Well, I did it. I read it. Much like narrator Davy, I really wanted to stop at several points, but couldn't help but go just a(NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH.)
Well, I did it. I read it. Much like narrator Davy, I really wanted to stop at several points, but couldn't help but go just a little further.
The Girl Next Door is -- both in storyline and in how I experienced it as a reader -- like the old adage about a frog in a pot of water: if you heat up the water gradually, the frog won't notice it's in mortal danger until far too late. Set in an utterly normal suburban neighborhood during the repressed-but-ready-to-blow 1950s, the book begins as a classic of a coming-of-age story about the neighborhood kids finding ways to fill the long days of summer. But from that benign place, The Girl Next Door begins a slow, inexorable dive, deep into dark psychological territory: savagery, complicity, guilt, sexual perversion, power, repression, moral responsibility, and of course, stark, gut-wrenching fear. (I'm not even going to start on the actual violence. Body horror is maybe the only horror genre that still deeply disturbs me.) And, in Ketchum's carefully crafted first-person narrative, you get to experience it with all the immediacy of a 12-year-old boy struggling to make sense of his own feelings, and swept up in events so monstrous they can hardly be real.
The effect? To make the reader feel fully complicit in the atrocities in the pages of this book. The main reason I wanted to stop reading The Girl Next Door is that I felt guilty turning every page. But my curiosity compelled me. In this, Ketchum pulls off a very neat trick, and my hat is off to him. I won't say this book was enjoyable -- because, ew -- but it certainly is impressive writing. Pick up this book at your own risk; you'll find it very hard to put down.
Read over the long weekend I spent with a cold. I'll need some time to digest, but off the top of my head I can say I very much enjoyed Aickman's uncaRead over the long weekend I spent with a cold. I'll need some time to digest, but off the top of my head I can say I very much enjoyed Aickman's uncanny sensibility. On the other hand, he does tend to go on -- particularly in descriptions of people interacting with nature -- which in some cases takes the air out of stories that might have been masterpieces had they 20 fewer pages and a bit more punch. The ones that will stick: "The Wine-Dark Sea"; "Never Visit Venice"; "Into the Wood." A more thoughtful review coming eventually....more
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.
Libba Bray's The Diviners, yet another YA novel with a seriously dark streak, is set in the glittering Manhattan of the 1920s -- where jazz club4.75/5
Libba Bray's The Diviners, yet another YA novel with a seriously dark streak, is set in the glittering Manhattan of the 1920s -- where jazz clubs are hopping, stars are being made, illegal hooch is flowing, and just about anything can happen.
Including the apocalypse.
A small-town girl from Ohio who commits a tipsy and socially ruinous party-foul, seventeen-year-old firecracker Evie O'Neill has been packed off to stay with her bachelor uncle Will in Manhattan (some punishment, right?). Despite the fact that she's stuck with a stuffy academic who runs a creepy museum (formally known as "The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult," but mostly referred to as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies"), Evie is thrilled at the chance to taste big-city life for herself, and proceeds to duck Will and drag her quiet friend Mabel into fabulously-attired trouble at every opportunity.
But then Will is called to consult on a brutal murder with ritualistic occult overtones, and Evie brashly invites herself along to the crime scene. Here, her "party trick" again rears its ugly head: Evie has the ability to see a person's history just by touching their belongings. And, when she unthinkingly straightens the buckle on the dead girl's shoe, Evie has a vision like never before: she sees the killer, and he's not like you or me. In fact, it's the infamous occultist John Hobbes (also known as Naughty John) . . . and he's been dead for 50 years. Impossible as it may seem, he's back, and he's got a plan to bring on the end times -- one that's going to take several more bloody rituals.
Though it takes Evie, Will, and a host of friends (among them Will's taciturn assistant Jericho, shy Mabel, and street-smart scoundrel Sam Lloyd) almost 600 pages to unravel the supernatural killer's complex and gruesome intentions, The Diviners has never dull moment. Manhattan in 1926 is a huge canvas, and Bray brings it to life with flair -- the catchy slang, the clothes, the music, the promise in the air -- so "everything's jake," as Evie might say. The cast is also quite large, and full of vivid characters like iconoclastic Ziegfeld girl Theta; her charming "brother" Henry (read: gay bestie); Memphis, a poet who longs to be part of the Harlem Renaissance but runs numbers in the meantime; and Memphis's little brother Isaiah, who is having apocalyptic visions of his own. Each provides additional interest and intrigue, since they all have unique secrets and nightmares to conceal.
And, as the plot thickens and the killer counts down to a rare comet's appearance in the sky, they all, knowingly or not, play a part in the action.
I'll freely admit I thoroughly enjoyed every page of The Diviners, but do have one or two slight reservations, the foremost being that at times this book is extremely frightening and/or bloody, and it also includes scenes of sexual violence. While I found the book (appealingly) disturbing as a horror-jaded adult, it certainly would have scared the bejayzus out of me when I was the tender target age for YA lit.
Also, some aspects of the novel are almost laughably revisionist. For example: were seventeen year-olds really nightly fixtures at underground gin-joints, and did unescorted white girls often go to Harlem to hear jazz and flirt with black musicians, or wind up at hush-hush gay nightclubs? True, Bray is focused on boho underground culture -- theatricals, artists and musicians -- but the easy attitudes her characters have about race and sexual preference certainly weren't the norm at the time. In fact these kinds of "transgressions" regularly got people beaten or killed up until at least the 1960s, and (sadly) still might in some places. I guess I really can't fault Bray for trying to inject a little tolerance into her imagined 1920s -- after all, if we can buy a supernaturally resurrected serial killer, I guess Theta can fall for Memphis and Henry can dance cheek-to-stubbled-cheek with whomever he likes.
In the end, I might hesitate before handing The Diviners to my (imaginary) thirteen year-old cousin, but it's most definitely going on my Best-of-2012 list. And despite frequent rants about "sequelitis" on the YA and paranormal fiction shelves, I am not at all unhappy to hear Evie and company will return for further adventures. If nothing else, they bring the kind of clever vibe to fighting apocalyptic evil that calls to mind a different set of supernatural white-hats, also led by a sassy blonde. In fact, sometimes you can almost hear Will cleaning his glasses -- and if you get that reference, you'll love The Diviners....more
Conjure Wife has been on my TBR list forever, and I'm glad I finally got around to it. Lieber's story of witchcraft at a small university is excitingConjure Wife has been on my TBR list forever, and I'm glad I finally got around to it. Lieber's story of witchcraft at a small university is exciting and claustrophobic, and the black magic believably wrought. It is, though, not without its flaws, which I'm afraid mostly come from the story being just a teeny bit dated. Read it as a period piece from the 1940s, and it's a cracking good tale. Just take the deeply ingrained gender biases - men are professorial, but utterly hoodwinked, husbands, and women are conniving and conjuring "faculty" wives" - with whole a barrel of pre-equal rights salt. (I once swam in that ocean, and the gender ratio has changed a LOT.)
Still, it's clear what a major influence Conjure Wife has had within the genre; one could probably have fun following the trail from "Bewitched" to The Croning. A solid classic of the witchcraft genre, 4 stars....more
I read this book when I was in elementary school -- most significantly I remember "The Upper Berth," by Francis Marion Crawford scaring the bejaysus oI read this book when I was in elementary school -- most significantly I remember "The Upper Berth," by Francis Marion Crawford scaring the bejaysus out of me. I don't think I slept for a week.
I just took a break from writing this to buy a copy online for nostalgia's sake. Can't wait to revisit my childhood! ...more
George R.R. Martin writes a lot, having set his hand to everything from television scripts, to short stories, to epic series. Horror, science fiction,George R.R. Martin writes a lot, having set his hand to everything from television scripts, to short stories, to epic series. Horror, science fiction, fantasy, he's done it all. He's also been at it quite a long time. Fevre Dream, the story of a magnificent steamboat, her captain, and the vampires struggling for control of the Mississippi region, is one of his earliest novels -- 30 years old now -- but already his talent for world building was dazzling.
Let's get something straight up front. I can already hear people saying "Vampires? I am so over vampires . . .," and tuning out. But consider: this novel was written ages before the good vampire/bad vampire dichotomy became rote, years before they became rock stars, and decades before they sparkled. Do yourself a favor and try to approach it unjaded, because . . .
Fevre Dream is also fantastic historical fiction, as much about the vanished world of steamboats and their captains plying the eternal river as anything else. Martin's magic way with details transports the reader straight to the Mississippi waterfronts of the 1850s. There we meet the blustering Abner Marsh, owner of the Fevre River Packet Company. Abner has come on hard times; his once-prosperous fleet reduced from six boats to one by the vagaries of fire and weather. And so it is we find him entertaining a too-good-to-be-true offer of partnership from one Joshua York, a mysterious, and very rich, businessman. The offer includes not only the purchase of half the company, but the promise to build Marsh the most glorious steamboat the river has ever seen. The catch? York will of course be in charge, and his retinue aboard . . . And Abner is to ask no questions.
Dubious at first, Marsh is finally seduced by the idea of a steamboat so fast that it can beat the Eclipse, the current star of the Mississippi. And when she's done, it's love at first sight:
The mists gave way for them, and there she stood, high and proud, dwarfing all the other boats around her. Her cabins and rails gleamed with fresh paint pale as snow, bright even in the gray shroud of fog. Way up on her texas roof, halfway to the stars, her pilot house seemed to glitter; a glass temple, its ornate cupola decorated all around with fancy woodwork as intricate as Irish lace. Her chimneys, twin pillars that stood just forward of the texas deck, rose up a hundred feet, black and straight and haughty. Their feathered tops bloomed like two dark metal flowers.
Shrugging off any ominous associations, he names her the Fevre Dream, and the river's finest new showboat sets off with a full load of passengers and cargo, headed first to St. Louis, and on to New Orleans. It's the happiest day of Abner Marsh's life.
It's not long, however, before Abner tires of his partner's secrets and strange behavior. York sleeps all day, requests the Fevre Dream make unscheduled stops and disappears, sometimes for days, delaying the increasingly irritated passengers and, more importantly, spoiling the reputation of his boat before she has had a chance to prove herself. Suspicious, Marsh takes matters into his own hands, searching York's cabin while he is away. What he finds there will thrust him, and the Fevre Dream, into the middle of a decades-long feud between two vampires struggling for ideological control of their species.
It doesn't surprise me to find beautiful passages and sensuous detail in a book by Martin, or complicated relationships and complex reversals of fate. He's a magnificent writer. But it's clear in Fevre Dream that he's still honing certain talents. One of the weaker areas is characterization, which in some cases (looking at you, Abner) is more vivid than subtle. He is not yet the creator of the ridiculously lifelike Tyrion Lannister, and ASoIaF lovers might feel the characters approaching caricature some of the time. (So, really, Fevre Dream only suffers in comparison to his later awesomeness.) It's also hard to read old-school vampire stories with a straight face in the wake of the pop-cultural deluge. But do try to get past it: a 4-star novel from GRRM is probably better than whatever you're reading right now. ...more
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.