Deal Me In, Week 37 ~ “The Witch”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Witch” by Shirley Jackson

Card picked: 3
From: The Lottery, and other stories

The Story
Johnny is traveling by train with his mother and baby sister. Since the train car isn’t very full, Johnny is sitting on his own across the aisle. He says “Hi” to passersby and imagines seeing witches outside the window and telling them to go away. Johnny like to tell the occasional fib (“What is your name?” “Jesus”), but surely that’s what four-year-olds do. His mother is enjoying some quiet reading time in between taking care of Johnny’s sister. All is well until a man with a cigar stays to chat with Johnny. “Shall I tell you about my little sister?” the man asks.

“I bought her a rocking-horse and a doll and a million lollipops,” the man said, “and then I took her and I put my hands around her neck and I pinched her and I pinched her until she was dead.”

Of course, this rattles Johnny’s mother. The man continues. Johnny is amused. Mother is appalled. Finally, she manages to shoe the man away. “He was teasing,” she tells Johnny.

And we’re left with another mother in a Shirley Jackson story who isn’t a bad mother, but we wonder if this happenstance (could it have been prevented?) will leave some terrible scar on her child. And what are we to think of Johnny’s lying? There is a very thick feeling of judgement in these stories even though nothing is explicitly stated.

Peril of the Short Story

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Review ~ Universal Harvester

Cover via Goodreads

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Jeremy works at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa—a small town in the center of the state, the first “a” in Nevada pronounced “ay.” This is the late 1990s, and while the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut, there are still regular customers, a rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: It’s a job, quiet and predictable, and it gets him out of the house, where he lives with his dad and where they both try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.

But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets—an old movie, starring Boris Karloff, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, a different customer returns She’s All That, a new release, and complains that there’s something wrong with it: “There’s another movie on this tape.”

Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious. But he takes a look and, indeed, in the middle of the movie the screen blinks dark for a moment and She’s All That is replaced by a black-and-white scene, shot in a barn, with only the faint sounds of someone breathing. Four minutes later, She’s All That is back. But there is something profoundly unsettling about that scene; Jeremy’s compelled to watch it three or four times. The scenes recorded onto Targets are similar, undoubtedly created by the same hand. Creepy. And the barn looks much like a barn just outside of town.

There will be no ignoring the disturbing scenes on the videos. And all of a sudden, what had once been the placid, regular old Iowa fields and farmhouses now feels haunted and threatening, imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. For Jeremy, and all those around him, life will never be the same . . . (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Was cruising the horror section at the elibrary and was attracted by the cornstalks. Iowa? Creepy videos? These were both selling points (or rather borrowing points).

What Worked
Iowa and creepy videos were also the best things about Universal Harvester. This is a book with a very strong sense of setting (small rural towns) and a good peg on the people who live in them. There is a certain biographical short hand that can be given to each other, if you live in a state like Iowa or Nebraska (where I’m from), based on where you live. To live in Ames or Des Moines or Omaha is different from living in Nevada, Cresent, or Giltner. But you might know someone who moved to the “big city” or maybe your college roommate was from a farming town, so you suddenly have connectedness to those people and those places.

Part one of this book is about that dynamic and the very unsettling videos that Jeremy finds. For a while, we’re not given too many details about the videos except that they really throw Jeremy, and other characters, for a loop. Are they stuff films? Something Blair Witch-y? A deadly VHS video curse that needs to be passed on? The cover blurb (and, well, the title of the book) seems to imply some sort of cosmic horror. The point of view of the story is a very removed first person omniscient with a narrator who occasionally comments, somewhat intimately, on the events in the story, but doesn’t seem to be a character in the story. It is rather disconcerting.

What Didn’t Work…
Everything that wasn’t Iowa or creepy videos. The last two-thirds of the book somewhat explains what’s going on…somewhat. We flash back a generation for the history of a character that we have barely met and follow through her personal tragedies which in some ways mirror the tragedies in other character’s lives (notably, the loss of mothers). There was some level of menace to this, but mostly it was fairly unremarkable in comparison to the first third of the book.

Overall
The through line of the plot doesn’t quite work for me. Despite the long character histories, there are really very few answers given about what happened—why the videos were made, why people chose to participate in them, why they were spliced into random VHS tapes. Any conclusions I came to are nebulous. I’d say, if you’re looking for a literary novel that has a slight tinge of horror to it, this might be for you. I was really expecting something different.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/Overdrive, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 7, 2017
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: literary, horror

Hosted by Kate and Kim at Midnight Book Girl

Hosted by Andi @ Estella’s Revenge and Heather @ My Capricious Life

Deal Me In, Week 36 ~ “Where the Heart Is”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Where the Heart Is” by Ramsey Campbell

Card picked: 3
From: The Architecture of Fear, edited by Kathryn Cramer & Peter D. Pautz

The Story
Our narrator (unnamed) is writing to the current resident of what had been his house. He relates his circumstances: He sold the house after his wife died, but he increasingly regrets the decision. He is troubled by their renovations; memories of his life with his wife seem to have disappeared along with the wall they removed between the dining room and living room. He knows about this change because he *did* make an extra key. He is, in fact, writing this at the dining room table. He intends to stay in the house…

Now this is a story that lives up to my hopes for this anthology. Delightfully unsettling. Through our narrator’s memories, the house feels like an actual place rather than a prop. And it plays with the notion of a haunted house, one that will just become more haunted.

Peril of the Short Story

Perilous Updates, Week 1

Peril of the Short Story

This week’s short story is part of Gothic September: “Berenice – A Tale” by Edgar Allan Poe. (According to a note “Berenice” rhymes with “very spicy.”)

I believe this is the first time I’ve read this story or, if I have previously, it was a long time in the past. Egæus, our narrator, tells of his cousin Berenice. As they grew up together, she was always the vital, adventurous one while he was more than content to remain in the library. Indeed, Egæus’ obsessive interests in various subjects often drive him to distraction. Alas, a sickness strikes Berenice and afterward she isn’t the same. Her behavior changes as well as her appearance. Egæus assures us that he was never in love with his cousin, though he knew she was beautiful. After her illness, he finds her repulsive…especially her teeth.

In many ways, this is a quintessential Poe story. Narrator suffering from monomania? Check. Doomed female cousin? Check. Illness with death-like symptoms? Check. Zinger ending? Check. What sets “Berenice” apart is the narrator’s self-awareness (before concluding events) of his obsessions. This is one of Poe’s earlier tales, written in 1835, but I can see how Egæus might lead one day to Dupin.

I had chalked Berenice’s change to general, ill-defined, sudden sickness while reading the story. The rest of my perilous week lead me to wonder about…vampirism!

gothic sept button

Hosted by Michelle @ Castle Macabre

Continue reading “Perilous Updates, Week 1”

Mini Reviews, Vol. #9


My 20 15 10 Books of Summer efforts crashed pretty hard. I was going to make a last valiant effort during Bout of Books, but alas:

I ended up in digital libraries like some sort of ebook junky. So, here’s a wrap-up, not of 20 15 10 Books of Summer, but of what I ended up reading instead.*

alt text Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown

As a kid growing up in the Midwest in the 80s, I don’t think there was any escaping the reach of pro wrestling. Even before he was the brute squad, one of the most recognizable “faces” in the wrestling industry was that of Andre the Giant. This is a no-nonsense graphic biography of Andre Roussimoff, warts and all. It’s also a nice snapshot of the world of professional wrestling as a business and an entertainment.

alt text Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is my ultimate slump-buster. Don’t know what to read? In a mood? Rainbow Rowell. But, I didn’t like Landline as much as I have her other books. I loved the voice of it, but the characters and plot didn’t do it for me. In the end, it didn’t feel like the story went very far.

alt text The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee

So, I stumbled upon a book recommendation engine. “What should I read next?” That sort of thing. I plugged in The Last Unicorn (not what I just finished, but my favorite book of all time) and The Silver Metal Lover was the top of the list. And it was available through the Open Library, so…I thought I’d give it a go.

A YA dystopia, it is not my kind of book. Jane, our young protagonist, feels everything so acutely. She breaks away from her rich, controlling mother through the love of a good…robot. Despite the kind of ridiculous title, there’s not a lot of sex. Which is just fine. Instead there’s a ton of drama and peril. Maybe more sex would have been better.

* I did go 6/10 for my 10-ish Books of Summer, which isn’t a passing grade, but is actually better than I thought before I counted.

Deal Me In, Week 35 ~ “Ellen, in Her Time”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Ellen, in Her Time” by Charles L. Grant

Card picked: 4♠
From: The Architecture of Fear, edited by Kathryn Cramer and Peter D. Pautz

Timothy has recently suffered a devastating loss, of whom we don’t quite know at first. He’s having problems doing much more than visit the cemetery and return home to Ellen making comforting hot chocolate any time of the day or night… Okay, that’s a little weird…

Timothy away from home is a different man. When he does manage to go in to work, he is a very slick, and therefore successful, car salesman. He’s a bit of a ladies man with a good collection of phone numbers. Always has been.

Even when Ellen was alive.

This anthology is continuing to be rather lackluster, but at least the house in this story has a larger role than the places and buildings in several of the other tales. Timothy in his modest home with the memories/ghost of Ellen doesn’t really feel regretful for being unfaithful or unthoughtful, but he doesn’t feel the need to go anywhere either. The house seems to like it that way.

Review ~ Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic

Cover via Goodreads

Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Adelaide Herrmann, Margaret B. Steele (Editor)

Madame Adelaide Herrmann (1853-1932) was a superstar of the Golden Age of Magic and now her story is finally told, and what a story it is! Entitled “Sixty-Five Years of Magic,” Madame takes us on an amazing adventure, from her beginnings as a dancer and trick bicyclist, to her marriage to Alexander Herrmann and their subsequent tours of the U.S., Mexico, South America and Europe. She peppers her memoir with hilarious anecdotes, misadventures, accidents and the continuous outrageous antics of the husband she adored. She describes their show in minute detail, including her husband’s magic repertoire and their baffling illusions which drew standing-room only audiences wherever they went. In heartrending detail, she tells the story of her husband’s death. She then reinvents herself into the first great female magician, and takes us through yet another thirty years of solo adventures. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the memoir of the greatest female magician of the early 20th century (perhaps ever). Are you kidding me?! Of course I was interested in this book!

What Worked
Often there are two kinds of magic books: the cheaply made public domain scanned reprints or the beautifully made limited editions that are beyond my budget if available at all. This book is thankfully neither of those things. It is a very nicely made trade paperback full of black and white pictures. Finding Mme. Herrmann’s memoir and collecting her writings and ephemera together was a labor of love for magician and editor Margaret Steele, and it shows. And…it’s available!  Because why wouldn’t you want to make Adelaide Herrmann’s memoir available?

The first three-fourths of the book is Alelaide Herrmann’s memoir, written by her with some editorial help. It covers her life from meeting, marrying, and becoming the assistant to Alexander Herrmann (“Herrmann the Great”) to the end of her career in the late 1920s. It covers their love story, many of their adventures, and her trials and triumphs working on her own as a performer. The last fourth of the book is articles written by and about Mme. Herrmann, including several from women’s magazines encouraging young women to take up magic.

I have often wondered why more young girls do not turn their attention to the study and practice of magic, as it develops every one of the attributes necessary to social success—grace, dexterity, agility, easy of movement, perfection of manner, and self-confidence.

Here’s Margaret Steele performing one of Adelaide Herrmann’s signature tricks:

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Bramble Books, 2012
Acquired: Amazon, 12/17/16
Genre: memoir

This is 6/10 Books of Summer!