|The Short of It
||[Dec. 2nd, 2004|06:29 pm]
So Bush was reelected. War is still waging. Thanksgiving came and went. Christmas is in three weeks. I spent the last month freaking out about an immigration interview that was postponed, hiding in my cave until now. I’ve resolved I won’t stress out about the interview. After 12 years of constant stress, I need some respite. |
No one cares about my reaction to the election, so I’ll spare you. The only good thing that happened that week was that I ran into Anthony Bourdain, author of “Kitchen Confidential” and the new “Les Halles Cookbook,” during my lunch break on 6th Ave., between 56th & 57th St. Maybe he was on his way to Alain Ducasse’s Mix on 58th (two doors down from my workplace)—not! (David went to dinner at Mix a few weeks ago. Not having eaten there before I went online to check what Chowhound foodies and other critics had to say about the place… turns out they serve the equivalent of cow dung and skunk manure. I warned David but he “had” to go. $90 later and with his taste buds on strike, he concurred). So, I must buy a copy of “Les Halles Cookbook,” and get myself to the restaurant someday. I’ve lived here for 6 years now and I’ve never eaten there yet, so…
Oh, I guess I lied in my last entry. I never got around to finishing Dan Simmons’s “Summer of Night.” I don’t discount the merits of this book but I just could not get through it. It’s on hold until I feel the urge to pick it up again and complete it.
Instead of finishing that tome I embarked on other reading adventures. Around Halloween I picked up a copy of ”Stories of Terror and Madness From the Borderlands,” edited by Elizabeth E. & Thomas F. Monteleone. This is how I would break this book down: The Monteleone’s effort to let the reader know that one is about to read a collection of “unique” stories is made clear in the foreword. There are no “vampires or ghosts or serial killers or witches or were-creatures or anything else you’ve already read somewhere else.” I guess they’re right. There are no vampire or ghost stories. Personally, I don’t understand the bias against ghost stories. Every writer of the genre has written at least one ghost story and when the author succeeds a ghost story can creep out a reader more than a tale of the bizarre or that which lies in the Twilight Zone. That’s the thing. The Monteleone’s love The Twilight Zone. It’s pretty evident. I love The Twilight Zone as well but I wouldn’t go as far as calling a Twilight Zone-inspired story “terror.” ‘Strange,’ yes. ‘Weird,’ yes. ‘Suspense,’ yes. But ‘terror,’ no. Let’s get our definitions right: ‘Terror,’ that overwhelming, “intense, overpowering” fear is what I feel when, after reading a story, I cannot turn off my light until I watched a bit of TV to clean my palate. Or, when I call a friend on the phone and leave a rambling message to calm myself. Or, when I think I notice something move in the corner of my eye and avert my eyes to the spot to feel my heart race in my chest. But, when I finish reading a story and I find myself thinking, “wow, that was strange,” or “cool concept and neat ending,” I’m not terrorized, I’m just awed because I’ve seen a writer set off some nifty fireworks. Or do the ‘rabbit-out-of-the-hat’ trick.
Ghost stories like Oliver Onions’s ’The Beckoning Fair One’, or disturbing stories like Ramsey Cambell’s “Again,” or Robert Aickman’s “The Hospice,” or Algernon Blackwood’s ”The Willows” are stories of terror. They filled me with a sense of dread, of ultimate creepiness and foreboding, that I have never forgotten them.
In “Borderlands” we are treated to some fine writing and some adequate tales. John R. Platt succeeds with his story “All Hands,” about a man who wakes up every morning with a different set of hands, each belonging to someone else. “Faith Will Make You Free,” by Holly Newstein, is a retelling of the Jewish myth of the Golem. This story is one of my favorites in the book and the author shows a lot of promise in her writing. John F. Merz tells a great story with “Prisoner 392,” immersing the reader in the mind of a prisoner who plans and executes a prison break with surprising results. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed David J. Schow’s “The Thing Too Hideous To Describe,” a story of Lovecraftian sensibilities about a giant worm-like creature that lives on the side of a town, the ‘Thing’ all fear the most, and its intense loneliness. It was the artist Seal who once sang “it’s loneliness that’s the killer,” and this story illustrates that point. I say that I was surprised to enjoy this story because I have previously found Schow’s writing somewhat inaccessible. Oh, and then there’s Stephen King’s “Stationary Bike.” Now, the first few pages reminded me of my last visit to my doctor’s office, earlier in November, when I when to get the results of my blood work and a physical. The only thing the doctor found unusual was a high cholesterol and triglycerides reading. He recommended I lose a few pounds and get some exercise. The conversation with my doctor went almost exactly like the one in King’s story and that was affecting. And to think I was considering buying a stationary bike, or turning my bicycle into a stationary bike during the winter months… (I’ve already lost some 7 pounds and get my exercise walking the streets of New York).
Overall, an interesting book, yet not one for the records.
I also read Amy Tan’s ”The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life”. This one I read in two days. I like Amy Tan and this is a perfect book for the Amy Tan fan. To read about her mother is worth the price of the book alone, but it is when writing about her art that she shines.
Yesterday, I completed “McSweeney’s Enchanted Chanber of Astonishing Stories”, edited by Michael Chabon. This is one of those ‘wet dream’ books: new stories by Poppy Z. Brite, Peter Straub, Stephen King, China Mieville, and more. What in Hollywood would be called a “star-studded cast.” Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Lethem, Heidi Julavits and Joyce Carol Oates.
First, let’s talk Poppy Z. Brite’s (you must think, “gee, this dude can’t stop babbling about Poppy Z. Brite”—well, I won’t. Deal with it.) “The Devil of Delery Street.” Some fans haven’t stopped their bitching and moaning about Brite’s exit from the horror arena. A lot of people want her to write another “Lost Souls,” or “Exquisite Corpse,” and claim her current writing lacks the chills of her earlier efforts. Here’s what I have gathered: Poppy is done writing “horror” novels. Not gonna happen, folks. No “Lost Souls: The Reunion Tour.” No “Exquisite Corpse: The Feast.” If anything, the only horrors one can find in her novels now are in the kitchen of some restaurant or the mind of some overworked chef. But, for those who still pine for her stories of the “bizarre”, well, there’re her short stories. The “horror,” if one must call it that, continues in her short fiction. In the case of “The Devil of Delery Street,” just because the title includes the word “Devil” and the story features a poltergeist of sorts, one must not think this is a horror story. It’s horror if you’re part of the Stubbs family. In the Stubbs &/or Rickey stories published so far we see Poppy Z. Brite record a different sort of horror: coming of age and family. In “The Value of X,” Brite’s first novel about Gary Stubbs & John Rickey, we witness the painful coming of age for both boys. It is after an “outing” of sorts and a separation that John & G-Man become men. In the chapbook “The Feast Of St. Rosalie” we see Rosalie Stubbs come of age shrouded in religious imagery, “stepping” out from her cave into womanhood. And in “The Devil in Delery Street” we witness the youngest Stubbs girl, Mary Louise, move from childhood into her teenage years in an unsettling way. My theory may be flawed and it may require a rereading of this family’s saga in order to pass muster, but I believe no Stubbs child enters into adulthood without some suffering. Seems a broad statement, I know, but read the stories and you’ll know what I mean. It’s not easy being a Stubbs.
Poppy has crossed over to the literary arena. This book aligns her with the greatest writers in modern literature and I couldn’t be happier. The woman deserves her kudos.
Peter Straub, yet again, writes an excellent, magnificent short story in “Mr. Aickman’s Air Rifle.” This is not quite up there with “Pork Pie Hat” (a story so magnificent it can make you cry), but it is a fine tale. Heidi Julavits creeps us out with a rather simple story, and Daniel Handler handles the “locked room” mystery with interesting dialog and pitch-perfect characters. Stephen King, sadly, wanders a few pages too many with “Lisey and the Madman,” a story that somehow feels as light as a Chinese puff pastry. But, this collection is fine and a must-read, so go out and get it.
My next reading project will prove a challenge: today I start reading the first tome in the Stephen King The Dark Tower series, “The Gunslinger.” I have a few thousand pages ahead of me, but I’ve been looking forward to this for ages. I will review the whole series in a future entry.
That, my friends, is what I’ve been up to as of late. Oh, I almost forgot! My dear friend, mroctober has turned my name into a pharmaceutical brand! I am honored and amused about this. Please, go read his story ”The Eater of Elevation.” The guy can write.