The tale of a mysterious and deadly "Curse" that ravages the upper crust of Princeton society in 1905 and 1906, Joyce Carol Oates' newest novel playsThe tale of a mysterious and deadly "Curse" that ravages the upper crust of Princeton society in 1905 and 1906, Joyce Carol Oates' newest novel plays with Gothic conventions masterfully. An attempt to patch together the story of those dark years, The Accursed is the manuscript of amateur historian (and descendant of a "Cursed" family) M.W. van Dyck II. He presents a series of excerpts from journals, letters, newspapers, even a coded diary, written during the time of the "Curse," in an attempt to piece together the strange and horrible events that appear to have begun with the abduction of the innocent and beautiful Annabel Slade from the church on her wedding day.
Between the covers you will find demon lovers, murderous jealousy, miscegenation, beckoning apparitions, even a fairy kingdom. Also, an absolutely enormous cast of characters, some entirely fictional, like the sorely afflicted Slade family; others "real," like Woodrow Wilson (at the time President of Princeton University); ex-U.S. President Grover Cleveland; and Socialist writer Upton Sinclair. What I did not expect to find was a darkly satirical commentary on Christian piety, ivory tower backstabbing, gaping class division, the rise of Socialism, and, of course, the "Gothic novel" itself.
I won't even pretend to have read all 133 stories in this collection, but I did read perhaps 33 -- enough that it started to feel repetitive. A smallI won't even pretend to have read all 133 stories in this collection, but I did read perhaps 33 -- enough that it started to feel repetitive. A small number were quite good, and a few will stick with me, because some of Clark Ashton Smith's ideas are just that weird and decadent. A vengeful dwarfish necromancer unleashes a colossal version of himself made from hundreds of reanimated corpses. An ancient statue of Venus is unearthed at a Benedictine monastery, and her sensual pagan power corrupts the brothers, and lures one monk to a gruesome death. The secretary to an overwrought esoteric scholar assists with an ancient Arabic translation, and later witnesses the return of the man's brother -- in several pieces. In fact, after reading this last story, "The Return of the Sorcerer," in an anthology of weird fiction, I was impressed enough to seek out more; hence, this collection.
What will stick with me longer, however, is the fact that CAS is even purpler and more abstruse than his buddy Lovecraft. His indulgence in overwrought, arcane imagery makes much of his work difficult to take seriously, and I frequently laughed aloud when I was meant to be uneasy. In one story, "the gloom was clogged with intangible fear, with webs of stifling oppression." In another, characters drink "a strange wine that was red and dark as if with disastrous sunsets of lost years." And if he can find an archaic synonym, he'll play it; among the gems I highlighted: divagate, enmewed, veridical, energumen and invultuation. Also? The almost entirely extinct adverb "ruthfully." (I once had a professor who jokingly promoted the "Society for Underused Positives," of which "ruthful" was one, so you can see how that might crack me up.)
Also problematic for me is that CAS doesn’t develop a strong mythology of his own; though there are some locations and rare magical texts that appear in many of the tales, they don't aggregate into even one proper mystery-shrouded cult. Instead he relies on a vague Orientalism, and the more standard fare of ghouls, madmen, necromancers, vampires and "satanic" worshipers to wreak most of the havoc. Granted, he daringly goes to darker and more ghoulish places than many of his contemporaries, even as far as to suggest cannibalism and necrophilia among the nameless blasphemies in his stories, but it doesn't feel particularly original. It feels like somebody put early Lovecraft and The Monk in a blender and then garnished it with Poe. In the end, any fan of weird fiction should probably be familiar with some of the tales in his prodigious output, but I fear a little bit of Clark Ashton Smith goes a long way.
There was quite the trend for horrifying book covers in the 70s -- lots of creepy children with blank, staring eyes, or faces distorted with terror, dThere was quite the trend for horrifying book covers in the 70s -- lots of creepy children with blank, staring eyes, or faces distorted with terror, dripping blood or gouting flames. I used to dread standing in line at the supermarket with my mom, because invariably there would be some gruesome John Saul novel in the racks that would later compel nightmares of glowing-eyed waifs coming to get me. I also remember the cover of Audrey Rose scaring the bejayzus out of me when I first saw in on the couch at my friend's house. Her mom was reading it, and it was an object of horror and fascination. But I was maybe 10, and I liked being scared (still do), so of course my friend swiped it and we read it.
Obviously the book made an impression on me, but I don't think the story was nearly as scary as the cover. More supernatural family drama that horror. I can't really give an honest review because I've long since seen the awful movie, and I can't unsee it.
Wow. Haunted houses, haunted people, haunting book. Reading Houdini Heart feels like having a breakdown, only more eloquent than mine could ever be. TWow. Haunted houses, haunted people, haunting book. Reading Houdini Heart feels like having a breakdown, only more eloquent than mine could ever be. This book just picks you up and carries you downstream into madness along with the unnamed narrator, a successful Hollywood writer for whom something -- a number of things, actually -- has gone hideously wrong. She's now holing up in small town Vermont, in River House, a once magnificent old home come down in the world, now functioning as a seedy residence hotel. River House had captured her imagination in childhood, and now she's returned there to escape, to write, to die. Once again, the house itself takes over her imagination, this time revealing all the madness it, and she, has been keeping inside.
In some weirdly specific ways, Houdini Heart recalls House of Leaves, but it's less philosophically and multiple-narratively freighted. It also plays overtly with Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House legacy, even incorporating the author herself into the phantasm. Lovecraft makes an appearance as well, along with any number of celebrities who visited River House in better days. (Including Houdini. You work out what the title signifies.) What's wonderful is that, while acknowledging this venerable literary tradition, Ki Longfellow's prose is always immediate and visceral -- it feels like madness -- and her her plot is a juggernaut which immediately starts tearing rents in reality, rather than conducting a leisurely examination of the uncanny. If I said I'm still not sure how to interpret the ending, I'm sure I wouldn't be alone. (And I'm also sure that's a completely appropriate response.) But I'd still say it was a fantastic ride. Houdini Heart is gripping and wickedly intelligent, a modern classic of psychological horror....more
Wow. Hardboiled noir meets the Memphis blues and eldritch Lovecraftian horror. If any of those words ring your bell, read Southern Gods right now. WitWow. Hardboiled noir meets the Memphis blues and eldritch Lovecraftian horror. If any of those words ring your bell, read Southern Gods right now. With tight, literate prose and a great deal of ooky splatter, John Horner Jacobs' debut novel adds an original -- and swampy-foetid -- breath of air to the Lovecraft-inspired new weird. Get ready to welcome the Old Ones to the bayou! And admit it: who among us doesn't want a peek at the illustrated Necronomicon? I know, right?
Needless to say, if that first paragraph is gibberish to you, or if appalling violence and obscene ancient rituals put you off your feed, please don't read this book. There's also a smattering of sex, and lots of smoking, drinking and playing the blues, which you probably won't like either. You have been warned. ...more
Set in in the years following WWI and framed by the majestic winter austerity of the French Pyrenees, The Winter Ghosts is a small, eerily beautifulSet in in the years following WWI and framed by the majestic winter austerity of the French Pyrenees, The Winter Ghosts is a small, eerily beautiful tale about loss, mourning and redemption. Within its modest number of pages, which easily could (and possibly should) be read in one sitting on a cold winter's night, new life is breathed into fairy tale, history lesson, love story, ghost story and travelogue.
If you've read Mosse before, the setting and even some of the details will be familiar ground, but this spare narrative about a grieving traveler who encounters the ephemeral in a tiny mountain village is unburdened by the complex twists and turns of her longer historical mysteries (which have their own pleasures), and feels strangely timeless, even archetypal. The writing itself is gorgeous, particularly when it comes to sights, smells, even food and fabric -- all the jewel-like details that make one place so very unlike any other. The Winter Ghosts is in fact an almost perfect gem of a book, and one that will no doubt linger at the edges of my mind for a very long time....more