Posted in books, Halloween, writing

Halloween Reads

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These books, their stories, their characters lingered…. Oh, how perfectly haunting!

The Portrait of Jennie (Robert Nathan) — While the film version of this novella about a struggling artist who finds his muse in a rapidly aging girl is lovely, melancholy, and romantic, it does not convey the foreboding of time out of joint that Nathan’s writing does.  Ray Bradbury said it best, “It touched and frightened me when I was twenty-four. Now, once more, it touches and frightens.”

The House Next Door (Anne Rivers Siddons) — One of the best evil house books I’ve ever read. This one packs a wallop as a new home claims owner after owner while the neighbors who witness their fates are brought to the brink of madness.  Read it for the horror, and come back to it for its deliciously biting sub-text.

The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters) — A doctor is called to treat a young maid in the decaying English estate where he lived as a child. Gradually, he comes to suspect a malevolent spirit of invading the structure and targeting its inhabitants. With obvious nods to Poe (“The Fall of the House of Usher”) and James (The Turn of the Screw), this post WWII tale will keep you riveted.  One note: much has been said and debated over the importance of a likable protagonist in fiction.  Waters’s main character, Dr. Faraday, is neither immediately nor consistently likable.  But, as a product of his upbringing, time, setting, situation, and flaws, he is, at all times, fascinating.

The Other (Tom Tryon) — Brilliant psychological horror about identical twins (you know I have a fondness for twin stories), with one exerting an increasingly dark and dangerous influence on the other.  Oh, my…this one was the cause of many sleepless nights, during the read and after. You may want to save it for the daylight hours….

Mickelsson’s Ghosts (John Gardner) — A dense and multi-layered tale about an alchoholic philosophy professor who buys a house with a history. Fair warning: if you’re looking for a fast read, skip this.  But if you want a novel you can dig into, Gardner’s book will reward you with intricate and complex characterizations, a wealth of images and symbols, significant allusions to Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (you may want to read or re-read Zarathustra after you finish), local myths, and, yes, ghosts, too.   As close to a masterpiece as any book can come.

Posted in Shadows and Ghosts, writing

Baggage

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Fern, a psychiatrist with food and family issues, must evaluate the sanity of her newest patient, Ida Mae, a snarky college professor who has starved herself into cardiac arrest for the sake of artistic empathy. At their sessions, Fern is purely professional, but afterward….

Fern kicks the wastebasket under her desk so hard that the Snickers wrappers inside it jump and flutter. Ida Mae has slithered under her skin. Even now, as Fern puts her hand to her bloating stomach in a gesture of self-loathing, a sneering Ida Mae crawls around inside her.

“That snake. I should never have gone to see her first. I should have made Dr. Glick’s room the last stop on morning rounds so that I could have immediately drowned her with lunch and three cups of coffee. But no, I had to go there first, subject myself to that smug, glib….”

She growls and reaches into her drawer for another candy bar. “I’m pathetic.” She takes a bite of the chocolate. “But I can’t help it. I want her to be sick. I want her to go into the bathroom after every meal and throw up. I want her to wither, her teeth to rot, her veins to collapse, her bones to thin, her hair to fall out, her nails to chip and flake away, so that she’ll beg for my help, be at my mercy, so that she’ll let me into that cast iron skull, so that I can control her.” She takes another bite, unaware of the chocolate smudges forming at the corners of her mouth. “Truly pathetic, Fern. Wishing a patient sick. You’ve never done that before, not even with an anorexic, but damn it all, Ida Mae isn’t like other patients.”

Fern devours the final piece of candy.

“I was wrong about her. She’s no mere bitch. She’s the devil, the devil with frizzy brown hair and a skinny body. And worst of all, she’s the devil with a Ph.D.

(From Shadows and Ghosts © 2011)