Chester Himes’ ‘A Rage in Harlem’ (otherwise know as ‘For Love of Imabelle’) is a rarity in the crime fiction canon. It is a wildly comic interpretatiChester Himes’ ‘A Rage in Harlem’ (otherwise know as ‘For Love of Imabelle’) is a rarity in the crime fiction canon. It is a wildly comic interpretation of Harlem, painted with the hallucinatory colors of a Looney Toons cartoon – Tex Avery meets the lurid pulp paperback. The brutality of violence is given the comic, surreal reverse. And the characters seem to step out of the alternate pulp universe of Dick Tracy, amped up with an X rating and a never-ending haze of reefer smoke. Cross-dressing nuns, speedball prophets, triple-timing thugs, and the most memorable crime-fighting duo, Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones, make Himes’ Harlem Cycle novels a watermark of crime fiction. Slapstick and surreal and raw-knuckled, an urban circus put to the page, a playful fist to a pair of already-broken ribs. It's like one great chase sequence, and the main character striving to get his woman back, trips and falls through the cityscape in a series of slapstick events (the car chase (cops chasing a hearse with a body hanging out the back) is downright hilarious) that make this a classic of humorous crime fiction. ...more
What one desires, and expects to happen in a book can be illusory at best, and what actually happens in the pages can be like a puzzle without gain –What one desires, and expects to happen in a book can be illusory at best, and what actually happens in the pages can be like a puzzle without gain – words, motivations, characters all lost on the reader. Suspense becomes secondary. Nuance loses its aim and the ambiguities turn the text towards a head-scratching detour where the narrative encounters a brick wall.
T.M. Wright’s ‘The Island’ is one of these books. Everything element is present – a gold mine of horror trademarks. We have a house in the lake, one in which broke free from its hold on a small island shore, and is now a haunted relic submerged below the dark waters. We have characters from the big city trying to lose themselves in nature, with hopes to find some inner peace; yet in the end, only encounter something alien, something cold and distant, something hungry. We have the widow waking at midnight, and who finds herself chipping away at the ice with a pick-axe, as if to free something from its seclusion. We have a new mother holding her child and wondering why it always so cold to the touch.
T.M. Wright does well conjuring up some great images.
‘The ice around the hole heaved upward; first the woman’s shoulders, then a long, naked arm appeared above the surface of the ice. Her mouth opened still wider, the way the mouth of a snake opens wide to accept its prey.’ Great stuff, but the way in which characters and talk to one another leaves something to be desired.
Unique to the genre, Wright has created a novel about indirectness, a failure to communicate. Maybe Wright is intentionally showing his characters talk in obtuse angles – marbles in the mouth. Maybe it is the cold permeating from the lake that makes everything vague, indistinct – marbles in the mind. There is something buried under this book, something that makes it completely unique from other horror books at the time. But while it tries to rewrite the ghost story in a dream-like, unclear state, the result in the end is a bit sloppy.
Do I recommend the book? Yes. Do I hold it high in the horror canon? Not necessarily. I’ll remember some of the vivid images Wright has painted here, as well as the promise I felt reading the first few chapters. But by the end, there are no clear lines, and while what can’t be explained – the supernatural unknown to the minds of the living – the tension falls wayside and the book becomes a muddled array of promising horrors. ...more
While volume one highlighted Wagner's more expansive work, this 2nd collection goes for the throat, or should I say, it kicks a steel-tipped boot deepWhile volume one highlighted Wagner's more expansive work, this 2nd collection goes for the throat, or should I say, it kicks a steel-tipped boot deep below the belt. This is not high fantasy, or literary horror with a wide scope. Most of these stories are reclusive, depressing, grotesque, violent and unrelentingly sadomasochistic. It's as if Wagner is no longer channeling the pulp-era icons of Weird Tales but going into the same desperate, raw-knuckled universe that Hubert Selby Jr. wrote about. Whether a prostitute or a drug-addled actress, his characters here get lost in their own addictions, and the brutal sex in some of them comes across so lurid, you'll either laugh in shock, or gag in nauseous reflex. There is no comfort or desire in the sexual act here. 'The Kind Men Like' is a tale of a succubus-type Bettie Page where the bondage goes beyond titillation into brass-knuckled territory; 'The Picture of Jonathan Collins' is a sordid take on 'Picture of Dorian Gray' and features turn-of-the-century porn with none other than a sadistic and cruel, Oliver Wilde starring as the villain; and 'Brushed Away' introduces us to a beaten-down man who grew up fantasizing about the air-brushed anatomies of early pin-up models, only to turn into a psychopath with hopes of recreating the human body in accordance with his own desires (quite predictably sick ending in this one, but still entertaining).
There's some other stories that are quite eloquent, sad and well-envisioned. High school reunions are lined with darkness and regret in 'Passages'. 'Into Whose Hands' shows the ragged and depressing life of a round-the-clock psychiatrist who knows a thing or two about death and how easy it is to control. 'Lost Exits' takes the fragmented story lines of a budding relationship, and meshes the good and the bad versions with a razor-blade tenacity, one in which rivals the climax to Jim Thompson's phenomenal 'A Hell of a Woman'.
An important collection despite its excess. Coupled with memories and eulogies written by Wagner's friends and peers, the stories show the unhappiness, fear and abuse that Wagner inflicted upon himself in his later years. And with that, it feels as though we are reading a crypto-biography, a demise told by the author's own short stories.
The last story, 'Lacunae' brings the return of his titular anti-hero, the immortal Kane. But no longer is he high up on the chain; now he's just a scumbag drug dealer, and with that, a hero who has clearly fallen wayside with the passing of time. And that was perhaps what Wagner realized when writing this story, in that he too couldn't rise to the top again, so he simply wallowed in the bottom until the end. Wagner was a brilliant writer and editor, and understood the genre top to bottom, and it's a shame he didn't stick around a bit longer.
Lindqvist has done it again - creating a quiet epic set on Domaro, an island in the archipelago along Sweden's coast. Instead of fueling ahead with hoLindqvist has done it again - creating a quiet epic set on Domaro, an island in the archipelago along Sweden's coast. Instead of fueling ahead with horror tropes and usual devices, he focuses on his characters, who are desolate, lost, unforgiven, real. Lindqvist takes his time with them, paints their shortcomings & desires via history and myth, and in the end, it's what makes this novel four-stars.
The often used, and sometimes misappropriated term, 'quiet horror' could apply here. Like Lindqvist did with zombies in his 'Handling the Undead' here he changes the direction usually traveled by the genre and creates a rural drama that dances the line between a ghost story and a tale of cosmic horrors beyond human perception. And one thing, he writes of loss with such eloquent skill, avoiding the melodramatic flourishes than turn the prose purple. Sweden's answer to Stephen King - yeah, we've heard that one before. Lindqvist is in his own category, and this novel shows why. It'll make you look at the ocean a little bit differently, that's for sure....more
Absurd. Grotesque. Caustic, philosophical, and at times, oddly melancholic. And with all that, 'The Businessman' is still kind of a letdown.
Disch is aAbsurd. Grotesque. Caustic, philosophical, and at times, oddly melancholic. And with all that, 'The Businessman' is still kind of a letdown.
Disch is a master at dripping acid on the American fabric - whether a novel set in a futuristic prison or ghetto, or a short story set in the stars where an American astronaut is in orbit watching the Earth flare up from nuclear attacks. His fiction always floats and bends between many genres, but this novel, 'The Businessman', is his stab at more conventional horror. At least that's what the book jacket tries to say.
This novel is as horribly uneven as it is uniquely fantastical. It is a madcap meditation on the afterlife, using the suburbs of Minnesota as the stage. A scumbag of a husband has murdered his wife after she left him for Las Vegas. A year later, his wife's mother is dying of cancer, and he awaits her death so he can inherit her wealth. But the daughter comes back from the grave as a spirit in vengeful limbo. But instead of haunting her murderous husband, she has sex with him and soon becomes pregnant with a demonic halfling. This halfling has the power to transcend body and it ruthlessly attacks in the form of a terrier, a heron, a child. This spirit is the timebomb to the story, and gore-flecked insanity ensues because of it. Add in the ghost of John Berryman, the poet who can't make heaven because he committed the sinful act of suicide by jumping off; Jesus in a blimp; a frog arguing with a tree spirit, and in the most ridiculously wonderful image, a spirit animating an old lawn jockey in what is the most bizarre and hilarious scene in the book.
I just wish Thomas Disch pulled out the tongue from his cheek and let the narrative take its course. You can tell he sees these characters as puppets to mock the afterlife, religion and what humans see as 'doing good' in a mundane world. He brilliantly tackles it, but at points, his intellectual banter (nudge, nudge method) loses its luster and I felt I wanted to lose myself to the narrative. Still, a damn good book. Just not up with the par of his masterpieces ('334', 'Camp Concentration' and the collection, 'Fun with your New Head.')...more
This is the 2nd installment of the Greystone Bay Chronicles quartet put out by Tor paperbacks in the 1980s. Edited by the masterful editor/writer, ChaThis is the 2nd installment of the Greystone Bay Chronicles quartet put out by Tor paperbacks in the 1980s. Edited by the masterful editor/writer, Charles L. Grant, this 2nd book pales and withers compared to the first, 'Greystone Bay'. This first collection painted this haunted New England seaside community with tales of historical horrors, inward landscapes of broken psyches, tales of curses seeking out the wrong-doing through a vengeful thunderstorm or a creeping fog, and shorts full of pulp-inspired grue. However this 'Doom City' reads like a first draft - the tales just don't seem to gel, and when a horror is hinted at, it seems to get lost in the same fog that cloaks the bay day in and day out. I'm not sure if Grant laid down his mode of 'quiet horror' too much, but I must admit I was bored with most of the stories.
I'm not much of a fan of vampire fiction but two of the best tales in the book dealt (or hinted at) with the bloodsuckers. Nina Kiriki Hoffman's 'Waiting for the Hunger' is an understated gem, full of lush atmosphere on the outside, yet inwardly and meticulously obscured. Galas Elfandsson's 'An Overruling Passion' pulls the reader into the desperate mind of a New Yorker coming to Greystone Bay to win back his wife from her odd family. On a similar note, Kathryn Ptacek's 'Dead Possums' is a sad tale of a father trying to win back his wife and daughter from a left-wing cult. And Thomas Sullivan's 'Prayer Wings' has some sinister images that expose the unlikeliest of winged insects as the antagonists.
Despite my feelings towards 'Doom City', I'm still looking forward to reading the next one, 'The Seaharp Hotel'. My faith in Charles L. Grant has not been tarnished....more
It would be tough to top the wonderfully care-free and heartfelt candor of 'Cannery Row', and while this novel fails as meeting the gusto of the firstIt would be tough to top the wonderfully care-free and heartfelt candor of 'Cannery Row', and while this novel fails as meeting the gusto of the first novel, it does provide much to embrace. For some reason, I was thinking of the original Altman film, M*A*S*H, and the TV show that came after it. The film actually reminded me of Cannery Row, where all the oddballs gather and try to make sense of the world with gleeful abandon and head-scratching wisdom; and I think Altman as a director would have made a great cinematic version of the book (which in some way, I think he tried to do with the questionable 'Popeye'). It is 'Sweet Thursday' that comes along and doesn't outright fail, but lacks elements that made the 'Cannery Row' so striking and so sweet. The TV version of M*A*S*H is like this 2nd novel. It has all the ingredients of the original yet the soup doesn't taste as good it did the first time. Instead of widescreen, the scope has narrowed, and it feels like it were written more for formula sake.
However, it was great to be back in the company of this California oceanside community.
Doc is back and so are the boys from the Flophouse. Doc is in a serious rut after serving overseas in the war. And the only way out of his existential funk is to write a paper about octopi and their emotional states of camouflage. Thing is he can't write it. The boys in the flophouse, Mack and Hazel and Eddie, figure out that the only way he can break free is to ditch the oceanography paper, and rather simply, fall in love. Enter the top-heavy, tough-talking Suzy who is the new girl working at Fauna's hotel. Once she's in the picture, the novel becomes how the citizens of the Cannery try to play Cupid, and make the unofficial mayor of sorts, Doc, fall in love and return him to his happy self. While some may ache at this 'romantic comedy' aspect, I found myself cheering and hoping that Cupid's arrow would work its magic.
Some of the language is simple and beautiful, the characters insights, wide-eyed and absurd. But overall, there is a grace that is lacking, and the novel feels more like a sitcom based on a great film than something of its own brilliance. 3 1/2 stars....more
I'm not sure this collection of interviews lived up to my expectations. While practically every name from the 1980s Golden Age of Horror fiction is inI'm not sure this collection of interviews lived up to my expectations. While practically every name from the 1980s Golden Age of Horror fiction is included within these pages, the interviews don't truly enlighten the process on what makes their novels and collections so horrible, so frightening, so memorable. Most of the writers do divulge their some of their writing methods and writing schedules, and at times, they enlighten the reader on what scares them. But after getting through the halfway point, I felt like all the interviews blended into one. Really, I think a far more interesting way of getting to know the author (and most of them would probably agree) is to read their fiction and take it from there.
Of course, some of the writers give wonderful insights to their genre, but unfortunately as a whole, not enough. I guess I wanted more of a precise approach to specific works, dreams, nightmares, that kind of thing. There are some interesting insights into the 'quiet horror' vs 'splatter-punk' arguments that were happening in that decade, and also some good advice for the aspiring horror novelist, especially from Joe Lansdale and Charles Grant. Whitley Strieber comes across a bit defensive in light of his writing the 'Communion' books, which in a way, distanced himself from the genre. J.N. Williamson keeps it light and airy and doesn't take himself too seriously, while Dennis Etchison waxes on the philosophical importance about the genre. King and Straub give some good banter, and Ramsey Campbell as always, enlightens.
Written by Alan Ryan during the start of the Tor Horror line, which back in the beloved and crudely-neonized 1980s, covered the paperback shelves in tWritten by Alan Ryan during the start of the Tor Horror line, which back in the beloved and crudely-neonized 1980s, covered the paperback shelves in the horror sections of so many stores (in my case, a Waldenbooks, where I’d stand as a young teen and ogle the lurid covers and those shimmering raised fonts that boldly highlighted the title as if borrowed from the Las Vegas strip), this novel is so minimally written, so restrained and tempered, that it makes the work of Charles Grant not only seem ‘quiet’ but downright mute. The prose is the equivalent of Weight Watchers, as Ryan seems to be aware that adding stylistic flourishes and deep ruminations of character will only fatten the page count, and not really accomplish much for the story. Even chapter size is stripped to a minimum, some merely a half a page long, and the longest being about five pages. But while it may appear that there is nothing to the novel, there is a growing sense of doom from page to page, a subtly menacing unease that grows as it moves ahead toward the climax. And don’t get me wrong, there actually is some outward terror – c’mon, floating clowns playing in the snow, looking at families through ice-caked windows, doubling over in laughter and walking on air through the blizzard. Yes it is a horror novel, and it isn’t a waste of time.
Sans metaphor, time shifts and multiple narratives, Ryan creates a highly economical tale about a circus train invading a small upstate New York town during a freak blizzard which locks down the inhabitants and makes them easy prey for an evil presence, led by a ringmaster adorned in the black top hat and the cape. It’s all up to the young sheriff incapable of handling all the chaos, and the old doctor who senses something wrong right from the get-go, to put an end before the whole town disappears off the map in a white-wash of snow. Okay, I admit it sounds standard horror pulp fare, but stick with it. It’s all atmosphere with this one, but instead of relying on the tricks of the trade, Ryan really keeps things simple, and relies on the reader’s imagination (yes, the ‘I’ word) to paint the landscape and scope with creeping dread. Of course, he doesn’t leave us completely void of description, and when he does, it is in restrained doses, describing the wind, the starless sky, the snow changing direction as if sentient. Horror readers are not going to get overflowing grue and outright ‘in your face’ horrors, nor are they going to get the epic widespread panic that many 80′s novel strived for, and lesser times, achieved.
While reading this, I was aching for more suspense, more descriptions of the invasion. I wanted more incidents of the villagers encountering glimpses of the clowns – I wanted to be chilled to the bone, fucked with (for example, checking out my window to see if a pale-faced clown was floating there), but I was simply teased with all the tension the book alludes to but really never fulfills to its potential. All in all, Ryan turns out a solid horror novel. And especially if like tales of seclusion by way of winter storms, then this is a future read for you. Perhaps as an appetizer to other works of ‘winter horror’, King’s ‘The Shining’, Ramsey Campbell’s ‘Midnight Sun’, and Peter Straub’s ‘Ghost Story’....more