I had planned to do horror books throughout the month. I started a new-to-me writer, Gemma Files, but there was heavy gun violence in the opening chapters, and this was not the week to read that.
Instead, I'll mention T. J. Klune. I've only read two of his books so far, but each one has been the emotional equivalent of hot cocoa and fat lazy cats. The only reason I'm not immediately reaching for another is that I'm trying to pace myself, one per year.
The House in the Cerulean Sea is a fantasy novel and queer romance about finding family when you feel unwanted. Under the Whispering Door is a fantasy novel and queer romance with a redemption arc. You know that warm feeling you get inside when Scrooge looks out the window on Christmas morning, wondering what day it is? Same emotional payoff here.
For books that will inform you or give you ideas for addressing a social problem...how about Isabel Wilkerson's Caste? I've read extensively about race and racism, and hers is one of the best. It's a long book and a longer audiobook, but it flew by, which is not something I often say about meticulously researched social histories.
Things have been intense recently. I've barely had time to read or listen to anything, so I'm cheating and using a nonfiction book I read ten years ago, The Amityville Horror (1977).
In 1974, a house in Amityville, NY was the site of a several gruesome murders. In 1975, a family of five moved in: two parents, three kids. They lasted not quite a month before fleeing in terror.
Jay Anson describes the haunting in detail while allowing the reader to choose their own interpretation. If you are a skeptic about paranormal phenomena, you can walk about with your doubts intact (though perhaps slightly weakened). If you are a devout Catholic, you can read about the priest's attempted exorcism without feeling trivialized.
To my own great regret, I am impervious to terror from written horror. Too much Stephen King, too young, ruined everything else for me. I am pretty sure though that normal people find this book scary, and I can truthfully say that it is atmospheric and entertaining. And for audiobook enthusiasts, Ray Porter's voice is gritty and noirish, the perfect delivery for the story.
Laird Barron writes horror with more literary flair than normal, like Henry James but with satanists. In more contemporary terms, his style reminds me of John Langan or John Horner Jacobs, people who take care with their prose but who aren't afraid to throw around shapeshifters or occultists to keep the peasants in line.
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All is a collection of longish short stories set primarily in the American Pacific northwest. My favorite was "The Hand of Glory," which reads more like prohibition noir than horror, at least till the twist at the end. If you've ever enjoyed one of Stephen King's gangster stories, you'll like this--same boozy atmosphere where life may be cheap but the dames ain't.
Are these stories scary? My scare meter broke a good thirty years ago. The same way chronic smokers can't taste spice in their curry, I can't detect terror in my fiction.
But I found them enjoyable, especially as narrated by the hardboiled voice of Ray Porter, who also did a standup job with the Amityville Horror. More on that next week, I think...
Though best remembered for Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury wrote across many genres and for many ages. The Halloween Tree (1972) is a horror/fantasy Young Adult novel that I probably would have enjoyed as a kid. Alas.
One Halloween, a group of eight boys find themselves taking a spooky tour across space and time to learn the origins of Halloween, which [insert convoluted, unconvincing plot explanation here] is necessary to save the life of the ninth boy, Pipkin.
Bradbury lavishes praise on Pipkin, using over-the-top descriptions to paint him as the best possible boy to have ever walked the earth. I was reminded of Melville's ultra horny descriptions of Billy Budd. There is nothing sexual in Bradbury's portrait--I cannot point to any one line or paragraph that is inappropriate--but taken together, I felt uncomfortable about the intense scrutiny and effusive compliments directed toward an adolescent.
Maybe someone else who's read this book can let me know if I'm being too sensitive.
So I can't really say I recommend it. Kirby Heyborne did a great job narrating, though, considering there were ten characters and none of them were women.
When Covid first hit, I started doing book talks on social media as a way to keep in touch with people. I never got out of the habit. I don't discuss books by my clients, and if I don't like a book, I won't discuss it at all. While I will sometimes focus on craft or offer gentle critical perspectives, as a matter of professional courtesy, I don't trash writers. Unless they're dead. Then the gloves come off.