What I’m reading:
– This is a short story from Scott Snyder’s VOODOO HEART collection, published in a nice hardcover by Dial Press in 2006. It’s an imaginative tale of one man’s mad chase across the country for… aww but that would be telling. Suffice it to say it’s an irreverent fable, touched with the capraesque and the odd. Perhaps a little too plodding, and the ending is a bit forgettable, but overall a good read. C+.
Next are a few stories I want to mention from Joe Hill’s 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS collection. First a word about the book: The 2005 1st US Edition published by William Morrow (and one of the rare books still printed in the US), paradoxically boasts a beautiful black hardcover exterior, while a very cheap rag/pulp paper interior. There’s something quite endearing about that dichotomy. It’s a book designed for you to want to hold it and page through it. A book that has a lure and allure, still beyond the reach of a digital age. I read this book for free from the library, but it’s one I have to buy for my shelves for the reasons of its construction listed above, and the reasons of its content, listed below…
Here are the grades on the stories in 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS that I’ve read so far:
BEST NEW HORROR
– A short story that lives up to its name, and is a strong one to open this collection with. The genre is so hard to be original in, because for the most part it relies on conventions that the reader is well aware of. The strength of Hill’s story is it plays and counts on and echoes the readers familiarity with the horror genre, to craft a tale that sucks us in, and creeps us out despite our cynicism. It’s really wonderfully written and constructed tale, that does not overstay its welcome. B+.
20TH CENTURY GHOST
– The titular story, I couldn’t get into it. A story of a haunted movie theater, that unfortunately does nothing with that both familiar, and potentially interesting premise.
– Now that’s a brilliant and unusual and completely captivating way to start a story. I was hooked from sentence one. Laugh out loud brilliant and strange, absurdity of a story, that underneath may or may not tackle serious issues of neglect, abuse, childhood terrors, childhood friends, escapism, hope, survival, imagination, beauty, suicide, death of the wondrous, and growing up. It’s just subtle, imaginative, and elegant writing.
“You get an astronaut’s life whether you want it or not. Leave it all behind for a world you know nothing about. That’s just the deal.”
“It is my belief that, as a rule, creature’s of Happy’s ilk— I’m thinking here of canines and men both— more often run free than live caged, and it is in fact a world of mud and feces they desire, a world with no Art in it, or anyone like him, a place where there is no talk of books or God or the worlds beyond this one, a place where the only communication is the hysterical barking of starving and hate-filled dogs.”
“I hope if there is another world, we will not be judged too harshly for the things we did wrong here– that we will at least be forgiven for the mistakes we made out of love.”
I was reading this, silly, silly story. And somewhere through it I realized the space under my eyes was wet, and for the life of me, I could not find out how. One of the best short stories I’ve read all year. An easy A-.
My appreciation of the writings of H.Russell Wakefield has led me to other early 20th century writers of the weird, of strange fiction. Poe and Shakespeare withstanding, we have a tendency to expect something of the outdated, the stilted, the historically important but unfortunately no longer engaging from writers of yesterday. However I largely find, that great writing, is great writing, and it endures. Largely because even though times move on, what moves and drives people… largely does not. That what made the seafarers of a distant age laugh and cringe, is not all that removed, from what moves you and I.
And perhaps that is a failing of man, that the penny-dreadfuls, and Poe’s tales of madness and revenge, and Doyle’s mysteries of the macabre should resonate as well today as yesterday in the hearts and minds of men.
It shows how little we evolve, that we can still understand and thrill to… the petty failings and fears of men. The day we do evolve past the point of understanding or identifying with lines such as the following, we will have gained and lost… much.
“But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,”
“This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself–to offer violence to its own nature–to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only–that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute.”
– Edgar Allan Poe, “The Black Cat”
It’s the fact that hundreds of years can separate the writing from the reading, but the passions and conflicts and soul searching is as new as the dawn.
So it is that the writing of Robert Aickman, removed from us and our world by decades of time and decades of change, still maintains the power… to enrapt. Case in point
my first introduction to the short stories of Aickman (and indeed the first short story of his first sole collection), surprised me with its seeming prescience, it’s ability to put on the page, observations ever current, and ever waiting to be discovered… particularly for those of us of an artistic bent. And it surprised me with its… strangeness. I would have expected its frankness and its sensuality from a writer of today, but not one so far into yesterday.
But many writers of today, would have lacked the craft and patience and subtlety to make that frankness and sensuality more than shock, lacked the ability to make it not unlike… revelations.
Not a ghost story, more an examination of the strange corners of the world where we haunt ourselves, RAVISSANTE can be found in both the collections SUB ROSA and one of Aickman’s “best of” collections, PAINTED DEVILS.