The Last Perilous Update

October has been more slumpy than expected both on the reading and writing ends. The unusually high temperatures probably aren’t helping. And maybe I started my Halloween celebrating too early. I’m not burnt out on “spooky,” but it’s definitely more on the background level of things. Which is perfectly fine and comfortable.

Peril of the Short Story

Ben at Short Story Magic Tricks did a whole week of Ambrose Bierce stories around mid-October. I’m a little sad that I didn’t read Bierce when I was young, when I had first read Poe. Bierce is lighter, maybe a little more clever, but still with all the chills that 19th century lit can allow. (And with a mysterious real-life death/disappearance!)

Peril on the Screen

On the opposite side of the horror coin from Ambrose Bierce, there is the Saw franchise. Personally, I have affection for Saw and at least a few of its sequels. I think I’ve watched at least through Saw IV, though I don’t remember much about the last one. The last time I watched any of  them was before I’d read much about magic. The story telling in Saw and Saw II, which I’ve recently rewatched, does remind me of how magic tricks are structured. The audience doesn’t know where the trick (or movie) is heading and there is plenty of misdirection and hidden moves, though within the bounds of reality (mostly). I picked up a “box” set of  movies 1-7 and plan on watching one a day until Halloween.

Peril of the Playlist

While I’ve been mostly enjoying great horror movie scores, like Christopher Young’s Hellraiser and Franz Waxman’s The Bride of Frankenstein, my all-time favorite bit of Halloween music the The Nightmare Before Christmas and its cover album Nightmare Revisited which includes Marilyn Manson’s great version of “This is Halloween.”


Mini Reviews, Vol. 10

alt text The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

On the heels of WWI, temp girl Sarah Piper takes work as an assistant to two ghost hunters; one posh, one rough, both scarred by the war.

This book was much too much of a romance for me. Sarah’s spends an overage of time believing that her beau (Matthew, the rough one) hates her for no real good reason and that she must never tell him how she feels for no good reason. The ghost story was passable, somewhat predictable. The Haunting of Maddy Clare was an audio book and the narrator’s portrayal of Matthew was disconcerting.

alt text Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Emily Carroll “tells” five stories of isolation and dread akin to Grimm’s fairy tales.

With a limited color palette and drawings that are by turns stark and detailed, these are new tales of old-fashioned creepiness. The stories and art evoke a coldness, a darkness that seems perfect for fall and winter reading. Through the Woods was an impulse pick-up for me for during readathon and it was the highlight. Might even become a yearly Halloween read.

Deal Me In, Week 40 ~ “Visitors”

(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?

“Visitor” by Jack Dann

Card picked: 9
From: The Architecture of Fear, edited by Kathryn Cramer and Peter D. Pautz

The Story

After Mr. Benjamin died, he came back to Charlie’s room for a visit.

Charlie is fifteen and is suffering from peritonitis after an appendectomy. The other patients in the ward are similarly in pain, but Charlie had managed to make friends with Mr. Benjamin from across the hall. Even now that Mr. Benjamin is dead, their friendship isn’t over and maybe Mr. Benjamin can help as Charlie decides between a pain-filled life and an okay, but a little lonely, after-life.

While still not a story with a particular connection to specific architecture, I did enjoyed it’s gentle take on ghosts.

Peril of the Short Story

Perilous Updates, Week 5


For someone who joined #FrightFall on Sunday, I haven’t done much frightful reading. My eye was turned by a “romance of the mind” involving Nikola Tesla. But, I promise my next few short stories will be suitable. I have a story from Dark Screams: Volume Eight “due” today, a story from The Architecture of Fear for Deal Me In, and I’m thinking about reading some Clive Barker to learn how to properly torment one of the characters I’m writing.

Peril of the Short Story

The October Reading Club is underway at Facebook. This year Craig, the admin, has gone to an every-other-day posting schedule. The first story was by Lovecraft. I skipped it since I’d just read some Lovecraft and he’s not really my bag. The second story was “The Dancing Partner” by Jerome K. Jerome, which I had just read a couple months back.

The third story, I read: “The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson.

It was a dark, starless night. We were becalmed in the Northern Pacific.

Pretty easy to get me with a sea story, actually. This one has castaways with a twist.

Continue reading “Perilous Updates, Week 5”

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.

Continue reading “Perilous Updates, Week 3”

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 likes 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 shoo 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

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.

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

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