I love it when fiction slips the bonds of genre expectations and becomes something altogether more than what you bargained for. Joe Hill's debut novelI love it when fiction slips the bonds of genre expectations and becomes something altogether more than what you bargained for. Joe Hill's debut novel "Heart-Shaped Box" was a tautly-written horror story, but if you've read his collection "20th Century Ghosts," you know he's also more than capable of work that's whimsical rather than than frightening, sometimes intensely disturbing, but frequently touching . . . and dare I say literary?
After having finished it -- in less than 24 hours, thanks to the propulsive narrative -- I can safely assert that "Horns" is not a horror novel, though it's certainly horrifying in places. It's an odd, funny, dreadful, compelling and deeply romantic story about average young people whose lives are touched by the violent and surreal.
Ig Parrish, "Horns"'s metaphorically and literally demonized protagonist, will no doubt offend some irony-challenged readers with his (often hilarious) musings on God and the Devil -- "The Fire Sermon" is a philosophical and comedic gem -- but Ig's main concerns -- love, cruelty, revenge, and the ethical complexities of simply being human -- are universal to good literature. Hill's touch is sure, both with comedy and pathos, and the deftly woven narrative realizes his characters believably from the tumultuous desires of adolescence to the sharp wounds of adult responsibility. The ending may be slightly problematic for some (I'll need another read to be sure what I feel), but "Horns" is much more than the sum of its parts.
I won't summarize the plot here -- but like one reviewer before me, I will say where "Horns" fits into my literary pantheon. Touchstones would include Christopher Moore (though Hill is less giddily comic), Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" (darkly absurd, hilariously offensive magic realism . . . and of course the horns problem), Audrey Niffenegger's "Time Traveler's Wife" (genre-upending, wrenchingly real love story), and, for better or worse, Stephen King's classic story of adolescent innocence and experience, "The Body."
Joe Hill is one of the most promising writers working today -- in any genre -- and I hope he continues to defy expectations with every new piece. ...more
Likely King's best novel in many years, UtD grabs you at the first page and never lets up, with a propulsive narrative that is both as disturbing as yLikely King's best novel in many years, UtD grabs you at the first page and never lets up, with a propulsive narrative that is both as disturbing as you might expect, and even more so. Everything you need to know is right there in the title: the town of Chester's Mill, Maine has become cut off from the world by a mysterious transparent "dome" which appears out of nowhere on a crisp fall day. No one can leave, and no one can enter. The town is on its own.
Less a traditional "horror" story (though there's plenty of gruesome moments), and more a hostage situation on a grand scale, UtD is most effective when showcasing the evil men (and all the other inhabitants of beleaguered Chester's Mill) can do when traditional moral structures collapse around them, when the world shrinks and becomes alien and full of menace, when any idea of a sympathetic, or even rational, god has gone the way of fresh supplies . . . and fresh air.
Along the way the reader meets a cast of characters roughly the size of a small Maine town; chief among them the corrupt Selectman who views the crisis as a golden opportunity; the adolescent whiz-kids intent on helping to solve it; the Revelations-spewing meth addict who runs the town's Christian (and only) radio station; the overtaxed PA who becomes the town's de-facto doctor; and leading the cast, a former soldier on the drift, who manages to just miss his opportunity to get out while the getting is good.
With strongly delineated heroes -- flawed though they may be -- to root for, and plenty of despicable self-proclaimed "good guys" to hiss at (small-town cops and elected officials take rather a drubbing, as do unchristian Christians), UtD takes an inexplicable disaster and puts a human face on the toll it exacts. I won't say any more than this -- when I was halfway through the book, I couldn't imagine any way things could get worse for Chester's Mill. Fortunately, good old Uncle Steve's imagination is a long way from running dry.
The Town that Forgot How to Breathe was a book I impulsively chose by its cover (and I've seen several reviews that started the same way). Though I h The Town that Forgot How to Breathe was a book I impulsively chose by its cover (and I've seen several reviews that started the same way). Though I had never heard of it, I'm very glad I did, because this strangely charming and incredibly eerie book -- part horror story, part eco-parable, all magically weird -- got under my skin with its vivid imagery and unusual setting.
Formerly a rich fishing ground, the tiny Newfoundland village of Bareneed's maritime industry has collapsed from overfishing, and the town and its inhabitants are slipping into a depression both economic and existential. But something strange is afoot in Bareneed: when several locals fall ill with an unrecognizable breathing disorder (viral? hysterical? fatal?), and perfectly-preserved dead bodies start washing up on the rocky shore, that's only the tip of the iceberg that eventually draws ghosts, sea monsters and military intervention into one -- mostly quite effective -- tall tale.
Harvey constructs TTTFHTB around a rotating set of POV characters, among them a local doctor and a police officer, both capable but out of their depth; a beatific little old lady who knows more than she's letting on; a man-child whose painted apocalyptic visions are coming to pass; and a "townie" fisheries officer with roots in Bareneed, who takes a summer-rental with his eight-year-old daughter. It's a large cast of characters for a small town, but Harvey gives them each a unique voice and perspective on the mysteries unfolding around them.
Only one of the many narrative threads falls short of its initial promise, which left me wondering if it might have been better left out -- but that same thread also offers up some of the most chilling and atmospheric scenes in the novel, so I'll let that shortcoming slide. I see the reviews here on Goodreads are very mixed -- I expect you either like this sort of fiction, or you don't. I'm giving TTTFHTB four enthusiastic stars, and would probably go 4.5 if GR would let me. If Stephen King's creepy, insular Maine towns appeal, if you loved the myth and magic of "The X-Files," if you enjoy a dank whiff of Lovecraftian horror, or if you've ever dreamed of seeing a mermaid, this book should be right in your wheelhouse. ...more
If you could change the past, would you? And, perhaps more importantly -- should you?
King hits another one out of the park with the absolutely engrossIf you could change the past, would you? And, perhaps more importantly -- should you?
King hits another one out of the park with the absolutely engrossing story of Jake Epperson, a high-school teacher from 2011 who finds himself saddled with the improbable task of preventing Kennedy's assassination. On the assumption that the world will be a better place (starting with no Vietnam) if he can take out Oswald before November 1963, he agrees, and finds himself a stranger in a strange land: America, 1958. (The impetus and details of his trip there, I will leave for the reader. Suffice to say it's the only supernatural device in the story. All the monsters here are human.)
The nod to Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" (from which the "butterfly effect" theory takes its name) is made loud and clear -- one character even mentions the story -- but King's fleshed-out version of the tale hits closer to home, with fully-realized characters who become much more to the reader than players in a cautionary tale. The meat of the story takes place as "George Amberson" builds a double-life for himself in the years leading up to that fateful day in Dallas.
After some eventful stops, including the grim and familiar Derry, Maine, George makes his way to Texas, where he finds himself a job teaching high-school (back when you could easily fake your resume and identity) in idyllic small-town Jodie. There, he makes friends, falls in love with Sadie, the lovely high-school librarian with a tragic past, and drives a bitchin' car . . . all the while also observing Lee Oswald and his sad little family from near and far . . . and changing the course of history just a little bit every moment he spends there.
While there are obviously science-fictional elements to 11/22/63, in some ways it's one of the most realistic of King's novels. It feels true, if you get my meaning. Take a spectacular attention to -- and obvious love for -- the period's details, add in what must have been an ungodly amount of research about that terrible day in Dallas, and finish with a star-crossed, complex, grown-up love story that gives The Time Traveler's Wife a run for its money, and you've about got the idea. And of course all of this is overlaid with the gripping sense of a ticking clock, as George's purpose draws inexorably closer. Can he do it? Will he?
Ultimately, 11/22/63 isn't a book about the Kennedy assassination, about bad guys or monsters, or even about time-travel. It's a book about choices, about the paths we take and the ones we miss, about how our best intentions can still go not-so-well. About how we change lives and let our own be changed in return. It's also propulsive, humane, sad, funny and thrilling reading. I do not know how Stephen King works his magic, but it just gets better with time. ...more
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.
I don't want to mislead anyone, so I'll say it up front: Dark Places is no Gone Girl. Flynn really hit the perfect balance of satirical yet bracinglyI don't want to mislead anyone, so I'll say it up front: Dark Places is no Gone Girl. Flynn really hit the perfect balance of satirical yet bracingly honest characterization, snappy style and ridiculously twisty suspense in her amazingly great newest book, so don't go into this one expecting another like that one.
Not to say that I didn't enjoy Dark Places, because I really did. It too is propulsive reading, twisty and funny in its own way; but the tone is much angrier, the people much poorer, the locales much bleaker, and the crime at the center of the story much bloodier. Some scenes are exceptionally violent, and some themes will (rightly) disturb.
At the tender age of seven our protagonist, Libby Day, became the only survivor of a late-night home invasion massacre that killed her entire family. Well, Libby was the only survivor besides her sullen teenage brother Ben, the accused and convicted killer, whom she damningly testified against at the time. That was 1985.
This is the present: Now a semi-reclusive adult living on the dregs of a charitable trust in a crappy Kansas City rental, Libby has many reasons to be bitter. For starters she's just been told she's broke, and her sob story has been usurped by a hundred others, so there's no more cash rolling in. She might actually have to find a job.
But then Libby receives a letter from the Kill Club, a group of true crime and serial killer enthusiasts, and it seems her troubles might be allayed for a bit. She's offered $500 to make an appearance at their meeting, along with the promise of collectors interested in purchasing Day family "memorabilia." Little does she know, some are outspoken advocates for Ben's innocence, who claim Libby was too young to understand what had happened that night, that her testimony had been coerced. They also have theories galore about who really done it. Libby is initially furious at being lured into their delusions, but the idea has been planted in her head. What if she had been wrong? And the can of worms that is Dark Places is opened.
Libby is another of Flynn's wonderfully snarkastic antiheroes. She's selfish, spiteful, lazy, entitled and completely hilarious. Almost nobody in this book is traditionally likeable, but Flynn somehow manages to find a sympathetic core in her characters. Dark Places is primarily Libby's story in the present, but is intercut with chapters from her sad, exhausted mother's point of view, and from her her angry brother's, on the day of the murders in 1985. Ben's story is especially difficult to read, showcasing as it does the unsavory side of teenage outcasts and suburban metalheads with nothing better to do than get fucked up, have sex, and break things. (Yes, that's what disaffected teens do.) The ludicrous "Satanic Panic" that gripped America for a dozen years or so before the millennium hangs heavy over Ben's conviction -- because of course if he dyed his hair black and listened to Venom and Slayer, it stands to reason he massacred his family for Satan.
Gillian Flynn is a master craftsman of snark-laced suspense, and Dark Places a unique take on the usual thriller. I alternately cackled and winced, as I put the clues together along with Libby and her new friends, traveling across a depressed middle America to confront potential witnesses and accusers, in search of the truth of that horrible night. A truth which, by the way, you won't see coming at all.
Quick and dirty review, here. I really enjoyed this, my first Clegg novel (although I do love the creepy little illustrated story Isis). I see a lot oQuick and dirty review, here. I really enjoyed this, my first Clegg novel (although I do love the creepy little illustrated story Isis). I see a lot of comparisons to Salem's Lot in the reviews here, but beyond a surface similarity involving creepy kids (among others) terrorizing a small town, I didn't get that vibe. Also take note of the cheesy stock "creepy kid" cover on this edition. It's right out of the John Saul school of the 1970s, and doesn't do much to dispel those kinds of comparisons.
Although this novel was written in the 90s, Clegg's approach is all bleak 21st century horror, and far less sentimental than King's.* Though the characters are well-drawn, and the flashbacks to their youth key to the story, there's very little romanticizing of childhood, or small town life, or of anything really, in The Children's Hour. (Okay, there is a lost first love subplot, but even that is mostly a catalyst for some seriously disturbing sh*t.) It's pretty relentlessly grim, even nihilistic at times, and comes with a vastly higher body count than any King novel I can recall.
Also, the entities that haunt The Children's Hour? Are. Not. Vampires. They are more like horrible meat puppets, vampiric in some ways, yes, but definitely not your standard-issue bloodsuckers. This menace is a lot more unsettling, unearthly, demonic. (My comparison: in an upside-down and backwards way, this book recalls Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror," and freakish Wilbur Whateley hiding that nightmarish entity in his farmhouse.)
I don't want to telegraph much more of the plot -- suffice it to say I was actually unnerved by some of the imagery in The Children's Hour. One night I left my bedside lamp burning after reading. That's one of my highest compliments. It's a good thing he's prolific, because I'll be reading more Clegg.
* For the record, I love King and his elegiac, nostalgic, sentimental side. This just isn't that. ...more