Today’s Recommended Short Story: THE GHOST OF MARTIN LUTHER KING by Hal Bennett

There is no one who has ever written quite like Hal Bennett, His stories live somewhere that is beyond our suffering, and beyond our joy, beyond our hopes, and beyond our despairs. His are alien deep space tableaus, as strange as any fiction of Bradbury’s outer space, but rooted in the far more alien landscapes of a Jim Crow tinged America. There’s a bitter truth in his tales, married to a wicked, merciless humor. His is the landscape of an irony and lynch-filled America. Where sense is a strange and undiscovered country, and insanity the norm, for those who live and die by insane designations.

Insanity Runs in our Family. These stories are a wry and disarmingly written indictment of the Insanity of a post Jim Crow America, and things we lost in the fire, but more than that, they are about our missives and our misgivings, and living in a wronged world… that resists being righted.

I continue to dip my toe into these stories of the downtrodden and disenfranchised, and yet somehow remarkable, and more than a bit magical. And I continue to be… both horrified and charmed.

THE GHOST OF MARTIN LUTHER KING is one of those stories, wherein Hal Bennett takes us on a spiderwalk above still restless and unsettled ground. B+.

Insanity runs in our Family– Price your copy here!

SHORT STORY OF THE DAY or Hal Bennett vs Jack Ketchum

There is a vulgar beauty, a luscious insanity, an offensive attraction in the work of Hal Bennett, that reeks of a certain time and place and mindsets, hopefully now buried, mindsets strange and weird beyond all knowing, that Bennett in prose vital, and with vision that appalls you to the point of almost shutting the book in disgust in one sentence, before being waylay-ed by the next sentence which drags to your utter surprise, sounds very much like cackling laughter from your unprepared lips.

It is the work of a master satirist, working from levels on high… and down below. Hal Bennett is a writer… to read. Cautiously, fearfully, and uncomfortably, but ultimately very additively, humanistically. He’s not one of these writers tossing shock and absurdity and offensiveness for its own sake, Bennett is a true writer, he wants to tell you a tale, that might your dark unspin. Unlike some writers who all they want to do is revel in darkness, put offal on the page and rub your nose in it (such as the work of Jack Ketchum, and writers of his ilk, that I have no use, or patience for. I think it is the literary equivalent of a snuff film, that finds a real life victim of atrocity, and victimizes them again in detail and with fervor to make money, it debases, dehumanizes both reader and read) the fiction of Hal Bennett aims higher than that, using the vulgar to tell us something visionary.

It is not just drama, and not just horror, and not just fantasy, and not just satire, and not just scifi, and yet there are elements of all of that in the criminally under-read fiction of Hal Bennett. Hal Bennett is a genre onto himself.

Case in point, our short story of the day:


“There were many things he loved– large women’s asses, the smell of chitterlings and red beans cooking on a winter morning, the onslaught of good whiskey on his groin that sent it thumping like a triphammer before the effect subsided; but what he hated more than anything else in the world was machines. Aside from the fact they were ugly and loveless, they were as prolific as rabbits, one machine spawning another in far less time than it takes to make a Black baby. Since Henry Oates had no children of his own, at least none he knew about, he felt surrounded by machinery that seemed bent on destroying him. Not just automation, but by the machinations of government and society as well. Sometimes he felt like a man standing on the last edge of an island that is being chewed away by steel-tipped waves.”

That’s a great paragraph, that using an unlikely pov character offers, in scant words, insights that resonates with the high and low. That’s the ability of Bennett, to tell a simple, intimate story, with characters you seemingly have nothing in common with, and yet show you the common and sometimes uncommon hopes and fears and desires that bind us all.

The work of Hal Bennett, particularly INSANITY RUNS IN OUR FAMILY, deserves to be rediscovered and widely printed, rather than relegated to the out of print pile. If ever an author deserved the lavish attentions of a specialty press, and nicely printed tomes, ala Ligotti, it’s Hal Bennett.

Seek him out.

Insanity runs in our family

The Ten Favorite Short Story Collections! #1 of 10

If I make it back
[Will they follow?]
If I open the door
[Are you ready?]
Earth is unprepared
For the nightmares
[I’ve seen]
Or should I stay
[Protect my home]
Not show them
[You exist]
But then you’ll never know
[The wonders I’ve seen]
—FS Opening Credits

“At first glance, Hal Bennett and my sister, Linda, would seem to have nothing in common. He is a writer– and as these stories clearly show, a very good one indeed– she is a housewife; he has lived and studied in Mexico, she in Italy; he knows the ghettos of our cities, she has long been a surbanite. Then, too, they differ in this respect: Hal is Black, my sister is White.

Yet they have one, great, common bond, and this immediately became obvious when they met for the first time last summer in what used to be the men’s bar of New York City’s Biltmore Hotel. Both Hal and Linda were born in Virginia, and though both have lived in the North for many years now, no place on earth do they love more dearly than the Old Dominion.

This is not to say Hal Bennett (or my sister) is blind to the bigotry that so long held Virginia— and the rest of the South– backward… But it is to say that, in spite of everything, for Black as well as for White, a love for this small part of the universe endures.

To say all this, however, may be misleading. Don’t get me wrong. Bennett is no sentimentalist, no Uncle Tom gone North and soft. The people he depicts and the world he describes would not be recognized by the Upstairs set. Bennett’s people are downstairs and often downtrodden. They are winos and whores, widows who love cockroaches and priests who love booze. They are often ignorant and mostly poor. They are, in short, part of the other America, the one we would prefer not to think about.

But Bennett makes you think, makes you care about his characters… In addition to creating marvelous and memorable characters, Bennett is a master at hatching bizarre plots;… most of all though, Hal Bennett’s stories contain a commodity that seems to be vanishing from the shelves of American fiction. They are fraught through and through with humor. True it is humor— satirical, sometimes sardonic, and often ironic. Still what a pleasure and what a surprise to find a writer among us these days who can laugh at the world and make his readers do so too. ” — Staige D. Blackford From the introduction to Hal Bennett’s brilliant short story collection INSANITY RUNS IN OUR FAMILY.

Insanity runs in our family

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Review: INCOGNEGRO A Graphic Mystery by Mat Johnson & Warren Pleece

Those of you who’ve followed this blog over the years know I’m seldom at a loss for words.

I came close with this review of INCOGNEGRO.

INCOGNEGRO… wow. Anything I say about it will either be too little or too much. You should go into the book knowing very little (my thought on most things you seek to dazzle you) and you’ll get a lot out of it. All you need to know is it’s basically a murder mystery set in Jim Crow America. A 138pg 2008 Graphic novel, I don’t quite know how it avoided my radar, but this tale of an America of nearly a 100 years ago is RIVETING! I read it in one sitting, and went from unsure of it, to offended, to horrified, to chuckling and back again all in a space of pages.

Just am amazing mixture of pacing, scripting, dialog by Matt Johnson and expressive, pitch perfect visuals by Warren Pleece, that initially strikes me as too cartoony but ultimately works, creates a work that cannot easily be dismissed, forgotten, or put aside. I picked up the book for free at the library, but I am buying the hardcover, because it is one of those books (and this is the reason digital will never truly replace books for bibliophiles) that you want to have on your shelf, and own, and thumb through, and occasionally reread. It’s book as comfort as much as content, as talisman as much as text.

Matt Johnson writes as if the ghosts of Hal Bennett runs through him, combining that writer’s unequaled ability to pummel you with horror, then wring from you in the next breath, a sound not unlike laughter. And that ending is FANTASTIC!

Essential reading. A-.

My review is for the Hardcover. Use the link below to order your copy today. My Comic Shop is a site I personally use and recommend, and any purchases you do through my links brings me a few pennies which helps keep the blog running. So get yourself a great book and help the site, in one stroke. What could be easier. :).

Check status or purchase INCOGNEGRO here

“I grew up a Black boy who looked White. This was in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, during the height of the Black Power era, so I stood out a bit. My mom even got me a dashiki so I could fit in with the other kids, but the contrast between the colorful African garb and my nearly blond, straight brown hair just made things worse. Along with my cousin (half Black/half Jewish) I started fantasizing about living in another time, another situation, where my ethnic appearance would be an asset instead of a burden. We would “go Incognegro” we told ourselves as we ran around, pretending to be race spies in the war against White supremacy.”
— Matt Johnson, his forward to his book INCOGNEGRO

“That’s one thing that most of us know that most white folks don’t. That race doesn’t really exist. Culture? Ethnicity? Sure. Class too. But Race is just a bunch of rules meant to keep us on the bottom. Race is a strategy. The rest is just people acting. Playing roles.”

Hal Bennett LORD OF DARK PLACES and Apocalypse Now

I’m reading Hal Bennett’s LORD OF DARK PLACES.

I’ve had the kind of week, where reading Hal Bennett seems a logical end to such a week.

I’ve never read anyone quite like him.

His writings are horrible tales of lives horrendously lived, but there’s a manic humor, the humor of the absurd and tragic, that he plays up that will have you amused at the same time you are horrified. I laughed out loud in places that I felt conflicted laughing at. These are bad places and bad things Bennett is discussing.

I mean some of it is so out of the blue and outrageous, he’ll have you inflamed with rage, then in the next sentence make your jaw drop, and a sound not unlike laughter escape you. I’m uncertain how comfortable I am with that, but I know only a Satirist of consummate skill can pull off such a confluence of emotions.

Reading him, following up reading Pearl Cleage’s DEALS WITH THE DEVIL:AND OTHER REASONS TO RIOT (filled with diatribe’s and rants to make even me seem calm in comparison) is not exactly a feel good prescription. But he can write.

You may not particularly care for the twisted and twisting Jim Crow world he writes about, but the beauty of his language, in an age of dumbed-down Black ‘literature’ and ‘music’ is like manna from heaven.

Here is a word-smith, worthy of every tree sacrificed, and every bit of ink used.

‘Her Large cow eyes were still open and gazed somehow to the left, as though death had surprised her from that side.”


“There were about a hundred of them in all, but the women in the congregation outnumbered the men two to one, because a woman is always alert for news of any religion in which she might become the Virgin Mother and enjoy the ineffable mystery of having her tail played in by the Holy Ghost. These women were no different. They wore clean drawers in case tonight was the night, or in case they got too happy and fainted and their dresses came up.”

My final verdict is still out on LORD OF DARK PLACES, being only a quarter of the way in. I know so far it is best in small doses, but I also know… I’ll keep coming back to it.

There is this line in Apocalypse Now, where the General says to Martin Sheen’s character of an especially unappetizing looking local dish, ‘If you eat it, you will never have to prove your courage any other way”, the same can be said of Hal Bennett’s LORD OF DARK PLACES.

If you read it, you will never have to prove your courage any other way.

And that right there… is a recommendation.

These are
times that kill ya
these are
times that spill ya
these are
times that kneed you into ground

[repeat 2 times]

Lord of Dark Places

I heard something profound today
About those who ride the lightning
That invariably they fear the thunder
Because it proclaims their day is done

Books on my to purchase/read pile:

Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos (Paperback) by Michio Kaku
Airing Dirty Laundry by Ishmael Reed
Violent Spring by Gary Phillips
Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman by Malidoma Patrice Some

African Rhapsody by Nadezda Obradovic
Joyce Ann Brown:Justice Denied by Joyce Ann Brown
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines
Flat Broke in the Free Market: How Globalization Fleeced Working People by Jon Jeter
Deals With the Devil: And Other Reasons to Riot by Pearl Cleage
The Lord of Dark Things – Hal Bennett
Insanity Runs in the Family – Hal Bennett
Brother: Black Soldiers in the Nam

FBI War on Tupac Shakur & Black Leaders by John Potash

Sites of the day:

When the law itself is lawless, what do you do?

DVDs of the Day:

DRAGON INN (1992- Donnie Yen)
LEGEND OF THE WOLF (1997- Donnie Yen)
BALLISTIC KISS (1998- Donnie Yen)

Directors of the Day:

Henri-Georges Clouzot 1907-1977 his masterpieces are WAGES OF FEAR and DIABOLIQUE
Jean Pierre Melville 1917-1973 his masterpieces are LE SAMOURAI, LE DOULOS, BOB LE FLAMBEUR

“There is no greater solitude than the samurai’s
unless it be that of the tiger in the jungle”– Le Samourai’s preface

tell me about summer
tell me about fall
i can’t make it
make any reason at all

Korean word of the day (spelt phonetically so you can pronounce them)-

Ahn young hah say oh: hello-peace-do peacefully
Kahm sah hahm nidah: Thank You
Chae Song Hahn Nidah: Pardon Me
Toe Wah Jew Say Oh: Please Help Me
Ahn Young Hee Gae Say Oh: Goodbye
Cheon Man Ne Yo: You are welcome

Quick Book Reviews:

GHOUL by Michael Slade: Excellent

WASP FACTORY by Ian Banks: Disturbing

CABAL by Clive Barker: So-So

INHUMAN CONDITION by Clive Barker: Not as great as the first three BOOKS OF BLOOD, but still recommended

HARVEST OF HORRORS by Eric Potter: Average

DARK VISIONS by Harlan Ellison: Very Good

MISERY by Stephen King: Very Disturbing

WHISPERS I by Stuart Schiff: Good

Edgar Allen Poe

James Baldwin

Today’s recommended audo drama/listen:

CHATTERBOX AUDIO THEATER HALLOWEEN SHOW 2009 PT 1 & 2- Finally listened to this today. Short review? It’s just great. A compilation of seven tales of terror. I mentioned this group previously, and they continue to just get more impressive. It’s really nice to see Audio Drama not only still being produced in the US, but productions of such an incredibly high quality. This is work to make the greats of radio’s heyday proud. Also I appreciate them using the American spelling of theater rather than the British spelling, like some American productions (perhaps to seem more “artsy”) are wont to do.You can listen to THE HALLOWEEN shows here.

Also while there check out the shows SURFACING and THE YELLOW WALLPAPER. Both are highly recommended.

Okay well that’s all my rambling today. Enjoy!