1. Who Made Stevie Crye? – Michael Bishop
Odd title + residence in a locked case of the library = I’m interested. In order to get to the area of the library where this book is held, you have to ask for an item (Pfft, normal patrons), or work there and have the ability to sign out a key, take the elevator up past several mezzanine floors, then unlock a door that’s just a little bit too short for your average bear with a security grating for a window. The secretive spaces of libraries are my favorites- you never know what all is in them and if you haven’t committed yourself to the work in some way, you’ll never get to see the weird stuff, or the bound volumes of Playgirl. Yes, academic libraries are hiding their porn from you, patrons; we just keep it for posterity, do not want to let it get it all sticky, and we library staff only use it for the articles. Literally. There’s this Chris Burden (you may know him as the performance artist that crucified himself on a VW Bug and let someone shoot him in a gallery, that’s how I know him) article in a 1970s issue of Playgirl that actually gets asked for a lot. It’s a pretty interesting interview and a bit of a letdown for all the staff in my department who were wondering if we were actually being asked to scan some guy’s (Chris Burden not the household name I figured someone who nailed themselves to a Bug would be) pictures from a skin mag – not so much.
What I gleaned from skimming through Who Made Stevie Crye? (no dust jacket, academic library) the beginning and intermittent illustrations was that there’s a monkey involved, someone loses all their flesh, and there’s what appeared to be a possessed typewriter in the story. It also said “A Novel of the American South” on the title page and any long time readers, first time callers know that I lived in the South and I miss many parts of it. I figured it was horror, and it was published in 1984, I also love 1980s horror so it seemed like I might have found a diamond in the rough, as they say.
Well, that whole “set in the South” thing kept popping into my head as I read about how cold it was and the repeated turning on of the heater in Stevie’s writing room. It’s set in Georgia, but in winter, which is something that could have been easily changed and doesn’t truly contribute to the plot beyond being confusing. The humidity makes people crazy down there, which is helpful when you’re writing a horror story; a thick atmosphere is a tense atmosphere… It is just as easy to turn on a space heater in Wisconsin (where the publisher is, and the reason why this book was behind a locked door) and have the same level of haunted typewriter and monkey involvement and not make me wonder why you set the story in the South.
What Made Stevie Crye? also reminded me of one of my least favorite things about female main characters written by dudes, they are hysterical. A lot. Stevie super needs to get some writing done (I do believe in the 1980s there’s a shred of a chance one could support two children with a freelance writing career.) and her typewriter shits the bed and she doesn’t want to pay its actual manufacturer to fix it. It’s so fun reading about customer service calls. The true horror was making me read about how much it costs to fix an electric typewriter. So, of course, she ends up taking the typewriter to some nutball genius who has a pet monkey he named Sucrets (Seriously? Somebody’s shitty at pet names and that person is Michael Bishop.) and will NOT STOP VISITING after he “fixes” her typewriter. Stevie freaks out about her kids, at her kids, about the monkey, about the monkey’s finger-blood sucking habit (Ew.), about her dreams (The one with the man body with a monkey head is worth freaking out about, also the incest one, ew.), about her typewriter becoming sentient and teleplaying her dreams, about visitors, about the heater, about the stereotypical magical fortunetelling woman she finds to help her (The fortune teller has a manual typewriter. Typewriter fight! Note, typewriter fighting is way less interesting than it sounds…at least in this book.), about her book proposal, and basically betrays the majority of the sense of competency I believe a real woman would have so she can freak out. She just didn’t ring true to me and so I didn’t really care why she was so upset about having a monkey in her house, eating an egg sandwich. The horror! Plus the “reasoning” behind the whole enchanted typewriter thing sucked and even Stevie seemed to have a sedated reaction to it, most realistic thing she did.
I did a little research and found that this was supposed to be one of those “unexpectedly funny” books, but, it really didn’t work for me. I enjoy oddness for its own sake, I’m a fan of both Splatterpunk anthologies I’ve read and they’re a great example of truly bizarre things that can elicit a smirk. Maybe it would be funnier if the setting made sense and the main character seemed a tad realistic before things started making her go off the rails. Horror and comedy do have a lot in common. Or if they gave the monkey a mint julep instead of a fondness for Sucrets and finger-blood; actually, I believe that in the South, Capuchins drink a sweating glass of sweet tea before they invade your home and tear up your daughter’s stuffed animals and unzip their monkey skins to reveal their tiny little man bodies. Afterwards they fan themselves on your porch swing.