Once again Eibonvale has scored really bithe longer version of this review is available at my online reading journal. Otherwise, here's a quick look.
Once again Eibonvale has scored really big on the anthology scale, this time with its collection of short stories Songs for the Lost by author Alexander Zelenyj. There is no way to pigeonhole these tales in terms of genre or style, so the term "dark fiction" or my new favorite phrase "literary darkness" (thank you, RD) will just have to do for the moment. David Rix, "who first launched the good ship Eibonvale," notes in the book's introduction no less than twenty genres, which "suggests a diverse range of styles" including "surrrealism", "weird western," "weird war fiction," "children's fiction," "urban fantasy," "weird erotica," "pulp," "noir," and then his final category, "as well as other less defined things." It is certainly one of the most diverse collections I've ever read -- one minute you're reading about the horrors found in the jungles of Vietnam or Laos and the next thing you know you're in the middle of a suicide cult's final moments -- but even with the wide range of styles on offer here, thematically they all tie together perfectly. Turning once more to the book's introduction, Songs for the Lost deals with "Human pain on a level that is very real," the kind of pain that brings with it a "parallel need for escape, and with it a kind hope."
Songs for the Lost is that perfect, excellent blend of literary and dark that I am always looking for and in my opinion, it is an absolute must-read for anyone who loves dark fiction. Highly recommended but not just for anyone. Prepare to be gut punched, and do not read this book while you're depressed. Once again, it's a small press that proves that literary and dark can indeed go hand in hand -- cheers. ...more
Don't write a comment flaming me because I didn't love this book. I just didn't. Bottom line. I didn't hate it, but it's not going to appear on my perDon't write a comment flaming me because I didn't love this book. I just didn't. Bottom line. I didn't hate it, but it's not going to appear on my personal favorites list for the year. It's a very s--l--o--w buildup of a story to an ending that well, frankly, has been done before. The scenario is very different, but I think having read so much of Lovecraft (and the authors he's influenced over the years) sort of spoiled it for me, so in a way, it's not the author's fault that I didn't like this one as much as I might have. It's kind of like seeing a movie then going back to read the book -- you already know what's going to happen so there's less of an impact by the time the ending comes around.
Jamie Morton, a man in his early sixties, recounts his life story in this book, one that first took a strange turn when he met the Reverend Charles Jacobs at the age of six in 1962. Jacobs, as Morton notes, is his "fifth business," "the joker who pops out of the deck at odd intervals over the years, often during a moment of crisis." Jacobs has an odd hobby, working with electricity, and his "youth talks" with the kids of the Methodist Youth Fellowship often involved lessons where he used electricity or couched his lectures in electro-speak to illustrate the points he was trying to make. He was very well liked among the congregation, swelling its numbers to peak levels, and really made an impression when he used an electrical device to help bring back the voice of Jamie's brother Con after an accident that left him mute. All is well until the fateful day that the reverend's wife and little boy went out in their car and were killed. Afterwards, in his grief, Jacobs goes to the pulpit where he began "edging into blasphemy" by renouncing doctrine on the afterlife and by renouncing religion in general as the
"theological equivalent of a quick-buck insurance scam, where you pay in your premium year after year, and then, when you need the benefits you paid for so --pardon the pun--so religiously, you discover the company that took your money does not, in fact, exist."
The reverend is fired, of course, and leaves town, but it's not the last time Jamie sees him. Over the next several years, he will cross and recross paths with Jacobs, and a connection is made that will ultimately change Jamie's life and question his understanding of all that he has come to know as reality.
There is a veritable slew of literary influence to be found woven throughout this book -- Arthur Machen and Lovecraft are the big ones, but you'll also find in Jacobs a bit of Captain Ahab going after his white whale. Mary Shelley is definitely represented here (in more ways than one), as is M.R. James, Ray Bradbury, and I'm sure there are a few others that I've missed. There are also, as in many books by this author, bits and pieces of King's own life (and other work) to be found here. As usual, he starts out in small-town America, where the people in the community are your neighbors in the true sense of the word, making everything seem so normal and easygoing that you just can't wait to see what's going to provide the catalyst that changes everything. He also continues his theme of innocence lost, here with a major twist. When King is writing on religion and the whole spectacle of the religious-healing-tent-revival he is amazing, making the reader feel like he/she is right there in the crowd. But on the flip side -- it's so slow -- by page 299 I was thinking that ""maybe, just maybe, we're starting to get somewhere in this book. One can always hope." And frankly, I just didn't feel like the payoff was worth wading through Jamie Morton's entire life story. I see so many ways that this book could have been better, but oh well.
Perusing the normal book-related websites, it seems that people just can't get enough of this book, and the ratings are definitely high. I wouldn't be surprised to see Revival jetting into the top ranks of the NYT bestseller list soon, but for me, I'm doing that hand thing that means iffy. ...more
While I hate and detest star ratings because what a particular number means to me may not mean the same to anyone else, for my own purposes I'll giveWhile I hate and detest star ratings because what a particular number means to me may not mean the same to anyone else, for my own purposes I'll give it a 3.8.
It's really hard to pigeonhole this novel. While there is an entire subgenre of "paranormal mystery," that's not really an apt description of this book, nor is it the feel I got while reading it -- I've read enough of them to know the difference. There are definitely some weird elements involved, but Our Lady of Pain is more of a hybrid of mystery and pulp with a helping of horror and supernatural strangeness to keep things lively and entertaining. It reminds me of a lot of old books I read when I was a kid that incorporated the same three elements and held me completely spellbound for hours.
Our Lady of Pain begins when Daily Globe reporter Harry Clay (who writes "the kind of pretentious tosh our readers love; bless their empty little bird brains") is sent by his boss to review a production of Shaw's Saint Joan. Lead actress Susan Vallance is widely hated by the public and has a reputation for bullying her co-workers, and Harry's boss thinks that if she happens to flop on opening night, the Globe's readers will be elated since they're "always regaled by the fall of unpopular figures." Harry isn't overly enthused with the idea, and before the curtain rises, he slips out for some air after seeing a doctor whose life story he'd written two years earlier ("a completely evil human being," he believes) for the paper leaving the stage door. Harry smells a story and neglects the play in favor of following the doctor. Once he's home, he writes a glowing review and turns the story just before the paper is put to bed. Unfortunately for Harry, the evening's performance was beyond terrible, bad enough that his review will make the Globe a laughingstock while its "rivals will have headlines crucifying Susan Vallance." He wasn't fired, but moved to another paper, The Advertiser, where his life was "now devoted to bishops and mayors opening schools, mayoresses gushing at flower-shows, and aldermen pontificating about the rates." Harry just knows that if the right story comes along, he can get back in the Globe's good graces -- and he finds it in a conversation he just happens to overhear at a pub, a conversation that refers to a woman named Naureen in hospital and a "job" done by three people. One of the speakers mentions a curse and "creatures," which really whets Harry's appetite, especially when he realizes just who it is that is speaking. Following his nose, Harry resorts to some pretty lowlife antics to get the story -- and the trail leads right back to the theater, this time for a production of "Our Lady of Pain," starring Susan Vallance as the countess Elizabeth Bathory. Harry's attempts at following the path of this cryptic conversation constitutes a large part of this book and leads him on a crazy ride, but even he knows that there's much, much more to this story than quite literally meets the eye.
Blackburn gets very clever in this novel. Not only does he bring in and add his own versions of the old legends of Elizabeth Bathory, but he also contributes into the mix a unique form of punishment (perhaps even justice) suffered by the criminals. One by one, they become residents of their own personal hells, which are referred to here as "Room 101" reflecting Orwell's 1984. In Orwell's work, it is a place where people are forced to confront their worst fears as a sort of torture designed to completely break down one's spirit, and the same symbolically applies here. He adds another layer to this story by placing it in the context of a house haunted by a strange family tradition starting in 1643, one that only the male heir is made party to on his seventh birthday. When all is said and done, the novel is particularly creepy and even a little campy sometimes, but more than that, it is immensely entertaining up to the very end, which is definitely one of the more chilling endings I've read in a long while.
I tend to say this a lot, but it's true: nowadays I think people prefer gorefests, torture and splatter in their horror reading, which is truly a shame because there's so much more out there quality wise in terms of modern horror/dark literature and past works of the genre. I constantly see bad reviews given to what I consider works of worthwhile writing both past and present because they're "too tame," while stellar reviews are awarded for the instant gratification brought through gore & splatter and the grossest, most dehumanizing things anyone can imagine. If that's your schtick, then whatever, but to me it's just plain sad that this sort of thing seems to be so de rigeur nowadays when I know there is better work out there. While Our Lady of Pain may not be the epitome of great horror reading, it is still a fine, forgotten book that deserves to be read, campiness and all....more
This one's a 4.5, and I do have to say that while I was reading it, nature provided the perfect backdrop -- hard rain, thunder, and lightning so brighThis one's a 4.5, and I do have to say that while I was reading it, nature provided the perfect backdrop -- hard rain, thunder, and lightning so bright it flashed through the closed blinds. I would also like to say that Valancourt Books has done readers a huge favor with this reissued classic -- they have made it widely available at a very good price -- have you seen the cost of a used crappy mass market paperback of this book?
absolutely no spoilers ahead:
The Elementals focuses on two Alabama families, the Savages and the McCrays. They're linked together through marriage and the fact that both families have for years spent their summers at Beldame, "a long spit of land, no more than fifty yards wide," where there are three tall gray Victorian homes, "large, eccentric old houses such as appeared in coffee table books on outré American architecture." Back now at Beldame after the strange funeral of Marian Savage is her son Dauphin, who is married to Leigh McCray and has inherited the family fortune; Leigh's brother Luker and his too-wise-for-her-years thirteen-year-old daughter India McCray from New York City; Big Barbara McCray, Leigh and Luker's mother, married to Lawton McCray, a candidate for US congressional representative, and the faithful Odessa, who's worked with the Savages for as long as anyone can remember.
One one side of this narrow piece of land is St. Elmo's Lagoon; on the other is the Gulf of Mexico. At high tide, Beldame is cut off, becoming a virtual island when the Gulf flows into the lagoon. The McCrays have a house on the gulf side; just opposite their house on the lagoon side is the house belonging to the Savages. The third house nobody lives in. No one can: the sand dune at the end of the spit has been encroaching on that house so much so that, as India notices on first seeing it, it "did not merely encroach upon the house, it had actually begin to swallow it." The third house holds its secrets, as do the McCrays and the Savages regarding their own childhood experiences with the third house. All anyone will tell India is that she should stay away from it, but India has a mind of her own, and off she goes exploring. And then ..., well, to say more would be to wreck the experience for someone else.
There are so many excellent things about The Elementals -- the characters, the slowly-paced beginning moving slowly toward an ever-growing anticipation of dread and then headlong into the horrors -- but one of the best features of this novel is the author's ability to capture and evoke the sense of place in his writing. There are various schools of thought either yea or nay on place as a character in a novel, but here that's just how it is. The isolation of Beldame, the third house with the sand covering it both inside and out, the beautiful waters of the Gulf, St. Elmo's Lagoon, the channel, the sand, and above all, the paralyzing heat and humidity of a southern summer that sucks the energy right out of a person -- the way he brings all of this place to life allows it to act not only on the characters directly, but also on the reader. He's captured the Southern summer heat with its god-awful humidity so perfectly that I could totally feel it while reading about it. Even better, by the last sections of the book, McDowell has perfectly combined those rising temperatures with the increasingly-growing horror, producing a kind of claustrophobic atmosphere that remains with the reader nearly up until the last moment of the story.
I loved this novel. If you're considering reading it, do not look at any reviews where they give away the whole shebang -- if I had known what was going to happen I wouldn't have enjoyed this book nearly as much. And speaking of that, read this book very carefully if you are at all interested in trying to figure out the main mystery surrounding Beldame and the third house -- it's never overtly stated (which I thought was a good thing), but I think you'll find that there are answers there to dig out. The one thing I didn't like about this book was that the pacing seemed kind of off at the very end -- much more rushed than I think it should have been given the tone of the rest of the novel. But what the heck. It's one of the best supernatural horror stories I've read in a very long time. Maybe modern readers of hack/slash gorefests will find it somewhat tame, but I certainly didn't. ...more
A 3.75 rounded up. I have to say that imho, this is the best of Ms. Datlow's Best Horror of the Year collections so far. Sure, there are some storiesA 3.75 rounded up. I have to say that imho, this is the best of Ms. Datlow's Best Horror of the Year collections so far. Sure, there are some stories that didn't work for me, but that's to be expected in an anthology. Recommended for readers of horror who prefer to be frightened cerebrally rather than by gore splattered all over the pages.
My favorite in this book: "The House on Cobb Street", by Lynda E. Rucker. Listed below is the table of contents; I've given an overview at my reading journal's weird fiction/horror page so if you want the long version, feel free to click through.
“Apports” by Stephen Bacon “Mr. Splitfoot” by Dale Bailey “The Good Husband” by Nathan Ballingrud “The Tiger” by Nina Allan “The House on Cobb Street” by Lynda E. Rucker “The Soul in the Bell Jar” by K.J. Kabza “Call Out” by Stephen Toase “That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love” by Robert Shearman “Bones of Crow” by Ray Cluley “Introduction to the Body in Fairy Tales” by Jeannine Hall Gailey “The Fox” by Conrad Williams “The Tin House” by Simon Clark “Stemming the Tide” by Simon Strantzas “The Anatomist’s Mnemonic” by Priya Sharma “The Monster Makers” by Steve Rasnic Tem “The Only Ending We Have” by Kim Newman “The Dog’s Paw” by Derek Künsken “Fine in the Fire” by Lee Thomas “Majorlena” by Jane Jakeman “The Withering” by Tim Casson “Down to a Sunless Sea” by Neil Gaiman “Jaws of Saturn” by Laird Barron “Halfway Home” by Linda Nagata and “The Same Deep Waters as You” by Brian Hodge...more