Every other year, I’ve missed updating my R.I.P. reading, because often the full posts aren’t written until after the end of October (when the challenge officially ends). So this year, even though there will be longer discussions of some of these works in the weeks to come, I’m making some notes along the way.
As far as frightening tales go, Emily Schultz’s The Blondes is the sort that truly burrows beneath my skin.
Comparisons have been drawn with The Handmaid’s Tale; I think this is a little misleading, but it’s difficult to discuss that opinion without revealing spoilers in both books.
So let me simply say that it is a troubling tale. In the same way that works like The Wall (Marlen Haushofer 1962; translated Shaun Whiteside 1999) and I Who Have Never Known Men (Jacqueline Harpman 1995; translated Ros Schwartz 1998) are disturbing, the themes explored in The Blondes are the sort that keep me awake at night.
It provided a terrific start for this year’s R.I.P. reading.
Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth: Unnatural Habitats (2012)
Just as compelling as the first four books in this series, the storytelling canvas broadens. Readers are invited into an aspect of the story’s past – sometimes of an origins story – and this launches the next bound installment of the series.
“Living in a world like this, you can’t help but get cold and cruel too. Your insides freeze over. Your heart becomes callous. You stop feeling. Turn into little more than an animal fighting for survival.”
Above all, these stories are survival stories, but it is the moments of respite from that cruelty that pull me back into the narratives so quickly.
George Pelecanos’ Lucas Spero Mysteries (2011; 2013)
The idea of reading a series based on the experiences of a PI who is a veteran of the Iraq war did not instantly appeal, but I fell into the story as quickly as I have succumbed to the stories I know from his television writing. There is nothing essential plot-wise which would interfere with readers beginning with the second novel, The Double, but I’m certain that my connection to the character would have been different (would perhaps have faltered) without the context of The Cut. True, readers get to know Spero more intimately in the second book, but the introduction in The Cut offers an essential backdrop. I will definitely read the next installment.
Lynn Cullen’s Mrs Poe (2013)
Poe scholars are divided on the question of whether Frances Osgood was E.A. Poe’s lover. When Lynn Cullen pursued the story, her research revealed not only the writings and letters she expected to spend time with, but also a kind of darkness to the story that she had not anticipated.
“When I set out to write Mrs. Poe, my intention was not to write a ‘shivery’ tale,” she explains. But Poe’s background contains some “pretty black material”, losses and deprivation, sorrow and adversity. “As tragically as I imagine Frances and Edgar’s affair had ended, what happened in real life after they parted is even more relentlessly devastating.”
Perhaps because I read this in close proximity to Rupert Thomson’s novel, the “dark” aspects to which the author refers did not strike me. What I most enjoyed was the sense of history in the novel, the idea of pursuing possible truths through the lens of fiction. (Edited to add link to full discussion.)
Rupert Thomson’s Secrecy (2013)
This novel is suffused with deliciously disturbing images and scenes. A thin, dark ribbon of sky. Bared teeth with clumps of hair. A dead bird that dangles from a girl’s first like a flower needing water. A snake skin shed in a doorway. A secret passage. A stabbed countess. A “damp, shadowy gorge”. Blackened lips. A wormy truffle. Scars and burns. Arcane enthusiasms.
And, all that before page 50. Sumptuous.
Although I had allowed this book to languish in the stack, regularly set aside thinking that the historical setting and the shadowed cover suggested a dense and slow read, I soon decided that this book was a single-gulp read.
I gobbled the first 50 pages, then set it aside to finish the rest of the mid-way reading that remained in other books, and then restarted and read straight through.
It left me wincing and grinning: strangely satisfying. [Edited to add link to full discussion.]
Stephen King’s The Shining (1977)
Honestly, I thought that I had read this before, when I was in my Early King Phase in the mid-1980s. But, if I did, I must have forgotten everything or, else, stark images from having seen the film supplanted what I had read in the book.
All I remembered of the story was the menacing image of Jack Nicolson as Danny’s father; I forgot about the importance of the Hotel itself, about the unexplained elements, the psychological aspects of the Shining (Danny’s unusual ability to communicate coupled with his lack of understanding and vulnerability).
“One hell of a story. A little frantically, he took out his notebook and jotted down another memo to check all of these people out at the library in Denver when the caretaking job was over. Every hotel has its ghost? The Overlook had a whole coven of them.”
On the stacks now?
A lot of lit-prize-longlisted Canlit, but some R.I.P. reading too.
Dan Vyleta’s The Crooked Maid.
His follow-up to The Quiet Twin, which would also be a great choice for this reading event. Haunting.
Claire Mulligan’s The Dark.
Very atmospheric, and there is something about Victorian tales this time of year, right?
How about you?
Any spooky reads in your stack right now?
Anything in my stack you’d like to add to yours?
Anything you would recommend that I add to mine?