Perilous Updates, Week 3

Peril of the Short Story

“William Wilson” by Edgar Allan Poe

From comparatively trivial wickedness I passed, with the stride of a giant, into more than the enormities of an Elah-Gabalus.

This is my first reading of this story. I haven’t come across too many doppelganger tales. Poe does this one up pretty well although without the uncanny terror I expected. Instead, we have the tale of William Wilson—not his real name—and the double that seems to haunt him through life.

Wilson first encounters his double in boarding school. They are not friends; the original Wilson plays pranks on the second while the second offers advice (presumably on better living). The two boys share the same name and after some time, the second Wilson seems to take on the look and mannerisms of the first. Unnerved, Wilson leaves school. The second Wilson continues to dog the first, ruining the first Wilson’s plans over and over again. Finally, in Rome, first Wilson accosts second Wilson, stabbing him fatally. But is the second Wilson the only one “murdered”?

Obviously, this tale can be taken as allegory. The second Wilson can be seen as the first’s conscience, stolidly foiling plans to do immoral and illegal things. But it’s also a Poe story full of Gothic architecture, creeping around sleeping people, and Roman fetes. Even before the doppelganger shows up, Wilson seems to suffer from a great deal of self-loathing, which makes it really hard to be confronted with one’s double. I also found Poe’s mentions of race and environment interesting in relation to Wilson’s behaviors—both are important. Other crunchy bit: details on cheating at cards.

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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

🍂Fall Blogging Events 2017🎃

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Autumn is an embarrassment of blogging riches for me. Horror and mysteries are the genres I gravitate toward so I love that fall has become a celebration of all things spooky. This year R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril will again be joined by Bloggers Dressed in Blood for the duration of September and October. There is also Gothic September and, in October, the FrightFall Readathon over at Castle Macabre. And of course the next Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is Oct. 21st. I swoon in bookish ecstasy.

TBR

Progress

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Review ~ Who Was Dracula?

Who Was Dracula?: Bram Stoker’s Trail of Blood by Jim Steinmeyer

Cover via Goodreads

In more than a century of vampires in pop culture, only one lord of the night truly stands out: Dracula.
But where did literature’s undead icon come from? What sources inspired Stoker to craft a monster who would continue to haunt our dreams (and desires) for generations? Historian Jim Steinmeyer, who revealed the men behind the myths in The Last Greatest Magician in the World, explores a question that has long fascinated literary scholars and the reading public alike: Was there a real-life inspiration for Stoker’s Count Dracula?

Hunting through archives and letters, literary and theatrical history, and the relationships and events that gave shape to Stoker’s life, Steinmeyer reveals the people and stories behind the Transylvanian legend. In so doing, he shows how Stoker drew on material from the careers of literary contemporaries Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde; reviled personas such as Jack the Ripper and the infamous fifteenth-century prince Vlad Tepes, as well as little-known but significant figures, including Stoker’s onetime boss, British stage star Henry Irving.

Along the way, Steinmeyer depicts Stoker’s life in Dublin and London, his development as a writer, involvement with London’s vibrant theater scene, and creation of one of horror’s greatest masterpieces. Combining historical detective work with literary research, Steinmeyer’s eagle eye provides an enthralling tour through Victorian culture and the extraordinary literary monster it produced. (via Goodreads)

I’m excited this year because for once I’ve read enough books to post a Top 10 of 2013 without including half of what I’ve read during the year. On the other hand, nearly half of the top ten could belong to one author: Jim Steinmeyer.

Who Was Dracula? was published this year in April. At first blush, the subject might seem to be a departure for Steinmeyer. His other books have primarily been about magic apparatuses and magic history, but stage magic and theatrical productions are less than a skip-jump away from each other in this era.
Much of this book is devoted to Stoker as the stage manager for Henry Irving and the Lyceum theater. What I really enjoy about Steinmeyer’s writing is his ability to efficiently sketch out the historical setting and people it with those names we think we know. I’d love to see a TV series based around Stoker being the stage manager at the Lyceum, writing and researching in the background.

Another portion of the book takes a closer look at some of the possible inspirations for the character of Dracula. Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Jack the Ripper. Some pretty heavy-duty controversial figures and Stoker knew them all (well, knew the first two and was acquainted with a man suspected of being the third). The origin of Dracula, the historical figure, is also examined. All sorts of good historical nuggets are investigated.

I also like the agnostic quality of Steinmeyer’s conclusions, or rather, he doesn’t worry too much about making any grand pronouncements about who is or isn’t “Dracula.” I have a degree in English lit and I know the propensity to want a clear-cut motivation for everything that is placed in a novel. I’m also a writer and I know how arbitrary things can be. Have I ever used an amalgamation of people I know in a character for no other reason than I need details for a character? Yep. Have I ever appropriated a hobby/work from life and given it to a character? Yep. Have I ever *accidentally* named characters in a way that might have been construed to mean something? Uh, yep. Alas, being writer is often more a matter of appropriating what’s around you rather than being original or intentional.

Genre: Non-fiction
Why did I choose to read this book? Jim Steinmeyer
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Format: Hardback
Procurement: Tempe Public Library
Bookmark: Checkout receipt.

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Peril of the Short Story 2013

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I didn’t get as many short stories read during R.I.P. as I intended. Strangely, my attention span has been craving longer works.

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray BradburyI really meant to finish Shadow Show. I’ve been reading this anthology on and off since last year. R.I.P. 2012 included Shadow Show stories! I think I burnt out on anthologies earlier in the year and once again Shadow Show has become a box of very rich chocolates.

“The Page” by Ramsey Campbell – Long, idyllic set up to a sort of an air conditioned ending. I can see this story in my head as an episode of an 80s anthology show, like The Ray Bradbury Theatre though maybe not the best episode of such a show. The middle-aged couple trying to enjoy their time on the beach, the sort of spooky mystery of the wind-blown page, the powerful woman at the end that I can only imagine in a shoulder-padded power suit.

“Light” by Mort Castle – Reminds me of Bradbury’s California mysteries, especially the last one, Let’s All Kill Constance. Bradbury had a love affair with Hollywood. Hollywood consumes dreams and then spits them back to become other people’s dreams.

“Conjure” by Alice Hoffman – Girls. Do you find them in Bradbury stories? Not often, but this might be what it would look like if there were girl characters in Bradbury’s world. It’s perhaps a more perilous world for them than for boys. (This story reminds me a little of Dennis Leheane’s Mystic River, a Bradbury story terribly inverted.)

“Backward in Seville” by Audrey Niffenegger & “Earth (a Gift Shop)” by Charles Yu – Both were short responses to specific Ray Bradbury stories “The Playground” and “There Will Come Soft Rain.” Both solid and more sci-fi aspected than the other three stories.

Casting the Runes and Other Ghost StoriesAfter watching Night of the Demon, I was interested in M. R. James “Casting the Runes.” It is a bit different from the movie. The plot is simpler, but it’s also more subtle in its telling. And as a writer who often hates writing transitions between scenes, I rather loved this:

It is not necessary to tell in further detail the steps by which Henry Harrison and Dunning were brought together.

Well played, Mr. James.

Saturday Cinema – R.I.P. TV 2013

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The new season brought a plethora of peril for television viewers:

The title "Sleepy Hollow" is written over a town shrouded by clouds.Sleepy Hollow, premiered 9/16/13. How do you make a TV series out of a seemingly one-off villain? You mix it up with a muddled plot involving the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a soldier, hand-picked by George Washington to fight evil, who has been time displaced by a curse placed on his my his witch wife. The contrivance makes my head hurt. What saves this show for me are the characters of Abbie and Ichabod. They have great chemistry while remaining not-a-couple. Abbie is a good cop without being uber perfect or uber flawed, which is nice to see in a female character. Her normality is required against the background of ghosts, witches, and demons. To be honest though, I’m a sucker for fish-out-of-water. Ichabod ranting about the amount of tax on a bag of doughnut holes buys a lot of amity with me.

The Blacklist (2013) PosterThe Blacklist, premiered 9/23/13. For a show with no true speculative fiction aspects, The Blacklist had a pretty substantial presence at San Diego Comic Con, asking the question: Who is Red Reddington? Well, Red Reddington is James Spader and he’s the reason to watch this show. Reddington is a spy and master criminal. After eluding law enforcement for the entirety of his career, Reddington turns himself in as a gambit to clear his own blacklist. Spader is delightfully menacing and manipulative in the role. My concern is whether the series will keep the base plot fresh and semi-believeable. It’s already had a few problems.

American Horror Story (2011) PosterAmerican Horror Story: Coven, premiered 10/9/13. What I like most about American Horror Story is that each season is self-contained. Presumably, the writers know where the story is going to end and can actually construct an arc rather than spinning a plot that can potentially run (too) many seasons. Speculative fiction seems to lend itself to formats that are not the usual for US television. I can’t recall an anthology series, like The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt, that isn’t genre. In its third season, AHS: Coven takes on witchcraft in America, in an utterly fictitious, non-historical, non-politically correct way. So far, the first three episodes offer the requisite amount of squicky sex and violence that is pretty much a hallmark of the show. The cast, with some returning faces from previous seasons playing new characters, seems overly large. I do like that one aspect of the plot involves a YA-ish plot involving a school for “special” girls while another involves the elder stateswomen of the local covens.

File:Dracula promotional image.jpgDracula, premiered 10/25/13. After only seeing the premier episode, I haven’t quite decided what I think about this series. In an odd reversal, this Dracula arrives in England under the identity of vaguely Southern gentleman and industrialist Alexander Grayson. This Dracula only drinks blood…and whiskey. There are twists to this plot. Dracula isn’t in England only to expand his culinary horizons, but as part of a revenge plot with a bit of Victorian sci-fi technology thrown in. Thus far, I’m annoyed by some seeming anachronisms. In London, 1896, is it viable to take individual photographs of 100 guests as they arrive at a party and have their photos developed later that evening? Is it possible that a large black man could gather in-depth information about guests in a matter of minutes, no matter how well dressed he is? Would two “friends” kiss (non-peck-on-the-cheek) in public? Dracula is already on the bubble for me.

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