alex feels and believes are the same ones I have grown into living in that existence. As Pinborough wrote, "Unmeant to be." And it is that visceral and emotional truth few understand that not only drives Alex through the plot, but also is essential to story itself. Because this in not just any ghost story. What Pinborough does is use the ghost story to tell a secondary story: the creation of the ghost story.
As I said before, the ghost story will be called "classic" because it it makes us face that ultimate fear of death. The Taken takes us on Alex's journey towards death and on that journey, Pinborough shows doesn't just make use face death and the afterlife, but experience it without having to die ourselves. In Alex, she recreates the first ghost of the horror genre, and possibly of humanity. With The Taken, she records the first ghost story for every generation after her to read and experience. Sarah Pinborough accomplishes the goal of every writer of the horror genre: Make us face our greatest fear and help us learn not to be afraid.
At the end of the story, Alex is able to help children who have been lost in the "in between" world of not alive or not dead find their eternal peace, to no be afraid to die. As a person who knows his time is shorter than everyone he knows, by everything from years to days, that is a fear that no matter how much you fight against, you never defeat. It no matter how much you beat it back, there is always a small molecule of it left, waiting to propagate and attack you when you least expect it. I have always envied those that can believe in a religion so much that death, while still a fearful time, has a joyous purpose in the end. But now I sort of understand it now, because The Taken, and to an extent Sarah Pinborough herself, have become Alex at the end of the book for me. I know that someone understands what I live with and this story has taken some of that fear away for me and for once I can say the words that Alex says in the middle of the story, "I'm alive. Here and now, I'm alive and that's all that matters."
For that I will be eternally grateful I read this book and to Sarah Pinborough for writing it.
This book is an exmplar of horror. Read it. Live in the story. Learn what horror truly is because you won't find many examples as pure as this(less)
I have been wanting to read Tim Waggoner for a while, and I was ecstatic when I happened to be choose to get an ARC copy of his newest book, Cross Cou...moreI have been wanting to read Tim Waggoner for a while, and I was ecstatic when I happened to be choose to get an ARC copy of his newest book, Cross County, from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. It has been a while since a read a horror novel that was as satisfying at the end as this book.
Cross County is an occult horror that can be compared back to the tapestry of imagination that Lovecraft created with his Cthuhlu Mythos and Dream Cycle. While the book is self contained, the possibilities are open for further exploration. On the back of the ARC, there is a very enticing blurb comparing the story to Fargo and Silence of the Lambs and the characters to have the same quality of Stephen King's. And while I can see the similarities, I have to say that the blurb does a disservice to the unique voice the story and characters have on their own.
The description through out the book was amazing. All the of the characters, major and minor, were distinct and came alive on the page. Waggoner controls the flow of information given to the reader with near perfection. Every time I got a new bit my mind was constantly trying to see if my theories of what was going on were confirmed or became flawed. While not a "whodunnit" by any means, the control of the over all mystery was in synchronistic with the flow of the world development and the supernatural aspect that are so interwoven in the story.
Now, even though I'm sounding like a fan boy, i will say there were a few things that through me as I read. One of them was the huge cast of characters which at some point all become a POV character during the story. It does get a bit confusing at times, especially in the beginning. Speaking of the beginning, I found that the first three chapters were tough to get through. The changing POV was part of it, the other was that I got these feeling like I was missing something. As I read the rest of the book, i found out what it was that i was missing and I really have no idea how Waggoner could have done it any better, but it was still awkward for the very beginning of the book. Finally, I had a really weird experience reading it. Usually a book will be two things for me: 1.) So engrossing I read till I fall asleep and I immediately get back to reading as I wake up or 2.) I read some, put it down, and get back to it when I want to read it. But with Cross County, I found that after chapter three i would get engrossed and fall asleep, but when i woke up, it was like it was just a norma read. When I finally got back to reading I would get engrossed again within six pages, but if that book was ever put down, I didn't have that drive to read like I did when I was reading.
If someone wants an into to modern horror, or a fan of horror wanting something really good, I highly suggest this. I've definitely become a fan of Waggoner from this book(less)