Literary Horror discussion

This topic is about Furnace
Monthly Reads > July 2018 Group Read: Furnace

Comments Showing 1-19 of 19 (19 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Ronald (new) - added it

Ronald (rpdwyer) | 558 comments This is the thread for the July 2018 group read.

message 2: by Dan (last edited Jul 01, 2018 06:56PM) (new)

Dan | 354 comments This author has been discussed for quite some time in this group dating all the way back to February 28, 2014, more than four years ago. Here's a link if you want to read who brought her name up, when, and what was said about her at the time:

It's a pleasure to finally be reading this much discussed short story collection. I usually prefer to read my books via text, but on this occasion I chose to obtain a copy of the book electronically for just $5 rather than spend $12 and wait a week for it to arrive. I am thus commencing my read.

If you (are reading it, or) have already read it, please feel free to let us all know your (early) thoughts on the work (as you commence).

message 3: by Ronald (new) - added it

Ronald (rpdwyer) | 558 comments IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT
It has been brought to my attention that this month's group read was a group read in 2016.
I had recalled that this group read a book by Livia Lewellyn, but I thought (incorrectly) that it was a different short story collection.
I'll keep this book as this month's group read.
I'm not a fan of rigid rules in social interaction (no more books from a certain author! No multiple nominations from a person!). The late Harlan Ellison would probably agree with me . I'm gratified to see that a book by Kafka is doing well in the new poll, for I consider that book to be in a gray area of the type of books suitable for this group.
A mistake can have value. I estimate that this group grew by at least 100 members in the past two years. Here is an opportunity for members who have not read the book before.
It has also led me to reconsider a rule for goodreads groups: books should only be read once. I've reread short stories and books before.

message 4: by Dan (last edited Jul 01, 2018 10:53PM) (new)

Dan | 354 comments Here is the June 2016 discussion of Furnace: The members to make really extensive comments on the book by my reading of the discussion were Randolph, followed by Ronald. It looks like others read it, but didn't really know what to make of it, or disliked it, and thus stayed relatively quiet. The previous commentary didn't really do the work justice. Will we do better this time?

Judging from the comments of the previous thread, the story that seems to have been the least popular was the first story. I have just read the first story and I loved it. I can understand why most do not, however. One problem with the story is that I believe it has to be read at least twice before it can be grasped. It's next to impossible to get much out of it on the first reading unless you have had wide experience reading stories that are like this. I sure haven't. I felt like I was beginning to understand the story by the end of the first reading, so I had to go back and read it again.

It's a very challenging work and I don't profess to understand it even now entirely, but I have a few impressions. I read the story as a loose allegory (not an Animal Farm type allegory, which is as tight, or straight, as one gets) for a woman's sex life over the span of her entire life. It starts with her becoming aware of what the sex act is, to her trying to be careful in her teen years to choose wisely, to being exploited as a mature adult, and then finally discarded as she gets older. It's not a romantic view of love that's being depicted; rather it's a bleak, harshly honest view of sex as exploitation, abuse, and deception.

Let's carefully consider the title, "Panopticon", which is really a prefix and a word. "Pan" means that it is encompassing everything in one. We are getting a view of some aspect of a person's life, their entire life. Pan was also a Greek god, according to Wikipedia, the "god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds, rustic music and impromptus, and companion of the nymphs. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat..." and so on. Pan was a lusty, animal-like fellow, concerned only with his own needs. The "opticon" part of the title suggests we are going to get a view of what the author wishes to depict through a lens or viewing machine of some sort, an impersonal, detached view of experiences. The title is thus really well-selected for what the story shows us.

Another notable aspect of this story is its use of second person. There's only one person, one character in this story, and she is never named, but her experiences are vividly drawn. The protagonist is only identified as "you". The effect of this strange use of second person is to make us even more uncomfortable than the brutally-frank-portrayal-of-sexual-exploitation-the-author-suggests-is-normal already makes us feel because we are reading it as happening to us directly. This is the first time I think I have seen the use of second person be effective instead of contrived.

Since the story is so challenging, hard to understand, and very unsettling, why use it to lead a collection off? What an amazingly curious decision! Some readers probably put the book down after reading it never to pick the book up again. I can't imagine what the author was thinking here.

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1431 comments I quite enjoyed the openness of "Panopticon". The language is sometimes more ornate than I'd like, but it worked. I don't remember all the sexual references from my previous reading last year.

Didn't care for "Stabilimentum". I like spiders.

message 6: by Dan (last edited Jul 05, 2018 06:04AM) (new)

Dan | 354 comments "Stabilimentum" was good, but not quite as strong as "Panopticon". I agree with you. I find it interesting that people can read it on a superficial level and enjoy it as a gross out being conducted by spiders. It's a real skill to be able to appeal to multiple audiences on different levels simultaneously.

The story wasn't really about spiders. I read the spiders as symbols of Thalia's losing her hold on reality, and thus her sanity. Just as in "Panopticon", the title of this story is extremely important here too. How stable mentally is Thalia?

I think the line between good mental health and losing it is thinner than we're comfortable admitting. I have been close enough in my past to Thalia's position of losing it before stepping back from the brink and recovering my firmer grip on my sanity through my own efforts to recognize the signs in Thalia. Her suffering vertigo is a physical manifestation of her mental state, the impossibly high number of floors above and below her being so overwhelming.

I also wonder how closely she identifies herself with the spiders' plight. It takes an act of will sometimes to keep one's sanity which comes from one's own inner resources. I've often thought the person who goes insane has had their inner resources overrun and that it takes less to overrun those resources than we would like to admit.

That's what we're seeing happen to Thalia. Look how alone Thalia is. Loneliness is a major contributing factor to the loss of sanity in anyone (everyone).

The only thing that makes me question my interpretation is that other characters than Thalia see the spiders. I frankly don't know what to make of that. Delusions are usually solitary affairs. So I don't know if my interpretation is entirely right, if others seeing the spiders is a story weakness, or what is going on with that.

message 7: by Bill (last edited Jul 05, 2018 09:11AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1431 comments Dan wrote: "The only thing that makes me question my interpretation is that other characters than Thalia see the spiders."
Well yes.

This would be a much more interesting story if no one else could see the spiders.

I found "Wasp and Snake" to be pretty intriguing; the language is interesting, and it's incomplete and implies so much more. I hate over-explanations, but over-explained stories don't seem to bother many horror readers.

Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Hope to start this within a day or two (I'm just finishing up Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories, which has been a disappointing read over all).

Thanks so much for chiming in, Bill, as I know you've read this once before. I look forward to comparing my impressions with yours.

message 9: by Dan (last edited Jul 07, 2018 04:39AM) (new)

Dan | 354 comments Bill wrote: "I hate over-explanations, but over-explained stories don't seem to bother many horror readers. "

Yes. I was concerned I was sharing too much of my literary analysis of these stories than might be appreciated. I'll keep my analyses of the others to myself, maybe make a 1-2 sentence general impression statement of each story at the end, like other reviewers.

Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Dan wrote: "Yes. I was concerned I was sharing too much of my literary analysis of these stories than might be appreciated."

Not at all, Dan! I plan to go back and read each of your analyses once I've read the story in question. I very much appreciate the conversation and hope to contribute to it a bit later.

message 11: by Dan (new)

Dan | 354 comments Third and fourth stories read. These are really wonderful. So much going on under the surface.

message 12: by Bill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1431 comments Dan wrote: "Bill wrote: "I hate over-explanations, but over-explained stories don't seem to bother many horror readers. "

Yes. I was concerned I was sharing too much of my literary analysis of these stories than might be appreciated."

I was actually referring to over-explanations in the text of the stories, not analyses of such. "Panopticon" and "Wasp and Snake" leave much to the reader's interpretation. "Stabilimentum" and "Cinereous" are cluttered with what I consider superfluous detail.

Just compare the first two sentences of "Wasp and Snake", and the first two sentences of "Cinereous". But then I'm the kind of cut-throat editor who would delete "Click click click through indigo air..." from the latter.

message 13: by Bill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1431 comments I think my general impression of Furnace this time is quite similar to my first encounter. I admire Llewellyn's language, especially in some of the shorter pieces, and the risks she took with narrative and structure; however, I don't think some of the pieces work very well.

"Lord of the Hunt": disappointingly conventional.

"In the Court of King Cupressaceae...": cute, but messy, and not in a good way.

"It Feels Better Biting Down": the climactic event is memorable, but why the long setup?

"Furnace": I remember really liking this the first time around. Still love the central idea and the abstract dissolutions and language, but it seems a bit clunky now.

message 14: by Bill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1431 comments "Allochthon": I really like what Llewellyn is trying to do with the narrative disruptions. I would tighten this up somewhat.

I'm not a big fan of stories centered around occult conflicts. They usually seem kind of hokey to me. But in "The Mysteries", the relationships between the characters, and the mechanics of the conflict, are both tantalizingly obscure and totally engaging.

And what can I say about "The Last, Clean, Bright Summer"? Wow. This is one of Llewellyn's longer stories, with relatively plain language. The teenage girl narrator's voice is nicely done. The little oddities are quietly slipped in, and build up beautifully to the monstrous ritual on the beach.

message 15: by Suki (last edited Jul 18, 2018 04:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 38 comments I really enjoyed this collection. There was a nice range in styles, settings, and time periods.

My favorites were the dark erotic fairy tale of Panopticon with its shifting, ambiguous perspectives; the science fiction/creature feature vibe of Stabilimentum; the Dracula/Lilith mythology in Yours is the Right to Begin; the bizarro horror of It Feels Better Biting Down; and the mysterious boxed carnivals and echoes of Little Red Riding Hood ("But Grandmother! What big teeth you have!") in The Mysteries. I also liked the dark steampunk ambience of Wasp & Snake and Cinerous. The band line-up in In the Court of King Cupressaceae, 1982 was phenomenal-- I wonder if there is any significance to Oingo Boingo being listed twice? Those folks really know how to throw a house party!

My least favorite stories were Lord of the Hunt-- there wasn't anything particularly wrong with it; I agree with Bill that it's the most conventional of the stories in the collection. The story I really didn't like was The Unattainable. It doesn't fit in a horror collection (in my opinion), and its placement at the end of the book kind of diluted the impact of the other stories for me. I've never read 50 Shades of Grey, but I imagine that this is pretty close to that-- kind of like a Harlequin romance that got a little too intense.

I am interested in reading her earlier story collection: Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & other Horrors, and I'll definitely be watching for more from her in the future.

message 16: by Bill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1431 comments Suki wrote: "The story I really didn't like was The Unattainable."
I didn't care for it at all.

Unrelated plug: I plan to start our proposed Buddy Read The Bone Mother this weekend.

Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments I was so looking forward to this collection after reading Llewellyn's story in the 'Looming Low' anthology but have to admit that, at nearly 50% done, I'm really disappointed.

The only story I've unequivocally liked so far is 'Cinereous' (I'm a sucker for stories set during the French Revolution and this was very well done, even while featuring a trope I generally loathe). I did find 'Wasp and Snake' interesting and wished it had been a bit longer, more fleshed out, and less reliant solely on atmosphere. There was so much potential there that was just let drop for no reason. 'It Feels Better Biting Down' also had its moments, although I found it too diffuse.

Too many of the stories, too much of the prose, reminds me of the worst of Caitlín R. Kiernan's short fiction (the stuff she churns out for her devoted, paying fans). The same reliance on erotica instead of plot or character, wildly lush language limning flabby imagery with no backbone behind it, edginess as a substitute for ideas. Bleh.

message 18: by Bill (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1431 comments Marie-Therese wrote: "... but have to admit that, at nearly 50% done, I'm really disappointed. "
I'm probably more grumpy about this the second time around. But there are goodies in the 2nd half.

message 19: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex | 6 comments I really enjoyed this collection. I put Livia in a neighborhood with Barker, but I find her work prettier and more impactful.

For those wishing to listen to some of these, "Cinereous" and "Stabilimentum" from this collection ran over on PseudoPod:

back to top