A graduate of Yale art school snags a job painting sets in Hollywood. He falls in love (or maybe pure lust) with a ditsy and beautiful young woman whoA graduate of Yale art school snags a job painting sets in Hollywood. He falls in love (or maybe pure lust) with a ditsy and beautiful young woman who dreams of becoming a "star," but hasn't the talent. The young woman moves in with an accountant named (of all things!) Homer Simpson. Simpson has moved from Iowa to California on the advice of a physician, for the sake of his health. He's also fixated on the starlet, but they live a chaste existence together -- a "business arrangement."
The story concerns the various, strange, and desperate men who fall into the orbit of the starlet. While tensions are building, the artist is conceiving of a painting which he calls "The Burning of Hollywood." The painting weirdly becomes a sort of prophecy which is realized in the climax of the story.
This is a most unusual book. West's style is brilliant, and the overall effect is simultaneously horrific and comical. The characters are carnival-like in their freakish individuality, but what they all have in common is a frustrated yearning for something that they cannot have. Call it "the American Dream," if you wish. It can only end in violence.
This is the magnum opus among August Derleth's several, so-called "posthumous collaborations" with H.P. Lovecraft. According to Stephen Jones and KimThis is the magnum opus among August Derleth's several, so-called "posthumous collaborations" with H.P. Lovecraft. According to Stephen Jones and Kim Newman in Horror: 100 Best Books, Derleth incorporated into this novella two Lovecraft fragments that, together, amount to a mere 1,200 words of material.
"Lurker" consists of three consecutive narratives. The first part is in the third person, and concerns one Ambrose Dewart, who has inherited an isolated house in Massachusetts near Arkham (a fictional town well known to readers of Lovecraft). The second part is a sort of diary by Stephen Bates, Dewart's cousin from Boston, who is summoned to comfort and assist Dewart after he begins to feel overwhelmed by malignant forces on the inherited property. The third and final part is a narrative by Winfield Philips, an assistant to Dr. Seneca Lapham. Lapham receives a visit from Stephen Bates, who is seeking to resolve the many disturbing and mysterious experiences he underwent while staying at the Dewart residence and while visiting nearby Arkham.
The first part struck me as slow and turgid, but laced with interesting Lovecraftian themes and solid atmospheric descriptions. The second part is the best: the story picks ups some steam and starts coming to life. The third and final section ties everything together, but in a sort of patronizing way. Lapham turns out to be a sort of irritating, Sherlockian know-it-all. Through Lapham, Derleth presents his own "systematic" understanding of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.
Derleth manages to incorporate many references from the Mythos, as expanded by members of the Lovecraft Circle such as Frank B. Long, Robert Bloch, and Clark Ashton Smith. Also, there are definitely echoes of Lovecraft's most famous stories in Derleth's prose, such as the well-known openings of "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Color Out of Space," and "The Dunwich Horror."
It would not surprise me at all if Derleth had intended "Lurker" to be the crown jewel of the expanded Mythos: a sort of summing up of what was then (at the time of writing) the state of the art. And while "Lurker" is certainly a worthy effort in that direction, my feeling is that it's all a bit too pat. In Lovecraft's original stories, there is rarely a sense of resolution or smug understanding of all that has transpired; instead, Lovecraft tends to leave the reader in a state of suspension and impending menace. Indeed, in the course of Lovecraft's best stories, cosmic forces have been unleashed and it is only a matter of time before the inexorable tides of destruction will engulf the reader. This sense of impending doom is wholly lacking in "Lurker," and that, in my opinion, is its primary flaw as a contribution to the Mythos. ...more
From time to time, I have heard of George MacDonald, who was a contemporary of Lewis Carroll. I have even picked up a few of his books at library saleFrom time to time, I have heard of George MacDonald, who was a contemporary of Lewis Carroll. I have even picked up a few of his books at library sales (this one, Lilith, and Phantastes). The Folio Society had this one on sale, and I was ordering a couple other books. The illustrations looked magnificent, so I decided to add it to my order.
I loved the great great great Grandmother and the goblins. Everyone else seemed a bit humdrum. While MacDonald's prose didn't exactly sing to me, there is nevertheless some magic here. Maybe this is one of those books that one can't fully appreciate unless one was exposed to it during childhood. ...more
So there's this gas-bag named Siggie, and he proposed that there's an inverse relationship between civilization and happiness. In other words, as we bSo there's this gas-bag named Siggie, and he proposed that there's an inverse relationship between civilization and happiness. In other words, as we become more civilized, we become less happy. Oy vey! What do about this? Psychoanalyze dat sivillization, o'course!
Problem was, he forgot to define his terms. What is C? What is H? And he failed to propose a mathematical formula to describe that inverse relationship. Say H = 1/(C squared) for example.
Another large problem is that Siggie was merely an armchair anthropologist. He was comparatively uninformed about cultures outside his own, so he made up his own armchair account of the dawn of civilization from the mists of pre-"civilized" communities. This was all based upon the Oedipus complex, and a simplistic model of the human mind (a la Occam's Razor) which includes only three parts: ego, id, and super-ego. Civilization, for Siggie, is just one big dysfunctional family that's trying to keep the sons from murdering their fathers through compensatory activities like kicking soccer balls and building bigger and bigger bombs.
By the end of his screed, Siggie outright admits that he cannot psychoanalyze C, because, unlike individual humans, there is no spectrum of neurosis from which to judge the healthy from the sick. In other words, there's really just one C. To find the optimal health for C, he'd have to have multiple C's to compare to each other. But there's just on C!
So this book is no more than one big OY VEY! We have a problem, but we have no solution. Which means we are on a relentless march to doomsday. Perhaps some readers thought that this was prophetic, on account of the fact that Siggie's bloated pamphlet was written on the eve of Hitler and the soon-to-be developed atomic bomb.
Completely absent from Siggie's consideration is the notion that humans can find great satisfaction in setting long-term goals. Such goals could be as simple as saving to buy a house or planning to raise a family. For Siggie, "happiness" and "satisfaction" seem related only to gratifying baseline biological urges, like pigging out and making whoopie. And C, which is nothing more than a grand super-ego (Big Daddy) that our collective ids can't wait to assassinate (a la Oedipus), must therefore be headed for a Great Fall. Apparently, the only question is whether it will all end with a Bang, or a Whimper.
This is quite a nice (although incomplete) edition of the Tales. The Middle English text is shown with a "translation" into Modern English prose on thThis is quite a nice (although incomplete) edition of the Tales. The Middle English text is shown with a "translation" into Modern English prose on the facing page. While there are a few notes about specific words or phrases, the editor is very judicious about providing them. The advantage to that is that the text is uncluttered. I'm finding that many ME words that initially look strange can be decoded with the help of the translation and a bit of etymological decoding. It's helpful to be familiar with some German words. I have enjoyed supplementing the text with professional recitations that can be found online. ...more
Based upon the foreword, the intro, and the first story, I could already tell that I was going to enjoy this book immensely. The line-up of familiar "Based upon the foreword, the intro, and the first story, I could already tell that I was going to enjoy this book immensely. The line-up of familiar "noir" authors is truly impressive. So, I'm going to award three stars in advance, and then adjust later.
This is such a long book (731 pp.) that I may never read the whole thing, and I may never take a "cover to cover" approach. It seems better, perhaps, to dip in from time to time and review each story.
The opening story is "Spurs," by Tod Robbins. I was not familiar with Robbins, but I was excited to read the story after the brief intro by the editors, which explains that this tale is the source for Tod Browning's (now cult) film, Freaks. The story was solid, colorful, and brutal. It concerns a carnival dwarf and how he woos an Amazonian bareback rider -- a larger than life woman who you'd think could dominate him with ease (indeed, she says: "crack his skull between . . . finger and thumb, like a hickory nut!"). Things turn out quite the opposite, as the rider becomes the ridden (hence "Spurs") in this ironic and terrifying tale. It's not much like the film, except for the dwarf and his love for the rider.
"Pastorale," by James M. Cain, is the story of a botched murder. A dim-witted philanderer decides to dispatch his lover's husband, so he fools a violent and even more dim-witted fellow into serving as an accomplice in exchange for a non-existent cache of cash. While the murder itself goes off without a hitch, all subsequent activity is a gruesome comedy of errors, and both dim-wits get their just deserts. The plot is simple, but Cain's execution is fabulous. The story is written in small-town vernacular by a town resident.
"You'll Always Remember Me," by Steve Fisher, is a story written from the first-person perspective of a psychopathic juvenile delinquent named Martin. He's feeling badly about the upcoming execution of his girlfriend's brother, who has been convicted for killing his own father. Slowly, we catch on that the detective who was assigned the case still suspects that Martin was the real culprit. In the meantime, Martin, who attends a military school (the only place that will take him in exchange for his father's money), has increasingly hostile feelings toward a bugle boy and eventually stumbles upon an opportunity to push him out of a high window. The detective is successful in getting a confession out of Martin, and staying the execution of the girlfriend's brother. But Martin can't, to his painful frustration, convince anyone that he murdered the bugle-boy.
"Gun Crazy," by Mackinlay Cantor, is the source for the eponymous, classic film noir. Although I did see the film, I don't remember it so well now, so I can't compare the story to it. But the story is quite interesting. It's about a kid named Nelson who, from his earliest days, is obsessed with guns. When he grows up, he has a contest with a female sharp-shooter who works for a carnival, and wins it. The two go off together on a crime spree (mostly bank robberies, as I recall). [I'm pretty sure that the film tracks the plot this far, but then ends far more tragically than the story.] Eventually, Nelson and his woman come back to Nelson's hometown while still on the most-wanted lists. The narrator and his pal, the town sheriff, eventually trap Nelson. What's interesting is the method, which is based upon insight gleaned from a childhood incident involving a rabbit hunt. I won't spoil the surprise for you.
"Nothing to Worry About," by Day Keene, is the first disappointing story in this book. It concerns a D.A. who hates his wife. He's coming home on a plane from out of town, and he's about to execute a plot to murder his wife so he can live in peace with his girlfriend. Needless to say, everything goes wrong and the ending is brutally twisted. But I could see exactly where this story was headed, and it seemed far too contrived and convoluted to be at all convincing. Nice try, Mr. Keene.
"The Homecoming, by Dorothy B. Hughes transported me with its brilliant writing. Hughes is most famous for her novel, In a Lonely Place, which was adapted (with a significantly altered plot) for a great Humphrey Bogart film. Anyway, the premise of "Homecoming" is simple. A mentally disturbed fellow has a handgun in his pocket, and he's on his way to confront his former girlfriend and usurper of her attentions. The usurper, known as "Korea Jim," has come home a war hero. Benny, our existential, mentally disturbed anti-hero, is thinking how unfair life has been to him. After all, he "could have been" hero, too, but didn't get the chance to go to war. It's just not fair that Korea Jim can come back home and immediately pull the carpet out from under the fixtures of his life! So Benny, numb with sadness and tortured by jealousy, is on his way to interrupt a date between Korea Jim and the ex-girlfriend. He's fingering his gun and thinking how yellow KJ is gonna be when he sees the gun. Anyway, I won't spoil the ending. I'll just say that Hughes can make a simple idea sing because she's such a great writer.
"Man in the Dark," by Howard Browne, is a well-plotted mystery involving the disappearance of the first-person narrator's wife. All evidence points to the conclusion that she died in a fireball after her car rolled down a steep hill outside Hollywood. But the twisted conclusion reveals a far more complicated state of affairs. From information provided in the intro, I discovered that I had the issue of Fantastic magazine from 1952, in which this story first appeared. Originally credited to Roy Huggins based on an unfulfilled commission, Browne wrote the story himself because the cover had already gone to the printer! Great last-minute effort by Browne, the editor of the magazine.
"The Lady Says Die," by Mickey Spillane, is an entertaining, if somewhat unbelievable tale. A police inspector meets a friend at the "club." (I keep wondering what happened to these so-called "clubs" that appear so commonly in literature. I guess we still have "country clubs," but they don't seem to function like an old-time "club" where people showed up at will to socialize and drink in an exclusive and comfy environment.) Anyway, the inspector seems to have suspicions that Duncan, his friend, was responsible for the death of a rake -- a financial genius who had recently leaped from a window. We learn from Duncan that it was, indeed, a set-up, but not the kind that could lead to a successful prosecution. A well-told story, despite its incredibility.
"Professional Man," by David Goodis, is perhaps the bleakest story I've ever read. The main consolation for the reader is Goodis's colorful portrait of the Philadelphia underworld: full of strip clubs, rooming houses, dark alleys, ruthless crime bosses and motely hit men. The story concerns one Freddy Lamb, a "professional" hit man whose weapon of choice is the switch blade. He poses as an elevator attendant by day. One night, he gets the toughest assignment of his life, and carries it out so professionally that he's going to ride that elevator all the way down to hell.
"The Hunger," by Charles Beaumont, is a story that I enjoyed most the first time I read it. It seemed somewhat disjointed this time around. Perhaps it was my mood; perhaps Beaumont intended this. Anyway, it's a fascinating story about an "inexperienced" woman who seeks out and embraces terror.
"The Gesture," by Gil Brewer takes us to an island, where a crazy man has imprisoned his wife. A journalist comes visiting, and the nut is plotting the journalists demise. Things turn out differently. Very short, but evocative!
"The Last Spin" by Evan Hunter turns up the bleak-ometer and out-bleaks the tale by Goodis. This is a minimalistic story about two gang members who are settling an argument between the gangs with a game of Russian roulette. Again, very short and well executed. Hunter wrote many books under the name of Ed McBain. He rose to fame with his novel, "The Blackboard Jungle" (adapted for film). He also wrote the screenplay for Hitchcock's "The Birds."
"Forever After," by Jim Thompson, represents Thompson well. I know, because I've read a few Thompson novels. A woman plots the murder of her husband and ends up in Hell. Really!
The portrait of Humphrey Bogart on the cover of this book has been staring me down for at least a couple years now. I must have bought this book afterThe portrait of Humphrey Bogart on the cover of this book has been staring me down for at least a couple years now. I must have bought this book after re-watching the fantastic John Huston film adaptation. The film has once again faded from memory, so I am now, of course, eager to see it once again.
Traven's novel is a well-told adventure story, set in Mexico, with themes of greed and duplicity. I can see why it may have been a best-seller in the U.S., back in the 1930's, as the country was recovering from the Great Depression. The writing is accessible and fairly pedestrian, with some occasional touches of artistry. Traven's intimacy with Mexico is evident, and paints a convincing portrait of the country. In the manner of an epic, the novel plays host to several "frame" tales (long, fabulous narratives told by the immediate characters).
Just over 300 pages in my edition, this is a slow, sweeping tale that was just good enough to drag this reader along for the ride. John Huston's 1948 film version is undoubtedly the superior work (being one of the greatest films of all time, IMHO), so if one must choose between the two, the choice is obvious. ...more
This is an entertaining detective story with a science-fictional setting. Published in 1973, this book was issued as a paperback original, before KoonThis is an entertaining detective story with a science-fictional setting. Published in 1973, this book was issued as a paperback original, before Koontz made it big. Probably this book is mostly of interest to Koontz collectors or vintage paperback collectors. ...more
I read this book a long time ago, and then, something came up recently, which caused me to pull it off the shelf again. My book is actually a behemothI read this book a long time ago, and then, something came up recently, which caused me to pull it off the shelf again. My book is actually a behemoth hardcover anthology of 5 McPhee books, called "Annals of the Former World." Basin and Range is the first of the 5 books included therein.
Basin and Range is, in part, an account of McPhee's travels with a geologist along Interstate 80, with particular attention to the "basin and range" pattern that stretches from western Utah through the state of Nevada. McPhee explains that basin and range topography is caused by the expansion (stretching) of the terrain (or is it "terrane?" - a formulation that McPhee advocates in this edition), which causes the surface to break into large, unstable blocks. The blocks are bordered by fissures which reach into the earth at angles as steep as 60 degrees, which causes the blocks to tilt. The high points become the ranges and the low points become the basins. The basins fill with water and sediment, and the extra weight can cause the blocks to tilt even more (think of a teeter-totter with a heavy kid on one end). This type of orogeny (mountain-forming) contrasts with tectonic plate mashing, when much larger sections of earth collide.
There's a great topo-map of Nevada in the book, which shows the beautiful basin/range pattern, akin to staggered ocean waves traveling on an east-west axis. (In other words, the ranges all stretch from south to north.)
Basin and Range is so chock-full of information that it can be overwhelming and at times confusing. Moreover, it was at times very difficult for me to visualize McPhee's explanations of 3-D phenomena. More diagrams would have helped. (Animated videos might be best!)
McPhee jumps nimbly from one topic to another, rather than approaching his subject matter in an orderly, step-wise fashion. At times it's almost jarring. A sample of topics discussed: how precious metals come to the surface of the earth; orogeny; the concept of "deep time" -- a challenging process of visualizing the Earth's 4.6 billion year history; plate tectonics; Hutton and Lyell; sea floor expansion and mapping; paleomagnetism; Permian and Cretaceous extinctions; index fossils; salt domes; volcanism; neptunism; gold and silver prospecting; westward emigration, etc. The list could go on and on.
Despite its "faults," Basin and Range really fired my imagination because it conveys a sense of the unimaginable vastness of Earth's history and the incredible range of conditions that make up that history. Reading geology is a bit like watching stop-motion photography: the goal is to visualize changes that took place over millions of years to produce the illusive stability of today. Processes that took eons can therefore, remarkably, be distilled into a few paragraphs. Other than astronomy, there is no other science that can generate such "big picture" thinking.
At one point, McPhee asks the reader to imagine the 4.6 billion year history of the Earth written on a person's outstretched arms. The tips of the fingers on one hand represent the beginning, and the to the tips of the fingers on the opposite hand represent today. All of human history could be obliterated by gently grazing the tip of the fingernail representing "today" with a nail file. Gives you a sense of perspective, eh?
For the first 88% of the Earth's history, there was no life of any kind. And virtually all life can be wiped out overnight, as illustrated by the Cretaceous extinction, when a 6-mile wide asteroid struck the area now known as the Yucatan and boiled the dinosaurs alive.
So yes, we are lucky to be here. It could all vanish in a hiss of vapor any day, or we could gradually starve, drown, and poison ourselves by filling the atmosphere with fossil-fuel by-products. An extraterrestrial explorer, a million or more years hence, might detect evidence of our existence in a layer of sediment thinner than a cigarette paper. But only if the explorer has training in geology and gets here before the Sun becomes a red giant....more
Who would have guessed that Joe Shuster, co-creator of the most famous and squeaky-clean cartoon character ever, eventually found himself illustratingWho would have guessed that Joe Shuster, co-creator of the most famous and squeaky-clean cartoon character ever, eventually found himself illustrating a tawdry bondage/S&M series called "Nights of Horror?" You know -- the kinds of books that shopkeepers, in those days, keep hidden behind the counter? This was, of course in the early 1950's, when Shuster was desperate for work and had been unable to wrest the rights to Superman back from D.C. By then, artist Shuster and his cohort Siegel (Siegel was the writer for the original Superman stories) had devoted years to unsuccessful litigation over such rights. Their claims were legally weak because they had sold the rights cheaply to D.C. before realizing what a hot property Superman would eventually become.
This book is called "Secret Identity" because Shuster did not openly take credit for his bondage/S&M art in "Nights of Horror." (He came close by signing some of the art with the pseudonym "JOSH.") According to our distinguished author Yoe, it wasn't until some comic book art enthusiasts took a look at copies of NOH, that Shuster's role became evident. In fact, Yoe correctly observes that the faces of the characters in NOH bear uncanny resemblance to the faces of Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, and Lois Lane.
It's a good thing that Shuster kept his identity under wraps in these books, because all unsold copies were eventually confiscated and destroyed on grounds of obscenity under New York law. And any person involved in their production was prosecuted if he could be identified. The books had come to light after a gang of juvenile, neo-Nazi delinquents were apprehended and charged in the famous Brooklyn "Thrill Kill" murders. During a trial-competency evaluation of Jack Koslow (the "Thrill Kill" gang leader), Koslow admitted that "Nights of Horror" was on his reading list! Koslow also admitted that he had ordered a bull-whip and a "vampire cape" from ads in Atlas Comics, and that he and his gang had used these accessories during their murderous rampages.
Of especial interest to comic book historians is the fact that this trial-competency evaluation was conducted by none other than the now infamous Dr. Fredric Wertham. Wertham was then the leading figure in the famous 1950's crusade against comics, which led to the highly restrictive and devastating Comics Code Authority. (Wertham is now remembered primarily for his poorly reasoned book, "The Seduction of the Innocent," which claimed that comic books were a significant contributing factor to a perceived rise in the incidence of juvenile delinquency. Wertham's book and a Senate Subcommittee Hearing in 1954 were death knells to many publishing houses, particularly if they relied heavily on the sale of horror comics.)
Mr. Yoe's 35-page introduction is arguably the most interesting part of "Secret Identity." There are lots of great illustrations, photos, and excerpts from newspaper articles. The following 120 pages or so reproduce seemingly random samples of Shuster's bondage/S&M drawings, taken from all 16 issues of "Nights of Horror." There's plenty of female nudity, bondage, and torture. (Just to be clear, there's some variety: sometimes men are torturing women, or women are torturing men; there are definitely examples of a woman torturing another woman, but I see only one example of male on male violence.) You'll find lots of whipping and paddling and various forms of physical restraint. It's all very stylized, minimalistic, and cartoonish. There are no colors. Yoe claims that Shuster used "lithographic pencil" (whatever that is).
This is a certain monotony to the art. I can't say that it is bad. It's actually fairly good as comic book art goes. Nevertheless, the subject matter still has the power to cause discomfort, and some people might find it shocking. So this book's audience is probably limited to readers with an enthusiasm for comic book history or an interest in the Shuster-Siegel-D.C. saga.
My favorite revelation from this book is that Johnny Cochran was not the first criminal defense lawyer to recite doggerel as part of his closing argument. Fred G. Morrit, who represented Koslow in the "Thrill Kill" trial, composed and sang (to the tune of "Ten Little Indians") the following ditty at closing:
"Four bad boys off on a spree, One turned State's evidence, and then there were three.
Three little bad boys, what did one do?
The judge said, 'No proof,' and then there were two.
Two little bad boys, in court they must sit.
And pray to the jury, 'Please, please acquit.'"
(Writes Yoe: "Jack Koslow and Melvin Mittman got life.") ...more
So beautifully written! I had seen Charles Laughton's film a few times before realizing that it was based on this novel. I ordered a copy, in part, beSo beautifully written! I had seen Charles Laughton's film a few times before realizing that it was based on this novel. I ordered a copy, in part, because I liked the cover.
Night of the Hunter was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1955, but was nudged aside by Faulkner's "A Fable," which I have not read.
I cannot recommend this novel enough! Grubb has everything: a flowing style, great characters, and lots of suspense. I truly felt as if I could have been there, on the banks of the Ohio River, watching those two kids float down past sleepy, moon-lit towns during the Great Depression. I was reminded, to some extent, of Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio" stories. (Stories that I should revisit soon!)
This is by far the best novel that I have read in a very long time. ...more
This is the ultimate collection of Coye's illustrations. It's quite a hefty tome in a large format: the boards are 14.5 inches tall by 10 inches. I waThis is the ultimate collection of Coye's illustrations. It's quite a hefty tome in a large format: the boards are 14.5 inches tall by 10 inches. I was disappointed to find unevenness in the ink tone throughout many pages of my copy. (Strangely, this affects only about the first third of the rectos: there's a vertical bar where the ink runs faint, up the middle of each page. It's visible only if the page contains solid blacks in the center.) Either the plates were flawed or the ink was poorly applied.
All of Coye's "Weirdism" pages from Weird Tales are here. Most or all of his book illustration work is here, too, including his dust jacket work for Arkham House.
Somehow, over time and without realizing it, I managed to acquire quite a few books that feature Coye's work. It started with a few Arkham House titles that I bought directly from the publisher when I was in my teens. Over the years, the titles slowly but steadily accumulated. It's almost as if Coye had sought me out! I know that this cannot be so, but it really feels that way. The rational explanation is that Coye got lots of work illustrating Weird Tales writers, and I've got quite a few anthologies that feature such writers.
When I realized that this rather expensive book had come out and that there were almost no copies available, I jumped at the first opportunity to acquire it. There is nothing quite like Coye's art: it is primitive and scratchy, but it grabs you by the entrails and you cannot forget it. It's great to see Coye's work reproduced in such generous dimensions.
Here is a book for kids, in which they will learn that it's okay to steal treasure from an ogre, and to displace a witch from her house. Not only areHere is a book for kids, in which they will learn that it's okay to steal treasure from an ogre, and to displace a witch from her house. Not only are these things okay, but the kids will likely live happily ever after! After some close calls, mind you.
Coye's illustrations are so inimitably ugly that they are simultaneously beautiful. ...more
Classic Ware fare! The story focuses on an alienated, painfully introverted child (Rusty Brown) with an active fantasy life. Of particular interest heClassic Ware fare! The story focuses on an alienated, painfully introverted child (Rusty Brown) with an active fantasy life. Of particular interest here is how Ware illustrates two separate (but ultimately converging) story lines simultaneously. Rusty Brown's story line is the dominant one and the dynamic upper panels therefore dominate each page. Chalky White's story is shown in a single strip of smaller, subordinate panels at the bottom of each page. Characters from each story line frequently intersect and are shown from both perspectives, giving the reader a more multi-dimensional experience than is ordinarily found in the typical comic strip narrative.
As usual, Ware's layouts and colors are stunning. The wintry, Midwestern milieu is brilliantly conceived. Many panels are dominated by falling snow, and indeed, the entire narrative begins with some musings and questions concerning the putative individuality and uniqueness of every snow flake and every human being.
The action primarily concerns children and their parents getting ready for school during a heavy snow storm. Rusty Brown is a regular at his school, but it's Chalky White's first day at the same school. Presumably, the story of how the two characters meet will be taken up in Volume 17. The everyday terrors of being a child in a bland world that demands conformity could not be better delineated.
White convincingly depicts several days in the lives of various co-conspirators who execute the meticulWow. Just brutal. Everyone gets it in the end.
White convincingly depicts several days in the lives of various co-conspirators who execute the meticulously-planned robbery of a racetrack till. The caper goes off successfully, but one of the operators breaches confidentiality, with deadly results.
White switches rapidly between the points of view of the various characters, and slowly builds up to the big day. My edition is only 155 pages. White packs an amazing amount of detail into this short book. A very effective noir thriller!
I was inspired to read this by watching the great Stanley Kubrick film, which (as best I recall) follows the novel pretty closely. ...more
A fascinating survey of American crime literature, which posits that both the hard-boiled detective novel and serial-killer novel have strong thematicA fascinating survey of American crime literature, which posits that both the hard-boiled detective novel and serial-killer novel have strong thematic links to the "sentimental" fiction of the 19th century and its outdated model of the middle-class family. Cassuto shows how the "tough guy" detective starts out tough and gritty in Hammet's Maltese Falcon, but gets progressively softer through the 1950's and 1960's (in particular, with John D. MacDonald's "homey" Travis McGee and Ross MacDonald's psychoanalytical Lew Archer). While the detectives get softer, the criminals become ever more monstrous and unsympathetic, until we get characters like Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.
I was particularly struck by Cassuto's insight that Capote's "In Cold Blood" serves as a bridge between older fiction in which killers have motives such as greed or revenge, and newer fiction in which the killers become incomprehensible psychopaths who engage in killing for its own sake.
Cassuto's book has me looking forward to reading fiction by Chester Himes, Gil Brewer, and Day Keene, among others. ...more
This is a capably written crime book. The opening is particularly good: the protagonist wakes up from a night of drinking and finds, in his walk-in clThis is a capably written crime book. The opening is particularly good: the protagonist wakes up from a night of drinking and finds, in his walk-in closet, the corpse of a woman he knows. All subsequent action springs from how he deals with it and the question of whodunnit.
MacDonald paints a convincing portrait of 1950's corporate culture and its tension with home life and growing sexual freedom. The drama unfolds in a small town in the midwest, dominated by two wealthy families and an engineering conglomerate.
The following sentence is exemplary of MacDonald's style, which can switch rapidly between the the sentimental and the hard-boiled:
"She smelled of all the summer gardens of my childhood, with a dash of Pepsodent." (Protagonist's interior monologue, after he and his secretary finally realize that they are mutually smitten with each other.) MacDonald is a master of offering certain sparse subtleties of observation that make his characters and their milieu seem tangible.