Tag Archives: horror

{Book} Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two year old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned Atticus’s great grandmother—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
Lovecraft Country has been on my TBR list for quite a while. There has been a plethora of literature riffing on Lovecraft’s mythoi that is a reaction to Lovecraft-the-author. I don’t know if this has occurred with any other problematic author. Maybe it’s time and distance that has allowed it to happen (thanks to the public domain*) or the acknowledgement that the worlds Lovecraft created have been undeniably important to fantastic fiction and shouldn’t be abandoned due to the dubious philosophies of their author.

HBO is producing a Lovecraft Country series that premiers in August and their trailer reminded me of the book, which was available from the Tempe Digital Library. I read the first couple pages and pretty much ditched everything else I have been reading to go on a ride through Lovecraft country.

*Well, Lovecraft’s works are probably in the public domain. There are issues

Characters
Every once in while, I open a book and it is the characters that immediately hook me. I think the last time it happened was with the Last Policeman series. Hank Palace and Atticus Turner are similar characters in some ways. Both are competent men who remain stolid despite the bizarre circumstances they find themselves in. These are the kind of characters I love.

Plot
In an interview, Matt Ruff said he originally conceived of Lovecraft Country as a sort of anthology series with each character getting their own story, but all the stories interconnect. As a result, each chapter of the book focuses on a separate character, advancing the plot along from the first chapter which is entitled Lovecraft Country. And this works! I hope the HBO series preserves that.

Setting
Ruff does a good job with the setting: the real world of 1954 with a twist. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Robert Block, Ray Bradbury, and other authors are all authors in this world. When Atticus goes to “Lovecraft” country, he’s going to the New England he’s read about in Lovecraft’s stories. But of course, there are differences. Cabals of wizards for one. The Safe Negro Travel Guide is also a fiction also, though based on the real Negro Motorist Green Book. For the most part, the real and the fictional work together rather well.

Overall
The most common criticism I’ve seen of Lovecraft Country is that it isn’t very Lovecraftian. Indeed, this is not a Lovecraft pastiche. It only tangentially hints at cosmic horror, and then takes more of a science fiction approach to it, while still having ghosts and cults and “natural sciences.” It is exactly the bits I like about Lovecraft, divorced from the pulps and given to good characters inhabiting a more realistic world.

Original Publishing info: HarperCollins, February 16, 2016
My Copy: OverDrive Read, Tempe Public Library
Genre: horror

{Books} The Vampyre & Dracula

The Vampyre: A Tale Dracula

The Vampyre: A Tale by John William Polidori

A young English gentleman of means, Aubrey is immediately intrigued by Lord Ruthven, the mysterious newcomer among society’s elite. His unknown origin and curious behavior tantalizes Aubrey’s imagination. But the young man soon discovers a sinister character hidden behind his new friend’s glamorous facade. (via Goodreads)

Legend has it that the inspiration for The Vampyre was the same Lake Geneva trip the spurred Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. Polidori, Shelley, the other Shelley (P. B.), Lord Byron, and Claire Clairmont all shared a chateau and ghost stories. Byron produced “Fragment of a Novel,” which Polidori riffed off of to write The Vampyre, giving Byron the credit. Or something like that. It seems utterly reasonable that Byron’s name on the cover was a shrewd publishing move.

Polidori’s Lord Ruthven is perhaps the first gentleman vampire. Instead of being the glorified ghoul of folklore, Ruthven has charisma and schemes. He is cast in the form of the Gothic mystery men that preceded him. His past is a secret that will bring darkness to those around him, in this case it is presumably because he’s a vampire.

I was expecting more from this story. It felt more like the summary of what could have been a much longer, more involved Gothic novel. On the other hand, Polidori isn’t much of a writer. A 600-page version of this story would have been a slog. (What isn’t a 600-page slog is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas—he includes Lord Ruthven as a cameo character.)

Dracula by Bram Stoker

‘Alone with the dead! I dare not go out, for I can hear the low howl of the wolf through the broken window’

When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client and his castle. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘Master’. In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count Dracula and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing deeply into questions of human identity and sanity, and illuminating dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire. (via Goodreads)

There are many, many vampires after Polidori’s Lord Ruthven, but none (even Ruthven himself) are as famous as Dracula.

This is the third or fourth time I’ve read Dracula. I suppose I like it well enough because I like the characters. Oh, everyone’s adoration of Lucy and Mina gets a little old, but Stoker at least gives us a look into their inner lives.

One of the things that struck me about this go-through: Mina is the one who takes all the information that the man have and put it together. Without her stitching together the narrative, Dracula would have run rough-shod over London. Further, when the men leave Mina out, for her own protection, they (and she) suffer a huge setback.

I read The Vampyre for Classics Club and Dracula because it felt like a good time for a reread.

{Book} Taaqtumi

This book was provided to me by Myrick Marketing & Media, LLC via NetGalley for review consideration.

Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories

Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories, compiled by Neil Christopher

“Taaqtumi” is an Inuktitut word that means “in the dark”—and these spine-tingling horror stories by Northern writers show just how dangerous darkness can be. A family clinging to survival out on the tundra after a vicious zombie virus. A door that beckons, waiting to unleash the terror behind it. A post-apocalyptic community in the far North where things aren’t quite what they seem. With chilling tales from award-winning authors Richard Van Camp, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, Aviaq Johnston, and others, this collection will thrill and entertain even the most seasoned horror fan. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
I’m always on the lookout for stories set in places that are far from my usual. Arctic horror stories sounded like a great concept.

What Did I Think?
According to the summary taaqtumi means “in the dark.” And, man, these stories are dark. Maybe I just haven’t read horror in a while, but I wasn’t quite prepared for this level of nihilism. If you want happy endings, you’re not going to find many here.

In the realm of horror sub-genres, Taaqtumi has a little of everything. Ghosts, cosmic horrors, zombies, folk horror, natural horrors, post-apocolyptic, and even a science-fiction/horror mashup—Sean and Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley’s “Lounge,” which I found to be one of the standouts of the anthology.

On the whole, I really enjoyed these stories. I wanted to read this analogy for the setting, and Taaqtumi delivers. The writers are all from northern Canada, many are indigenous people and the stories include a tapestry of Inuit lore and legends.  “Wheetago War II: Summoners” by Richard Van Camp is one of the more “modern” tales of horror in terms, well, weaponry, but its told in the style of recorded oral tradition and has excellent voice. The cold, the extremes of daylight and nighttime, the push and pull between modern and traditional are all present in each story.

Original Publishing info: Published September 10th 2019 by Inhabit Media
My Copy: Adobe Digital Edition via NetGalley
Genre: horror

Deal Me In, Week 2 ~ “Light And Space”

DealMeIn

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

“Light and Space” by Ned Beauman

Card picked: J
Found at: The Guardian

Shortly after midnight on Christmas morning, a night watchman discovered me standing by Feretory with a fire axe held over my head. I am, or was, a senior member of MoMA’s curatorial staff, with a special interest in the Light and Space movement of the 1960s, and so naturally I’ve been called upon to give an account of why I should wish to destroy such an important work. My only reply is that in fact I wanted nothing less than to destroy it. Even after all that’s happened, I still recognise Feretory as a masterpiece. Destroying it would have been no more than an unavoidable consequence of what I really hoped to achieve with the axe that night.

The Story
This is one a several “Christmas” ghost stories that The Guardian ran in 2013. I bookmarked them probably in 2018, so I haven’t been sitting on them for *that* long. But it’s always fun to see where seasonal stories end up when you’re picking randomly.

Conroy Glasser is a 1960s “light and space” movement artist who worked in blocks of resin. His masterpiece, Feretory, is an impossibly seamless pillar of translucent plastic. What makes this sculpture even more mysterious is that the formula for the resin was proprietary, cooked up by Glasser and “a sympathetic polymer salesman from Hudson Plastic.” And also that Glasser’s wife disappeared around the time the sculpture was poured. And that Glasser committed suicide a few months later. And that in 1989 a curator of his works ended up in an mental institution after one of his assistants turned up dead. And that a collector of Glasser’s works from the same period as Feretory also committed suicide. The curator we meet in the quote above was also planning a new showing of Glassers, until he begins to suspect there are dark truths behind Glasser’s works.

In the real world there is no way that there wouldn’t be a thousand podcasts and YouTube videos about the (obvious) curse of Conroy Glasser and his art…

Conroy Glasser is fictitious, but the  Light and Space art moment is a real thing, involving minimal and abstract works that focused on the interplay of light, objects, and color. (That’s probably wildly inaccurate. I know very little about art.) Do an image Google search on Light and Space. You won’t be disappointed.

Also, a feretory is:

1. A receptacle to hold the relics of saints; a reliquary.
2. An area of a church in which reliquaries are kept.

The Author
Ned Beauman is a new author to me. He’s a British novelist, journalist, and critic. I enjoyed this story and I am tantalized by his novel The Teleportation Accident, “a hilarious sci-fi noir about sex, Satan, and teleportation devices.”

Pick a Card, Any Card

I’m not entirely sure if Light and Space can be accurately produced in two dimensions, but the back of these horizon playing cards might come close.

Horizon Playing Cards at Kardify
And at Kickstarter

{Book + Short Stories} What Went Back to the Library Today

Took a couple of #RIPXIV / #somethingWickedFall books back to the library today:

Cover via Goodreads

The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill

Two chilling ghost stories from the author of The Woman in Black, both set in crumbling English houses that are haunted by the spirits of thwarted children.

In The Small Hand, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow is returning from a client visit when he takes a wrong turn and stumbles across a derelict Edwardian house with a lush, overgrown garden. Approaching the door, he is startled to feel the unmistakable sensation of a small cold hand creeping into his own, almost as though a child had taken hold of it. Plagued by nightmares, he returns with the intention of figuring out its mysteries, only to be troubled by further, increasingly sinister visits. In Dolly, orphan Edward Cayley is sent to spend the summer with his forbidding Aunt Kestrel at Iyot House, her decaying home in the damp, lonely fens. With him is his spoiled, spiteful cousin, Leonora. And when Leonora’s birthday wish for a beautiful doll is denied, she unleashes a furious rage which will haunt Edward for years afterward. (via Goodreads)

Read both The Small Hand and Dolly. I enjoyed them well enough, but really don’t have too much to say about them. Neither was as good as the other Susan Hill book I’ve read, The Woman in Black, but that *is* considered a ghost story classic. I probably liked Dolly better because The Small Hand felt a little padded out. Still, some nice reading for autumn nights.

Cover via Goodreads

Poe’s Children: The New Horror edited by Peter Straub

From the incomparable master of horror and suspense comes an electrifying collection of contemporary literary horror, with stories from twenty-five writers representing today’s most talented voices in the genre.

Horror writing is usually associated with formulaic gore, but New Wave horror writers have more in common with the wildly inventive, evocative spookiness of Edgar Allan Poe than with the sometimes-predictable hallmarks of their peers. Showcasing this cutting-edge talent, Poe’s Children now brings the best of the genre’s stories to a wider audience. (via Goodreads)

I find it funny that a this anthology of “new” fiction is over 10 years old at this point… It’s my habit when I go to the library to pluck a couple books from shelves, give some a 10-page test, and maybe read a short story from a random anthology. A few weeks back I picked up Poe’s Children and started reading “Notes on the Writing of a Horror Story” by Thomas Ligotti, since I hadn’t read any Ligotti before. Unfortunately, it was a too long to finish at the library. So, I took it home. I meant to read a few more of the stories, but I only fit in one more. “Notes on the Writing of a Horror Story” was clever with an excellently twisted ending. The other story I read was “The Bees” by Dan Chaon. The setting was great but I thought the ending was a little flat.

{Book} The Other

picture of a book, The Other

My copy of The Other along with a nice bookmark from the library.

The Other by Thomas Tryon

Holland and Niles Perry are identical thirteen-year-old twins. They are close, close enough, almost, to read each other’s thoughts, but they couldn’t be more different. Holland is bold and mischievous, a bad influence, while Niles is kind and eager to please, the sort of boy who makes parents proud. The Perrys live in the bucolic New England town their family settled centuries ago, and as it happens, the extended clan has gathered at its ancestral farm this summer to mourn the death of the twins’ father in a most unfortunate accident. Mrs. Perry still hasn’t recovered from the shock of her husband’s gruesome end and stays sequestered in her room, leaving her sons to roam free. As the summer goes on, though, and Holland’s pranks become increasingly sinister, Niles finds he can no longer make excuses for his brother’s actions. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Read This Book?
The Other is on a lot of classic horror best-of lists. It’s considered pretty scary and very influential in the genre of horror.

What Did I Think?
There is a problem sometimes with influential genre books…they’re *influential*. Meaning their tropes and twists get used in other stories (when they’re not being entirely ripped off). I can’t think of any story that specifically like The Other, but nothing about this novel’s twist surprised me. I figured it out really early on despite some obfuscation in the narrative. Or maybe it’s a matter of my “learning” horror in a post-M. Night Shyamalan world. I kind of meta-analyzed this book as I read it and that perhaps that robbed it of some enjoyment for me. I will admit, an event near the end of the book did surprise me.

Original Publishing info: Knopf, May 1971
My Copy: mass market paperback, Fawcett Crest, acquired via Book Mooch
Genre: horror, psychological thriller.

Readers Imbibing Peril | Something Wicked Fall

{Book} The Two Sams

The paperback The Two Sams and a bookmark.

My copy of The Two Sams along with a bookmark made from a birthday card sent to me by my friend Tania.

The Two Sams: Ghost Stories by Glen Hirshberg

With this unique collection, acclaimed author Glen Hirshberg breathes new life into an age-old literary tradition. In the title story a husband struggles with the grief and confusion of losing two children, and forms an odd bond with the infant spectrals that visit him in the night. “Dancing Men” depicts one of the creepiest rites of passage in recent memory when a boy visits his deranged grandfather in the New Mexico desert. “Struwwelpeter” introduces us to a brilliant, treacherous adolescent whose violent tendencies and reckless mischief reach a sinister pinnacle as Halloween descends on a rundown Pacific Northwest fishing village. Tormented by his guilty conscience, a young man plumbs the depths of atonement as he and his favorite cousin commune with the almighty Hawaiian surf in “Shipwreck Beach.” In “Mr. Dark’s Carnival,” a college professor confronts his own dark places in the form of a mysterious haunted house steeped in the folklore of grisly badlands justice. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Read This Book?
‘Tis the season, but as I was reading some of the other books on my #RIPXIV and #SomethingWickedFall pile, I kept thinking about these stories. The Two Sams is a reread for me. I first read it in 2015, but I believe I’ve read “Struwwelpeter” separately since then.

What Did I Think?
These stories are so good.

I had forgotten the endings of “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” and “The Two Sams.” They are shocking and discomfiting by turns. I had more appreciation for the two stories I considered weaker during my the first read-through (“Shipwreak Beach” and “Dancing Men”), but I haven’t put my finger on exactly why. Maybe I’m a little more accepting of these “warm weather” horror stories, one set in Hawaii and the other in New Mexico. Each story is set in a different place and Hirshberg goes out of his way to make the settings distinct. Plus, there is such wonderfully creepy subtlety to character motivations.

Hirshberg has become one of my favorite writers and The Two Sams is probably in my top 10 books of all time.

Original Publishing info: Carroll & Graf, 2003
My Copy: paperback, acquired via PaperbackSwap
Genre: horror


Readers Imbibing Peril | Something Wicked Fall