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.
- My Best Friend’s Exorcism – Grady Hendrix
Hendrix has definitely made some novelist progress since Horrorstor. There are many details in My Best Friend’s Exorcism that really work – the descriptions of Charleston and summer activities in the south in general, the extreme specifics of cassette destruction, and lots and lots of fluids (although I can’t say I ever associated pickles with cadaver labs and I frankly don’t want to, I’ve never thought formalin and pickles had a similar scent either). The description of Margaret in her bed was stomach churning. And I very deeply understood what Abby’s mom was on about when she told her that her rich friends would use her as a scapegoat. I understand that position better than I ever wanted to, the powerful trying to keep the powerless in their place. The book also reads like a shot and I did stay up to keep going to find a non-paranoia inducing scene the second night I was reading it. I have very specific memories of the first time I watched The Exorcist that were invoked reading this (damn it, Regan-me similarities, you still bother me!) and those never make me feel comfortable going to sleep. My imagination is very strong and will not be denied.
On the other hand, the sense that I was being told too many things bothered me at several points. These characters were stronger than the ones in Horrorstor, but they’re still being written with a sense of remove – like they were conceptualized as types and not people and there’s some fight against that but the distance won. The exorcism itself also didn’t work for me; it seemed to go by really quickly and there was a lot of time and build up of what was going on with Gretchen that just didn’t square with the way the exorcism happened. Maybe if WHAM! had been involved instead of Phil Collins. You know Phil Collins made some kind of deal…you know it.
“The power of Phil is not compelling, Belvedere! I didn’t even like ‘Sussudio’!” Pickles will not be exorcised. She was never possessed, so it makes sense.
31. Silk – Caitlin R. Kiernan
I’m not going to lie, there are parts of me that just wish I was a lot cooler in the 1990s. And by “cooler” I mean, older and able to get into clubs where I would have died quickly of an asthma attack because there weren’t any smoking bans back then. Sigh. But I would have seen so many more bands I like in person (surely!) and worn my leather pants with purpose. (I had one pair. They were a very important Christmas present for my psyche. I am proud to report that they didn’t squeak when I wore them, but I did not have nearly enough opportunities. I still have them, but I’m not sure if they fit as they were last deployed on my birthday in 2005.) I probably would have said a lot of really annoying things about how “maybe I’ll just, like, write a novel about vampires or some shit and like, send it in to some random horror publisher,” that totally would have worked out. Totally. Maybe I would have developed a taste for coffee. Perhaps I would have seen Slayer in a much smaller venue than they play now – and developed permanent tinnitus early on. Dreams. As Mitch Hedberg said, “I’m sick of following my dreams. I’m just going to ask them where they’re goin’ and hook up with them later.”
Anyway, all I could think about while reading Silk was the 1990s. And how ridiculously familiar many of the characters were to friends I’ve known since I did become old enough to get into music venues. Yes, let’s all hang out in the parking lot and speak way too loudly for no reason at 2AM. Let’s. Let’s also never shut up about coffee, oh wait, that’s STILL HAPPENING. Also the smoking. I have one terrible ex-boyfriend who fancied himself a filmmaker who did that thing that everyone who smokes and had a video camera when they weren’t ubiquitous on phones does where they film someone smoking in black and white and linger on the smoke. Linger. Soundtrack it with Portishead. I know I would have loved this book and considered it to be somewhat aspirational when I was in middle school – because I had no idea how annoying most people were going to turn out to be. Even me.
Silk is a little more plot conscious than some of the other Kiernan works I’ve read, but reading it as a jaded, cynical adult with some failure under my belt I had very little ability to care about the characters – partly because they’re interchangeable, partly because the genesis of Kiernan’s atmostpheric, impressionist writing style is here and it doesn’t give much room for fully developing her people.
Pickles imitates the Hype Williams’ music video staple – fish eye lens. She’s all nose here, and not too long ago someone told me guinea pigs are “all nose” and I’m a little irritated to find proof as I don’t like how he said it. Damn it, Vincent.
62. Lights Out – R.L. Stine
Stine getting epistolary up in here. Yes, villain of the piece, it is amazing that you think turning “Camp Nightwing” to “Camp Nightmare” is a clever bit of wordplay. I don’t know how anyone overlooked your genius. I know main character Holly was too busy being scared shitless by virtually every outside-based beast that could be at a summer camp. Suck it up, Holly, solving the mystery is going to require more than startled screams. Or…maybe not.
I went to two summer camps in my time as a youth. At the first one, my cabin was awoken in the night by mating wild turkeys – that was loud and also confusingly terrifying. Plus we had to walk danceably to “Tears in Heaven” and put up the flag. When we were voting on songs I had not heard “Tears in Heaven” and if I had I would have vetoed that so hard. At the second one, I was awoken by a mouse running sideways up the plywood between bunks (not my bunk, I was in the middle, terrified) and into, then back out of one camper’s sleeping bag – it was one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen. My fellow witness and I never told her.
1. Young Men Dead – The Black Angels
2. We’re All Swine – Those Poor Bastards
3. Sin Is In 10 – Bass Drum of Death
4. Hallucinations – The Raveonettes
5. Deep in the Woods – The Birthday Party
6. I Remember – Suicide
7. Houses in Motion – Talking Heads
8. In Your Wildest Dreams – Reverend Horton Heat
9. Girl Afraid – The Smiths
10. Treat Her Like a Lady – Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
11. Suffer No Fools – The Sword
12. Been a Son – Nirvana
13. Running Joke – Queens of the Stone Age
14. Moonlight – Lonesome Wyatt & the Holy Spooks
15. Angelfuck – The Misfits
16. My Buried Child – Swans
17. Bad Blood – Ministry
It’s not her fault she can’t hold a flashlight to tell spooky stories.
48. Long Lankin – Lindsey Barraclough
Every once in a while, less so nowadays, someone creates (or illustrates, damnit, Stephen Gammell) a story for young people that will scare them half to death. It will stick in the back of their minds, jumping to the surface when they hear a noise, see a creepy tree, or are walking all alone, late at night, past a graveyard. Long Lankin is a scary fucking book. Reading it made me jumpy and paranoid during the daylight and frankly, a story about post-World War II era British children and folklore should not have managed to accomplish that task. The last thing that made me that jumpy was The Blair Witch Project (saw it in the theater, pre-most of the hype or at least I had no access to hype, didn’t think it was real though, still scary. No corners).
There’s a level of scarcity and secrecy in Long Lankin that just puts a damper on the mood and pushes it into a murky, stifling place. Children aren’t allowed to know what they need to know and there’s an exciting amount of dramatic tension at play as a result. Another contributor to the effectiveness are Barraclough’s lush descriptions. She does an excellent job describing how rooms feel when the windows have been nailed shut for years and I can even feel my breath hitch thinking about the stale air (of course, as an allergic-asthmatic, that’s always going to be a sticking point of terror for me). And that classic British damp is ever-present, rotting away the shingles and leaving room for creepy beasties to get through.
The one thing that didn’t work for me was the ending, but it’s quite the journey to get there, so overall it’s a worthwhile read.
Pickles dramatically reenacts my experience reading Long Lankin. Did you hear that?
73. Horrorstor – Grady Hendrix
Several people saw this book and thought of me. It’s droll, involves the supernatural, and has an amusing title. I also thought of me from both my existence as a writer of that sort of thing and a reader of it when I read a review and then by happy coincidence I found it in the stacks while looking for a different book that was misplaced sometime in the last two years – I hate it when things are misshelved and have no history of being checked out; it just makes me think the first person to shelve it did it wrong and set off a horrible chain of events.
Anyway, I read it in an evening and I did enjoy it quite a bit. I returned it to the library and was told about how I might like this “book with the weird name” by someone, and then later it was given to me for Christmas. I wanted a copy, so I was happy about that, but my aunt was not as pleased that I’d already heard of it and read it. Sometimes things attract me for reasons I cannot explain. The right kind of horror comedy will find me. Preferably. I’d rather the right kind found me early on in its existence, but I have no control over discoverability …as much as I try to be both discoverable and discover things.
Not surprisingly based on the title, it’s a take off on Ikea and the drudgery of working at a giant store. The book is set up in a catalogue format, with a particular product advertisement at the beginning of each chapter. The descent into madness with those products is one of my favorite things about the book – the design of this book is absolutely excellent. It’s quirky as hell, which, being published by Quirk books, makes sense. I have also always been pretty fond of reluctant anti-hero types forced into ridiculous circumstances, as both a writer and a reader (one might say a squirrelpocalypse qualifies as a ridiculous circumstance, they’d be right) and Hendrix does a good job of pushing the reluctant heroine in a believable way. There are a lot of familiar things in Horrorstor, the co-workers, the policy issues, the dead wanting to make their way back into our world, the convenient storage solutions, and I was very amused by how everything came together.
If you need to improve your Kleenex storage options or if you have ever had a guinea pig as inclined to take out Kleenex boxes as Miss Pickles…perhaps there is some sort of haunted store near you.
66. 99 Fear Street, the House of Evil: The Second Horror – R.L. Stine
Shock horror – Good looking young man moves into haunted house, gains attention from ladies both alive and dead! Brandt’s new and the latest ghost to occupy his new home has taken an interest in him. Whatever happens, Brandt is popular. Yay, Brandt, 90s guy!
Pickles will awaken from her nap when something slightly more interesting happens in this trilogy. Something that doesn’t involve a good looking person in distress.
1. House on Fire – Hanni El Khatib
2. The Suburbs (continued) – Arcade Fire
3. Cul de Sac – Tomahawk
4. Love Thing – The Melvins
5. Winter ’68 – The Black Angels
6. Truth in the Dark – Dax Riggs
7. Ghosts House – Witchcraft
8. Nattesferd – Kvelertak
9. Who Was In My Room Last Night? – The Butthole Surfers
10. Evil Ways – Graveyard
11. Midnight Creeper – Eagles of Death Metal
12. Crying Lightning – Arctic Monkeys
13. Friday Night – The Darkness
14. Heartbeats – The Knife
15. Cheap and Cheerful – The Kills
16. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare – Mr. Bungle
17. Ungrateful Are the Dead – Graveyard
18. If I Live of If I Die – Cuff the Duke
44. The Strain – Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan
So, I like Guillermo Del Toro, quite a bit. Details like the Hellboy II elf prince guy’s blood looking exactly like McDonald’s barbecue sauce not withstanding- even though I was fond of that and consider it to be a clever observation regardless of whether or not it really is clever- I feel like I can usually trust his world building and storytelling for the most part. I really enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth. Anyway, The Strain had some serious-level clunkiness and suffered a bit from the “this is a novel, but we’d prefer it to be a screenplay of some sort” syndrome.
I do not care for Ephraim. That is not helpful when reading the book. I also do not care for his family. Whatever, Kelly. My lack of concern was not helped by the television show, at all. In fact, it made me totally hate Zack. There is no award for not doing what you’ve been asked to do for your own safety, kid, and if there was, Carl is, was, and always will be the winner…emeritus. Get in the house, Carl! Where’s Carl? Carl is not in the house. Moving on yet again, I also feel bad for the actress who plays Kelly because she keeps playing characters who end up in relationships with supernatural creatures – or are trying to, like she was on Bitten. She’s got a really good “concerned” tone in her voice, but I hope she someday gets into a better supernatural relationship, one that doesn’t kill her like on Being Human or turn her into a bald vampire like on The Strain. I haven’t really moved on, have I? My favorite things about this first of the trilogy is that it spawned a really disgusting advertising campaign for the TV show, that the Abraham Sertrakian character is played quite nicely by David Bradley, and the A.V. Club comments section for the TV show recaps wherein the discussion of Corey Stoll’s wig in the episodes is delightful – I agree, the wig’s state of disarray really does convey the majority of the emotion Ephraim the annoying is feeling.
“The wig is not that bad!” – Belvedere
“Yes it is! You know it is.” – Pickles
30. Deathless – Catherynne M. Valente
This was my kind of romance. The torturous, horrible kind where you inevitably end up at the siege of Leningrad eating wallpaper paste because you’re starving to death – emotionally. In the case of this novel-length fairy tale, the wallpaper paste eating was literal and I did feel strangely about how the situation was resolved. Very strangely. Anyway, Valente is a major creator of pretty sentences, which typically I do not like. However, in this case I didn’t notice them as much. Maybe it was the fairy tale cadence, maybe I was just really excited about the tiny proletariat organizing, maybe it was because I pictured Koschei the Deathless as Luke Evans (thankfully with different hair than he received as Bard, damnit, Peter Jackson, let someone have decent hair without CGI besides Thorin), and maybe it was because it was so damn dark…and I am really used to being put through the ringer in any and all relationships (which is not good and I’m working on it, and, don’t ever tell me not to speak, I don’t follow orders like that so I would not have done well in so many places in this story). I do not understand why anyone would like Ivan though. I mean, really, Ivan? He was like a paper cut out of a person, like those standees of Robert Pattinson that Twilight fans have been known to take with them to film screenings, likeable because he doesn’t say anything. I guess I should be searching for the right standee…for me. But I really don’t want to.
Murderface turns away from the pretty sentences. She was a “no bullshit” kind of pig; unfortunately, not a “deathless” kind of pig.