70. We Are All Completely Fine – Daryl Gregory
“We’re different from other people,” she’d said. “We only feel at home when we’re a little bit afraid.”
As someone who has many similarities in thinking to a prey animal, I understand that sentiment better than I want to. I sometimes think that one of the reasons that guinea pigs and I get along so well is that very similarity – prey knows prey. And I am very strong and resilient, but I am also hypervigilant and many other things people don’t associate with being strong or resilient. I’m the worst kind of prey.
The premise of this clever little novella is a support group for people who’ve been through trauma that has a supernatural edge. There are five of them and they’re in group therapy – brought together to identify and process and try to work on what makes them different and deal with how trauma has re-wired their brains. Except that they find out they really just need to band together and try to help the youngest and most fiery of their five escape the cult that keeps coming after her because of what she keeps on the inside. It sort of works, sort of, and for the most part they come to a level of understanding and acceptance.
I really liked this, and it is the first work of Daryl Gregory I’ve ever read, but I kept feeling like I was missing something or that he was referencing his other works. It seemed like a novella relying on some shorthand I wasn’t privy to. We’ll see. However, we will not see soon, because my theme this year is to review the books of authors that I haven’t read much. If I haven’t read more than three of their books, they’re in. Short stories don’t count, although they certainly counted last year.
When Finny is feeling completely fine, he puts his little front feets out like this.
14. Master of Lies – Graham Masterton
I thought this was going to be about castration and cults, but, it’s mostly not. It’s about an Italian cop and a very corrupt San Francisco police department and everybody’s in on it – except that guy who gets castrated. Also, there are hand faces.
I actually think the Fog City Satan case might make for a weird season of True Detective. It would resemble a crossover between seasons one and two – the vague supernatural (that would become super not vague) of season one and basically most of season two without any prostitution or drugs or Taylor Kitsch. Just some corruption, smarmy dialogue, and – now that I think about it – it’s got nothing really from season one. Take season two, add fully formed families for supernatural sacrifice and some hand faces, and it might have actually been a little better television.
Also, I think the state of constant upset in the world is making me super desensitized to gore and Graham Masterton’s usual level of vulgar description – or, he was getting soft in this one. Or bloodless. He did use the word “musk” one too many times and I never really squirmed after the scene with the nails in the first chapter.
“When is a book that says it’s about castration and cults actually going to be about castration and cults? What do we have to do to get some castration and cults going? Geez.” – Peregrine is very interested in “c” words. She’s cute.
7. Waking the Witch – Kelley Armstrong
I read the Otherworld series in a very random order, and this was the first witch-focused book I read. I didn’t know Savannah’s back-story from Stolen and I definitely recommend reading that before reading this one. It would’ve been nice to have some frame of reference for how Armstrong deals with witchcraft before reading Waking the Witch. Armstrong has a lot of characters in her Otherworld series, so even the minimal summaries left me a little lost because I hadn’t at least read Stolen. I can also tell you that my “review” of Stolen will not help you. No it won’t.
Savannah is a likeable protagonist and she’s headstrong but manages to be fun to follow along with as she tries to solve some witchcraft-adjacent murders in a small town. She has good investigative skills (and now I know how she learned them, now, so much later) but still acts like the twenty-one-year-old she’s supposed to be and that was an improvement over Armstrong’s YA work for me, where it felt like she was consistently talking down to the audience. So now I know she can represent slightly-above-youth youths without being patronizing.
Ozma: Plucky, ready for action. Peregrine: Sleepy, ready to send Ozma into the fray.
19. The Girls – Emma Cline
Suburban girl goes wild…still basically gets out of everything…and it’s kind of a slow stroll to get there. This was fine. It reads fine, it’s got some nice, hazy Southern California imagery, and easily invokes the Manson family and Cline does pay attention to a lot of the senses. Her writing easily allows the reader to be in the scene smell-wise – rotting lettuce, mildewy clothes, musty outbuildings, that very specific smell that screams “mice have been here” (shudder).
But, not unlike many coddled lives and other stories where a privileged person takes a walk on the other side but doesn’t stay, it’s not that interesting. Too safe. Her life almost gets fucked up by being associated with this version of the Manson family, but then it really doesn’t. She has her bad memories and a stigma that hurts her when she runs into people even more privileged than she is, and that’s realistic but I guess I don’t care about Evie the narrator because Evie doesn’t care about Evie either.
That’s right, my girls Murderface and Pickles, nothing much to read here.
9. Feast – Graham Masterton
Having spent a very, very, very small fraction of my childhood inside restaurants I didn’t like with my father, I can relate to some elements of Feast. I never stormed off to speak to a mysterious dwarf when he would ask me about school even though I only ever saw him over Fourth of July weekend, but I certainly rolled my eyes super hard and reminded myself I’d be going home to my own things soon enough. Being able to relate to any aspect of Feast probably seems terrible if you’ve read the book, but, whatever. It’s probably better that I didn’t get kidnap-inducted into a flesh-eating cult during one of those Fourth of July weekends. It’s not like I was doing anything fun instead. Mostly I was sneezing. Stupid summer.
I could also relate to seeing one’s father as selfishly involved in their own shit instead of interested in me, so, thanks for all the non-vulgar relatability for once, Graham. Thanks. Charles McLean, restaurant critic, and his son Martin are using their quality time as a vehicle for Charles to do work and Martin to be bored while eating in Connecticut. Charles finds out about and begins trying to get an invitation to a super underground restaurant that turns out to be a bit of a front…for a cannibal cult. A self-cannibalizing cult. See, eating yourself prepares you for meeting God, because cult-logic is the most solid kind.
It must be said that Feast was not as gross as I expected it to be. And I expected a lot because all the other Graham Masterton books I’ve read have at least one specifically disgusting or vulgar scene that just sticks in my head and will not leave (olive oil, dog in a pool, fishnets *shudder*); but Feast didn’t have one of those for me. Guess I got too caught up in the relatively ancient hype this time.
Sure, Horace will join your cult. After he finishes napping on his froggy. You’re not his real dad.