31 October 2011

A long post, but I hope you'll bear with me.

This story freaked me out. In fact, I'm reminded of the first line Vincent Bugliosi wrote in his book Helter-Skelter, but I think it's a fitting description for Joyce Carol Oates' short story as well: "The story in which you are about to read will scare the hell out of you."

In this fascinating collection of critical essays, Joyce Carol Oates' famous short story Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been, is discussed, argued and analyzed. If you've not read it, I highly recommend you do. I didn't realize I had read it years ago until a new-to-me blogger at Adventures in Borkdom reviewed it for the RIP Challenge, and it got me thinking about it. It was with a Twitter conversation from Nicole at Linus's Blanket that finally pushed me over the edge to download it.

I only intended to read the story, but I was soon swept up in this collection. The story itself is both brilliant in its subtlety and disturbing in its content. While there is no gore or slash, in my opinion it bests all of those typical fright night stories and films with quiet hints and allusions to what might happen. As one essayist, Larry Rubin writes:

For instance, Walter Sullivan praises her skill by noting 'horror resides in the transformation of what we know best, the intimate and comfortable details of our lives made suddenly threatening.' Although he does not identify it as such, Sullivan's comment aptly describes a classic instance of a grotesque intrusion: a familiar world suddenly appears alien.

It seems to be what Oates does best: Take our comfortable world and shift it to reflect the view back like a mirror. Everything seems to be the same, but something is a little bit off.

The Story
It's the early 1960s and Connie is fifteen-years-old. The prettier of the two daughters in the family, her mother doesn't approve of the precocious Connie, always looking at herself in the mirror. She's pretty sure her mother prefers her, though, over her older sister June, who works at the library and still lives at home.

Sunday begins like any other day since they don't go to church, but with a boring barbecue to attend with her family, Connie decides to stay home, wash her hair and laze around her room, thinking of romance and boys and listening to rock and roll. With her family away and Connie alone in the house, it becomes a dreamy afternoon. Things take quite a different turn, however, when a car pulls up the driveway driven by a man she walked past the prior evening at the drive-in.

His name is Arnold Friend and there's something about him that doesn't seem right. Stepping out of the gold-painted car awkwardly, he looks older but claims to be around her age. It looks like he's wearing make-up but forgot to finish putting it on his neck, so the stark contrast appears as though he's wearing a mask. The passenger in the car never acknowledges her and only continues to listen to the same young rock and roll music she has on in the house, but when she takes a closer look from the kitchen screen door, even he is different. In fact, he has the face of a "forty-year-old baby," which is extremely unnerving. Arnold stands by the car, propping himself up or holds the door, as though if he didn't, he might fall. His boots stick out at odd angles, which hint at the possibility of rags stuffed into them so he can stand on it to appear taller.

Arnold Friend wants Connie to get into the car and go for a drive with him. While initially exciting for Connie, it becomes obvious of his more violent intentions as the conversation continues. Instead, Connie stays behind her screen door, but he makes it clear he will never come inside. He casually explains that she will make the choice to come outside eventually, and when she does, she will come to him. He'll teach her about love, he says. It sounds different to Connie, though, and she doesn't like it, the air thick with fear and impending violence, nowhere near the romantic dreams she had before he arrived. She knows it's all wrong, that the way he stands and the fact that he's got make-up on is all a disguise. There is a far more disturbing element to Arnold Friend underneath it all and Connie is afraid. He is dangerous and she knows that she shouldn't leave the house.

Initial Thoughts
In all of the scary horror stories, this one struck me as one of the more frightening. I think it's because at only approximately twenty pages or so, its terror comes across in what is not said. There is an uneasy, uncomfortable atmosphere set with Arnold Friend's casual conversation, and incredible suspense was building as my fear for Connie grew. I was begging her to not leave the house, to not get into Arnold Friend's car.

I intended to only read the short story but the critical essays were fascinating. They evaluate and analyze feminism, Connie's innocence, the symbolism of Arnold Friend, and rock and roll music. They provide more insight into the relevance of religious values and the slippery slope between good and evil. There is even the argument, which I tend to also believe, suggesting Arnold Friend may even be Satan, embodied in this frightening man who wears his disguise of make-up and can't quite seem to stand in his boots just right because they very well could be the hooves of the Devil.

Joyce Carol Oates, if nothing else, is a master of horror and fright, but contrary to the Halloween and Friday the 13th movies, Oates is a sophisticated storyteller, drawing images of paralyzing fear with the agonizing ache of growing up into a very scary adult world. I highly recommend this and encourage you to read and re-read it.

I listened to the audiobook version of A Fair Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates and wasn't the biggest fan of it. Now, I'm reconsidering going back and listening again, or reading it, since I've found that Introductions and Afterwords, along with critical essays of a book give me much more insight and I end up appreciating a story even more. After reading the various thoughts from other writers on Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been, I'm thinking A Fair Maiden may be worth another go.

Where did the story come from?
Included in this collection is the original Life magazine article that piqued Oates' interest and served as the idea for the characters. Oates read only part of it because she wanted the story to not be encumbered by the true events of the case.

The article featured Charles "Smitty" Schmid of Tucson, Arizona, nicknamed by the Life article as the "Pied Piper of Tucson." Like Oates' character Arnold Friend, Schmid drove a wild gold-painted car and was a short man of 5'3" who stuffed his boots with cans and rags to give the impression he was much taller. Odd though he may be, according to the Life magazine article he still managed to generate a following of younger teenagers. Everyone knew he was different, but no one ever really complained about him. When it was uncovered that he had murdered three young women, it was not a revelation to the Tucson youth. In fact, they knew about it but no one wanted to be the one to turn him in, or make a big deal about it. While shocking that murder seemed to be more acceptable than tattling, it provided insight into the life of a kid at that time, struggling with acceptance of their peers, not ever wanting to "rock the boat." Of course, I'm not an expert on the psychological or sociological reasons why people do what they do, but being accepted by your peers is always a recurring motivating factor for every generation. Kids never want to stand out as the snitch, even though it's the right thing to do.

His victims were only teenagers: Alleen Rowe, Gretchen and Wendy Fritz. They are much more important to remember as they never had a chance to live out their lives.

Schmid was subsequently convicted of the murder of the three young women and was incarcerated up until his death by fellow inmates in the 1970s. He was apparently stabbed more than forty times and it took him twenty days to die.

Smooth Talk
Smooth Talk, Image Source
As I mentioned earlier, I read this years ago, and for some reason forgot about it until I started reading it last night. I also now recall the film adaptation, Smooth Talk, starring Treat Williams and Laura Dern. I don't remember everything but I do know that it was sufficiently disturbing, and I most especially remember Laura Dern perfectly representing Connie's contradictory sultry side and innocence. Treat Williams was oddly charming but frightening. Unfortunately, that's all I can say about the film since it's been probably more than fifteen years since I watched it. I'll need to rent that one soon.

About the Author
With over fifty novels to her name, Joyce Carol Oates is an American writer and winner of the National Book Award for Them (1969), and nominated for the Pulitzer prize for three novels: Black Water (1992), What I Lived For (1994), and Blonde (2000). She has been a Professor at Princeton University since 1978.

Click here to visit the author on her website.

My final review for the RIP Challenge. You can read more reviews from participants by clicking here.


30 October 2011

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick

Were it not for a 1973 book by Michael Lesy entitled Wisconsin Death Trip, which showcased news reports and a collection of photographs that depicted the harsh Midwestern landscape and some of its residents who suffered mental illness, crime, and the claustrophobic effects of a winter that seems like it might never end, Robert Goolrick would never have found the inspiration to create a fictitious story of life in the frigid Wisconsin winter. I'll need to research Michael Lesy's book since it's clearly been influential for many. Not only has Wisconsin Death Trip been adapted into a film, there is also an album, and one of Stephen King's short stories, 1922, from the collection "Full Dark, No Stars" was also influenced by it.

It is 1907 and Catherine has arrived to Truitt, Wisconsin to marry Ralph Truitt, the namesake of the town and the man who owns everything in it. Everyone in the town works for him, and making money is both his work and his livelihood. He has no family to remember anymore, and Catherine is the start of a new life for him.

She will be his second wife, a wife he selected from hundreds of responses to an advertisement he placed in the paper. He's lived the past twenty years alone with regret, but he's always wanted a life like everyone else, a simple one in which he wakes up with a woman he loves and who loves him, and goes to sleep with her at night after making love. But this wish of a simple life may never be possible. He grew up with a religious fanatic who tormented him to show him what hell was like and he ended up marrying a woman who he caught cheating. He threw her out but kept their son, and beat him every day until he ran away.

Unbeknownst to him, Catherine isn't the innocent she's claimed to be. She brings a terrifying plan and secret that will ultimately put their arranged marriage to the ultimate challenge. While all of them are deplorable characters initially, it soon becomes clear that they are all just a product of their own difficult childhood. They've just made a sad mess of their adult lives.

At once quiet and thoughtful, exploring a different time and world, it is also loud, torrid and passionate. Frantic in its excesses of scene after scene of sex, it could be considered cheap and tasteless, the moments literally throbbing off the page with descriptions to make you blush. Instead, it provided harsh contrast to the quiet and brutal life in the wintery Midwest. Like the winter, sex is an important and symbolic part of the story. The primal passion ties Ralph's old life to his new one and while it could become tedious at times, I felt it made sense for the story's evolution.

What Robert Goolrick is trying to paint in this novel that was inspired by Wisconsin Death Trip (and I believe he succeeds) is the picture that life was extremely hard for those who suffered the Midwest winters over a hundred years ago, and that while horrible things happened, it was just part of life. The old adage of "it is what it is" seems appropriate. These tiny towns in America may have been unheard of on a map, but they carried the same tragedies as the big cities, and yet approached it with an almost quiet and clinical detachment. One spouse commits infidelity, another is murdered, and yet another family experiences a suicide. It is what it is. Funerals are attended, newspapers relay more horror, and the next day the town has yet another sad event to focus on.
For some, normal lives turned to nightmare. They starved to death in the horrible winters. They removed themselves from society and lived alone in ramshackle huts in the woods. They were found drooling and naked and were committed to the insane asylum at Mendota where they were wrapped in icy sheets and lashed with electrical currents until they could be restored to sanity and quietude. These things happened.
People either love or hate this book. I've found that when people hate it, it tends to be for one of two things (or both), which I can understand: Too much sex or choppy sentences. The argument for both is there since I thought there was a whole heck of a lot of intimacy described with everyone, but I never thought it was too much. The choppy sentences also were there, but I didn't find it troubling. In fact, there are several sections that are choppy, but actually blend fluidly. Here's an example of it, which I think works well:
They laughed. They spoke quietly, out of respect for what they know to be Ralph Truitt's failure. The train was late. They felt the snow in the air. They knew the blizzard would soon begin. Just as there was a day every spring when the women of the town, as though by some secret signal, appeared in their summer dresses before the first heat was felt, there was as well a day when winter showed the knife before the first laceration.
It's choppy, I know, but something about it resonates, particularly the comparison of when you first feel winter coming with "the knife before the first laceration."

With a marriage built on lies starting anew in a town that quietly accepts tragedy, A Reliable Wife is the stark and beautifully written story of life at the turn of the twentieth century. Taking the reader through Wisconsin and the seedy nightlife of St. Louis, Robert Goolrick's tale of two people and their hope for love, is haunting and compelling. I appreciated the writing and look forward to more from Robert Goolrick. I would recommend this in the printed version versus the audiobook, simply due to the sex. If you do listen to it, just remember to listen with your headphones on, or keep the windows up if you're in the car.

Fans of Patrick McGrath's modern Gothic stories, particularly Asylum, will like A Reliable Wife.

About the Author

Click here to visit the author on his website.
Click here to visit the author on Facebook.

This is my final selection for the RIP Challenge. You can read more RIP reviews from other participants by clicking here.


28 October 2011

The 1998 film What Dreams May Come starring Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. was one I enjoyed, but it was the cinematography that I loved the most. The images were so beautiful that it has become a film I've watched more than once. When I learned it was based on a book originally released in 1977, I figured I would download it. After I did more research, it was interesting to find the author was previously a horror writer and, at the time, was trying to separate himself from the genre.

In the book, Robert has a visitor at his door, who delivers a large envelope. In this, Robert finds a manuscript written by his brother Chris. Immediately dubious at the authenticity since Chris has passed away, the woman at the door explains that she spent the last six months writing down Chris' words and after reassuring him that she understands it might be unbelievable, it is, in fact, true. She leaves quickly, never giving her name or a way to contact her.

It is Chris' journey following death that is explained, in minute detail of his initial stumbles as a spirit who didn't  understand what happened. He doesn't grasp how he can be at his own funeral, or lay down next to his weeping wife, since he believes he's not dead. When it becomes too confusing and exhausting, he eventually cries for help. It's answered by Albert, a guide who begins to educate Chris on where he now is, and what he must do in order to achieve fulfillment in this afterlife. Albert brings him to Summerland and while it's not quite the heaven one might expect as there aren't any angels or harps, it instead is a sweeping landscape of beauty and nature, where colors are at their purest, and everything emits its own natural energy vibration that is pleasing to hear. The sky has no sun, yet is bright and clear; the rushing water in the lake is cool and refreshing, yet hands and clothes remain dry. It's a peacefulness that Chris has never experienced before. And I'll admit that when a dog begins to run toward him, a dog he and his wife Ann had in their earthly lives but had to put to sleep because of illness, I got a little choked up.

Chris, though, is still tethered to earth through his wife's despair and pain at his loss. Her grief ultimately keeps him connected, and he can't move on. It's when she commits a final act that determines her own fate, that Chris must travel to the deepest realms to save her soul.

What happens after we die?
I'm sure I'm not the only one who wonders what happens after death. Although several sources were used to build the foundation of the experience of death and the afterlife in What Dreams May Come, the book doesn't claim to be anything more than a story, and it's a pretty entertaining one. Bogged down by descriptions at times, but still good.

Surprisingly, I was not all that interested in the love between Chris and Ann, even though it's important to the story and I appreciated it in the film. In the book, though, I cared more about this particular version of life after death. I was fascinated by the idea that hell was a result of people limited by their minds in the afterlife. If they could only bring themselves out of the negativity they were surrounded by, and the despair and darkness, then they also could be in Summerland. Everywhere they looked, though, they were in a land with others who were also drowning in misery, so these poor souls couldn't conceive of anything more than sadness, hatred, and pain and were mired in this existence.

I also was more curious about the image of a house of rest, almost like a hospital in Summerland in which those who died by an act of violence or a lingering illness recuperated. Only when they acknowledged that they had passed on and could accept that they were able to now live without pain, could they really begin their new life. An interesting thought that new residents of Summerland still clung to their earthly existence, even if it was wracked with pain.

It's a good story and I enjoyed several aspects of it, but I found that I did get a little overwhelmed with so many of the descriptions of the love between Chris and Ann. It's pivotal to the story, but the flashbacks to moments in their life and expressions of devotion became tedious. In one defining moment towards the end, I was shocked at how many pages it was taking to fully express their connection. So, I quickly read those sections, to get to the ones that interested me more.

The book is a nice way to spend a couple of afternoons, though, and those who are interested in this version of an afterlife, or who struggle with what might be next, might like to spend some time reading this. Ultimately, I do recommend the film instead of the book simply because the images alone are brought to life much more. In my opinion, it was a story meant more for the eyes.

The movie follows the same story to a certain extent as the book. Even though several characters were changed, I could understand why it was done. It's the stunning visual imagery that I've always enjoyed, and here are a few pictures to give you an idea.
All Images from Blu-Ray.Com
All Images from Blu-Ray.Com
All Images from Blu-Ray.Com


26 October 2011

The Lantern Group Read, Final Discussion

I participated in the RIP Readalong and this is the final week of our discussion. As this post will contain spoilers in the Q&A section for those who have not read it, the opening paragraph below will be safe to read as it is an overview of the story, along with my initial thoughts and recommendations.

The premise of the story is told through alternating voices of two women on a small farm in Provence, the South of France, but in different times. In one, Bénédicte, shares her secrets and perspective of her life beginning in her child of the 1930s/1940s and in the other is Eve, our primary narrator in contemporary times who is a recent resident, moving in with her mysterious boyfriend Dom. A beautifully evocative story, previously mentioned that it has  been compared to Rebecca. After finishing The Lantern earlier today, I agree. There are mysteries within secrets, a beautiful home in a lush landscape, a love story that could be sinister, and more. At the height of this new love with Dom, they begin a life together in the summer, but when the weather changes, the hidden stories of Dom's previous life make Eve more curious, and the secret treasures found in the house don't convey the same sense of joy for her that she first felt when uncovering them before. There's more to the house, the previous tenants, and there's most assuredly something more with Dom, and Eve may not be comfortable with the truth.

A beautiful story, highly recommended to all who enjoy a story with atmosphere, mystery, and a Gothic tale. Fans of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova will enjoy this story. I look forward to more from this author.

Question & Answer
1. Now that it's all said and done, what did you think of the book? Did you see the ending coming?
-- I really did enjoy this book. It had all of the elements that I love about a book: a Gothic tale, heightened atmospheric setting in the South of France, beautifully described scents and images, and characters that had quite the stories to tell. While I didn't see the ending coming, I did initially suspect that there was something medically related to the story, but I instead felt that perhaps Eve had some form of a split personality and Bénédicte was one manifestation. After all, we know her name only as Eve, but we know it's not her real name, so couldn't that have been another personality? Or perhaps this name was chosen as some form of a Biblical clue, that Eve is telling us all lies and leading us down the wrong path. Part of me thinks I could argue it is a possibility, but I'm comfortable with the more grounded in reality ending of two separate people in different decades that intertwine with each other because of one house.

2. What did you think of the characters? Lawrenson took us on a twisty little ride there, I had trouble deciding who was good and who wasn't for a while! What do you think of Dom? Of Sabine? Rachel?
Surprisingly, the characters all end up exactly as we are initially introduced to them. While Dom's secrets are explained away, I still found him to be a bit mysterious and didn't trust the story all the way through. But I kept thinking that Eve gave us all of the facts for everything else, why couldn't she have provided us the evidence that Rachel really did die in that clinic? Somewhat odd, right? Rachel seemed to be a snake, but that was only if I believe Dom, and again, Eve never shared anything concrete that was proven that Rachel did die in the clinic (unless I missed an entire page or something...?) I still didn't like Sabine and thought she was someone who shouldn't be trusted. She's so shady with her interactions with Eve and I know that most of it is because Sabine may not have trusted Eve either, but still. I didn't like her that much in the end.

3. Pierre was such a conflicted character. In the end, do you think he killed Marthe and Annette, or did they fall to their deaths because of their blindness?
Oh, Pierre, that disgusting character. While I initially thought that Bénédicte killed Annette and Marthe and that would be the surprising twist, I completely believe after closing the final pages that Pierre was a sick man his whole life, brutally attacked Annette, and then killed her and Marthe. No doubt in my mind. Pierre was a beast of filth and in my reader's hope for revenge, I wished he met a much more appropriate passing than the seemingly easy one he ultimately experienced.

4. The book is being compared to Rebecca and Daphne du Maurier's writing. Do you think the book lives up to that description?
This is my only gripe, and it is minor. Perhaps it is because I read Rebecca so very recently a few weeks ago, that I didn't always care for the exact mentions of Du Maurier throughout The Lantern. I instead, preferred when Eve would allude to Du Maurier with similarities, but when one specific chapter started out with the exact opening of a Du Maurier short story, I was a little annoyed by it. (I'm referencing a chapter when the first sentence is Dom telling Eve "Don't look now," which is  also the title and opening sentence of Du Maurier's short story. Maybe I wouldn't have minded it as much if I had read Rebecca years ago and then read The Lantern now.

5. Did you have any problems with the book? Narration? Plot? The back and forth between two different characters and times?
I didn't mind the alternating perspectives of the two women or the plot. I enjoyed all of it quite a bit.

6. Do you think Lawrenson tied both stories together well in the end? Is there anything she could/should have done differently?
I do think both stories were tied well together, and the only thing I would have wished for more of were Rachel's articles, or maybe a few letters or newspaper clippings. I think the addition of more of that would have heightened the atmosphere and overall Gothic feel of the novel quite a bit. Ultimately though, I was satisfied with this story and thoroughly enjoyed it.

7. One problem I had with the novel was the reliability of the narrators. Do you think any of them were telling the truth? Which ones?
I actually didn't mind this. It lent to the overall uneasiness of the mysteries and ambiguity of the characters, which is part of the reason why I love these types of stories. More, please!

About the Author (from the book)
Deborah Lawrenson spent her formative years moving around the world with diplomatic service parents, living in Kuwait, China, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Singapore. She studied English at Cambridge University, and has worked as a journalist for various publications in England, including the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, and Woman's Journal magazine. She is married, with a daughter, and lives in Kent, England. She and her family spend as much time as possible at a crumbling hamlet in Provence, France, the setting for The Lantern.

The Lantern is her first novel to be published in the United States.

Click here to visit the author on her website.
Click here to visit the author on her blog.
Click here to visit the author on Facebook.

This is the final discussion installment for Peril of the Group Read. Click here to see other thoughts for the book.


25 October 2011

Let the Right One In (Book to Film Review)

(This review will contain a few spoilers for those who haven't read the book or viewed the film. I will denote these sections with an asterisk *).

Oh, dear. Movies. They can never quite adapt a book to the big screen just right. They always skimp on the important stuff.

Because this was the Swedish version, and I have enjoyed their films considerably, I was confident that combined with the book's story, it was going to be a fright night beyond compare. The long and short of it, though? It was good. Not great. Not knock your socks off fantastic. Nowhere near as gory as the book. It was just... decent.

A few weeks ago, I read Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist and loved it. LOVED it. Read it in a couple days and looked over my shoulder every few minutes when I was alone and the house was quiet. When my dog and cat perked up at absolutely nothing in a corner, I was a wee bit nervous.

Here's the premise: A young girl is a vampire and lives with an older man who assists her blood diet by helping to kill people. She's about twelve-years-old (for a long time, of course) and befriends the next door neighbor, Oskar, who is always bullied. They develop the friendship that each of them sorely need and have been lacking their whole lives.

But the young girl is a vampire and she's brutal. She smells, she looks horrific when she kills, and innocent people do die when she needs to feed. No glitter and sparkle here.

To be clear, the book could occasionally approach troubling subjects in a a quieter and more thoughtful way. Bullies, feeling alone and isolated within your family, child abuse, murder, etc., etc. It didn't always deal with the vampire world, but the primary story was that Oskar's new friend led a horrible life and yet somehow she and Oksar had a lot in common.

We all know that the movie version of a book is never quite up to par, but sometimes, you just hold out hope that it will be. My hopes, however, were dashed and I was particularly upset with one aspect that only those who have read the book would know: *The older man the vampire lives with is a disgusting filthy abuser of children in the book, but in the movie, there is no mention of how horrible this person is. I struggled with accepting this difference and I do realize I should separate the two differing mediums as individual creative outlets of one story, but I was challenged in accepting this change in character. I could not look kindly upon this man, although I tried to separate it. Not to mention, this character goes through multiple scenes of gore and fright which are separate from this awful aspect that were completely horrifying, and for a film that was supposed to be classified as horror, it didn't tap into really any of these spine-tingling moments.

Oh, and the bullies? In the book, they were brutal but had a back story. In the film, they were less in brutality with no explanations so it's difficult to understand why a brother of one of the bullies shows up to deliver to Oskar what he feels is appropriate justice. It doesn't make sense. It's pretty clear in the book why he's there, but if you haven't read it, you have to create a reason for why he is there.

The film missed out on another valuable and enriching story with a boy named Tommy who also feels alone in his life, with his friends, and with family. His mother is dating a fairly annoying police officer who is investigating the crimes of horrific death that the vampire and the man she's living with are perpetrating. This storyline is significant to the conclusion, yet Tommy doesn't exist in the movie.

*And the scene when the cats attack Virginia? Oh, my goodness, the special effects were lacking.*

And here's the main thing. It's just a really, really quiet film. There's a lot of deep silence, meaningful looks at corners of a room, but the blood-curdling and truly frightening moments of the book are either wiped out in the film version, or they are included only to occasionally draw quiet reflection over...being a vampire. The true conflicts that the regular child and adult deal with are missed out on in the film It's just...quiet.

It was good, not great. Maybe I should rephrase and instead determine that, in my honest opinion, it was just all right.

For those who haven't read the book, you might like it, but don't expect a lot of stuff to happen. It's quiet. For those who have read the book, you probably won't like it.

This is my first selection for the RIP Challenge Peril of the Screen. You can read more RIP reviews from other participants by clicking here


I'm considering reading this one. This was published in 1997 and I always enjoyed the premise of the 1998 movie, What Dreams May Come, starring Robin Williams, Annabella Sciorra, and Cuba Gooding, Jr., but I particularly loved the beautiful visual effects within the film. What do you think? Have you read this one?

"Begin at the beginning" is the phrase. I cannot do that. I begin at the end - the conclusion of my life on earth. I present it to you as it happened - and what happened afterward.

A note about the text. You have to read my writing, Robert. This account may seem unlike it. The reason - I am limited by my transcriber. My thoughts must travel through her mind. I cannot surmount that. All the grains will not pass through the filter. Understand if I appear to oversimplify. Especially at first.

Both of us are doing the best we can.

First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly feature hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea. To participate, share your selection from the book you're reading.


24 October 2011

'Salem's Lot, by Stephen King

My new love affair with early Stephen King begins, dear friends. I downloaded a version of 'Salem's Lot onto my Nook last week, and although it was long, never once did I wish the story would end. Not even in the scarier spots.

In traditional Stephen King fashion, a small town becomes a central character in a story of growing isolation and darkness, with a sinister presence becoming more malevolent and evil than town residents could ever imagine. It's this that becomes the springboard for 'Salem's Lot, a small town in Maine, known formally as Jerusalem's Lot, and where Ben Mears returns to his boyhood home to conquer his old nightmare of one particular house. The Marsten house, so named because of a murder/suicide that ocurred in the 1930s, hasn't been inhabited for decades until Straker and Barlow arrive one day to open an antique shop. While Straker is an odd man, tall and skinny with long fingers and white bald head, Barlow's absence is explained away with an antique buying trip in New York.

Ben Mears' return to 'Salem's Lot is simply to pursue his demons and exorcise a terrifying childhood event from his memory of the Marsten House. He's a young writer with a few small novels published, and his hope is to write away the awful moment he can never seem to rid his nightmares of. He certainly didn't anticipate what he was returning to, since after all, the world of evil is never really gone, only waiting for another chance to rise. I sort of think it trembles in a half-sleep.

And while the town begins to feel the breathing underbelly of terror, beginning with the disappearance of Ralphie Glick and the death of his brother, Danny, a cast of characters flesh out the novel that at its core include the newly returned Ben; Matt Burke, a soon-to-retire high school teacher; Jimmy Cody, the town doctor; Father Callahan, the Catholic priest struggling with his faith and the bottle; and Mark, the twelve-year-old boy whose combination of bookish intelligence and street smarts leads him to beat the bully on the blacktop at recess. The realization of what wakes up only at night in 'Salem's Lot bands this core team to roust out the evil to try to save the town from it, and sometimes, from themselves.

My childhood started in the early '70s but I was a product of the '80s so imagine my thoughts of the previous decade: The early 1970s America sees the coming end of the Vietnam conflict, the Manson murders, and is just now taking seriously that doors really do need to be locked. It seems to be a world primed for the acceptance of true horror in movies and books, not just gory slasher flicks. Stephen King, in his newly found fame with his only ever other published book to date at the time, Carrie, releases another horror story centered around a "what if." What if the villain of Bram Stoker's world came to modern day America? And with the help of his wife's suggestion of a vampire not arriving in a thriving metropolitan city, but rather in a sleepy little town in New England, Stephen King's imagination began to take over. And his vampire isn't charming Dracula, slowly sipping at a victim's veins, as he describes it in his Afterword; instead it is mindless and brutal, the stench announcing its presence far sooner than the literal image before you.

While this is an expertly refined horror story, it's one that must also be remembered for King's incredible writing. This version includes an excellent Introduction and Afterword by King, along with the inclusion of deleted passages, which I enjoyed. The story itself is a long one, and on my Nook it reached almost 500 pages (screens?), so I can imagine what actual printed pages might amount to but never once did I wish it would hurry along. Never once did I think towards the last fifty or so pages that "it's good but it feels like it's never going to end," as I can sometimes do with a chunkster of a book. There are newspaper clippings sprinkled at the beginning and at the end, along with diary entries and letters, but the meat of the story is its action and emotion with the core team and the rest of the townspeople. It's King's storytelling of the average and regular day of random residents that make this story tinge on the possibility of reality. Not only can he evoke the spine-tingling shiver of the image of darkness, but he can also make my heart heavy when reading of certain characters' passings. I gripped the pages with sadness towards the end for a character I would probably call a friend had I known him in real life, and as he boarded a bus to leave the town never to come back, I thought long and hard how he may have fared.

And yes, Stephen King draws on the fear that children will have. Often debated by experts that a child's fear is based on their imagination because they don't know any better yet, others hold firm to the belief that children have a fear of the things that go bump in the night because their innocence has not yet been tainted by the cynicism of adulthood. It's this naivete that makes them more aware of what could be real, more knowledgeable, of the very things that we as adults shrug off and explain away with what we think is more logical.

I would imagine that by now it's clear how much I recommend this book. But if it's not, below I leave you with some of my favorite passages, further evidence of King's magical pen. Horror he may be known for, but it is his writing that will truly be his legacy:
(Nook, location 193) Maybe they were peering out at you with yellow reptilian eyes. And maybe one night watching would not be enough; maybe some night that splintered, crazily hung door would be thrown open, and what you saw standing there would drive you to lunacy at one look. And you couldn't explain that to your mother and father, who were creatures of the light. No more than you could explain to them how, at the age of three, the spare blanket at the foot of the crib turned into a collection of snakes that lay staring at you with flat and lidless eyes. No child ever conquers those fears, he thought. If a fear cannot be articulated, it can't be conquered. And the fears locked in small brains are much too large to pass through the orifice of the mouth. Sooner or later you found someone to walk past all the deserted meetinghouses you had to pass between grinning babyhood and grunting senility. Until tonight. Until tonight when you found out that none of the old fears had been staked - only tucked away in their tiny, child-sized coffins with a wild rose on top.
(Nook, location 277) Before drifting away entirely, he found himself reflecting - not for the first time - on the peculiarity of adults. They took laxatives, liquor, or sleeping pills to drive away their terrors so that sleep would come, and their terrors were so tame and domestic: the job, the money, what the teacher will think if I can't get Jennie nicer clothes, does my wife still love me, who are my friends. They were pallid compared to the fears every child lies cheek and jowl with in his dark bed, with no one to confess to in hope of perfect understanding but another child. There is no group therapy or psychiatry or community social services for the child who must cope with the thing under the bed or in the cellar every night, the thing which leers and capers and threatens just beyond the point where vision will reach. The same lonely battle must be fought night after night and the only cure is the eventual ossification of the imaginary faculties, and this is called adulthood.
(Nook, location 339) At three in the morning the blood runs slow and thick, and slumber is heavy. The soul either sleeps in blessed ignorance of such an hour or gazes about itself in utter despair. There is no middle ground. At three in the morning the gaudy paint is off that old whore, the world, and she has no nose and a glass eye. Gaiety becomes hollow and brittle, as in Poe's castle surrounded by the Red Death. Horror is destroyed by boredom. Love is a dream.
About the Author

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty novels, including The Stand, The Dark Tower, It, The Shining, oh...what more can be written that one doesn't already know? So here you go, click here to visit this cool author's official website.

One more thing, ladies and gents: He has a new book coming out November 8, 2011. Click here to pre-order 11/22/63 from IndieBound. The lead off for the book is: "The day Kennedy was shot...the day that changed the world...what if you could change it?"

And this is my recent selection (my 8th choice?) for the RIP Challenge. You can read more RIP reviews from other participants by clicking here.


23 October 2011

Well, in a week that saw everything from yet another pronouncement of the end of the world, Gaddafi's death which finalized the end of a 42-year reign of terror, and waking up this morning to news that sometime today, a satellite will be reentering the earth's atmosphere to crash somewhere over China (they think), I'd say it's been pretty busy.

On a more local and personal news front (and probably less exciting for you, but certain thrills for me), it's been a week of the past being discovered. I've run along and found the original Upstairs, Downstairs British TV series to while away my time, which is wonderfully fantastic, even if it is a bit dry due to the fact that it was filmed in the early 1970s, and well, we all know how some shows were written back then. There's a gazillion seasons of it, but I wanted to watch the first one or two before downloading the recent PBS remake of it featuring some pretty fantastic actors.

And to top it all off this week, I discovered (for myself, of course), Mr. Stephen King.

Silly, silly me. I read one short story from Stephen King in the early '90s, didn't like it, and wrote everything else off my entire life. I have been without for far too long, Sir Stephen, and I beg you for forgiveness.

I know I'm way behind the gravy train on this one, but I finally hunkered down and read The Colorado Kid, a novella that one of my favorite TV shows, Haven, is based on. Now, mind you, as you may have read in my review, the novella and the TV show are not tied to each other, and the ending of The Colorado Kid wasn't the most sufficient for me. It was King's Afterword, however, that made me forgive it considerably and then, with the urging of Boarding in My Forties' post on reading scary goodness, I decided to download 'Salem's Lot. I've been sufficiently creeped out this week and enjoying every second of it.

So while I'd love to chit chat away with you all, I need to get back to reading Mr. King and finishing The Lantern for the RIP read-along. I leave you with this picture of a truck in Virginia and I ask that you add whatever word needs to be added to make it a complete sentence. While hunting may be this random girl's "thing," the proper usage of "to" and "too" certainly isn't... (I mean, if you're going to put it on a bumper sticker, you should probably do the double- and triple-checking thing, right?)
Girls Hunt To...Please? Oh, you meant "too!"


22 October 2011

Saturday Snapshot...Behind-the-Scenes...

My sister is an accomplished photographer and I had the good fortune to help her out last week to take a picture at a local air base. I love this picture of her taking shot after shot!

For more of this week's Saturday Snapshots, visit Alyce with At Home With Books.


19 October 2011

Just concluding its second season on the SyFy Channel, Haven has developed a strong and loyal group of fans who are transfixed each Friday to their TVs. Some are former X-Files fans who have been hopping around from show to show and finally feel they have something that is rockin' their paranormal socks off like Mulder and Scully did in the 1990s. While Haven is no X-Files, I proudly claim myself a fan. I've heard I might be missing out on Fringe or Eureka, but Haven is the odd, creepy, and humorous show that grabbed me from the start.

Audrey Parker is an FBI agent with a questionable past who arrives in Haven, a small town in New England, on a random case and comes across a photograph from twenty or thirty years before featuring an unnamed woman who looks a lot like her. Obviously it's the mother she's never known and Audrey decides to remain in town to uncover this mystery. She soon learns that the town has its own secret with "The Troubles," which are paranormal events that crop up every few years, tormenting those who are afflicted. With Nathan, the town cop, to Duke the shady criminal slowly getting away from his own past, and Vince and Dave, two crotchety old curmudgeons that seem to have a little bit of insight into everything, the town's "troubles" slowly come to light and become the very "thing" they have to battle. While other people may be affected by The Troubles, Audrey is the only one who isn't and it's this immunity that helps to fight and/or cure those who are afflicted.

The show is loosely based on Stephen King's short story, The Colorado Kid. And after finishing the story last night, loosely based is exactly how to describe its association with the TV show. In fact, I have no idea how that book led to the TV show at all. I'm glad it did, but I am scratching my head and still wondering how it all came about.

With The Colorado Kid, Stephen King's novella takes place in Moose Lookit Island off the coast of Maine. Steffi, a young intern who is spending the summer working at the town newspaper (run by Vince and Dave, who are the only two characters in the story that are on the show), is having lunch with them at The Grey Gull (okay, that's also in the show) along with a reporter from the Boston Globe. The Globe reporter is trying to get a series of feature stories to run in anticipation of the spooky Halloween season and is disappointed that the stories he hears from Vince and Dave are ones he's already heard before. But it's when he leaves that Steffi probes more with the two old guys and finally gets them to tell her a story that has, twenty-five years later, still haunted them.

A mystery it is, but a full story, it isn't. A dead guy on a beach, a Russian coin, and a pack of smokes is all that's on him. He's a John Doe for sixteen months before he gets identified but no one understands why this guy from Colorado is found dead in Maine. No business or personal reason brought him out there, nor do any financial transactions show how he got there. He's just dead on a beach and that's all there is to it.

However, let's face it, Stephen King is usually a pretty good storyteller and through the voices of Vince and Dave, he doesn't really fail on this one. I write really because some will definitely argue that there isn't a story with this one, and they might be right. If you're looking for that literary bow to tie this one all up and give you that a-ha moment, it's not going to happen. It's, as King writes it in his afterword, more about the fact that all of us enjoy a good mystery in life, whether we end up finding the answer or not. And isn't that true? No one really knows if UFOs are either piloted by little green men or if the military is having a good ole chuckle every time they test new spacecraft, but either way, we thrive off these "what ifs." We like to toss our theories around and see what feels right. That's what The Colorado Kid does. It's a simple reminder that sometimes we just like to be told a good story, even if the ending is whatever we make it out to be.

But if you're a Haven fan looking to see how the TV show came about, forget it. Save for two characters, a bar, and a closed off town to outsiders, there's really nothing to tie one to the other.


18 October 2011

First Chapter, First Paragraph

After deciding he would get nothing of interest from the two old men who comprised the entire staff of The Weekly Islander, the feature writer from the Boston Globe took a look at his watch, remarked that he could just make the one-thirty ferry back to the mainland if he hurried, thanked them for their time, dropped some money on the tablecloth, weighted it down with the salt shaker so the stiffish onshore breeze wouldn't blow it away, and hurried down the stone steps from The Grey Gull's patio dining area toward Bay Street and the little town below. Other than a few cursory gleeps at her breasts, he hardly noticed the young woman sitting between the two old men at all.

First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is a weekly feature hosted byBibliophile by the Sea. To participate, share your selection from the book you're reading.


17 October 2011

The Lantern Group Read, Catching Up

I'm quite behind on The Lantern Group Read for the RIP Challenge, but in my zeal to catch up, I thought I'd post my answers to the questions that Carl, Heather, and Kailana have coordinated. My fellow blog readers know that I've had a teensy bit of work that has gotten in the way of reading these past two weeks, so apologies all around and please beware: Should you continue reading this post and you've not yet read The Lantern, you may be dangerously walking through *spoiler* minefields...otherwise, enjoy!

The Lantern is a gloriously descriptive book that has been compared to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (and it even mentions the esteemed writer) set in the lush Provence landscape. Although it is firmly planted in contemporary times through the eyes of Eve as she settles into a beautiful home in the lavender fields of France with a mysterious man named Dom, the story alternates with Bénédicte, a woman who grew up in the very same farmhouse.

Week 1 & 2 Questions

Week 1:
Question: This may seem like an obvious question, but what do you think of The Lantern thus far?
Answer: I absolutely love it. The haunting storyline, the subtle secrets, the sometimes abrupt chapter and section endings that act as just the right cliffhanger to get me to the next section...I am enjoying the ride of this book so far and at the risk of getting ahead of myself, I'm fairly certain I will be a bit sad when the story concludes

Question: The book appears to be following the experiences of two different women, alternating back and forth between their stories. Are you more fond of our main protagonist's story or of Bénédicte's, or are you enjoying them both equally?
Answer: Frankly, I'm enjoying them both. While a little jarring when I realized that it alternated between the two characters (the chapters do not denote who is speaking), I found that both offered a mystery and intrigue that kept me moving quickly from page to page. I'm horrified by some of the events that Bénédicte has to deal with when it comes to her brother Pierre, and then am caught up in Eve's lack of initial curiosity into Dom's secrets. I was initially annoyed with Eve to move in so quickly with a man she barely knows so far away from all that she is familiar with, but that was it. Just a trite annoyance with her before finding that she really was quite an interesting individual who was more caught up in the heady romance of it all.

Question: The Lantern is a book filled with descriptions of scents. How are you liking (or disliking) that aspect of the book? How do you feel about the lavish description of scents? How are the short chapters working for you?
Answer: At the risk of also getting caught up in it all, I am drawn to the description of scents and their lingering effects on the characters. While there are many, it's written beautifully so that you're taken by it all and not overwhelmed by it. I'm someone who can get easily overwhelmed in a flower shop by all of the scents fighting for dominance, and oftentimes I have to leave after a few minutes, but the book doesn't remind me of those moments. Instead, it makes me think of exactly what is being described: Dreamy landscapes of demure aromas.

The short chapters are fantastic. I don't know about anyone else but this makes it so much easier for me to move quickly through the story.

Question: How would you describe the atmosphere of Parts 1 & 2 of The Lantern?
Answer: Gothic, quiet and haunting. There is a melancholic undertone, but a creepy thriller is moving unobtrusively in the middle of it all. I'm confident that it's going to be quite a shock (fingers crossed).

Question: Has anything surprised you to this point? Anything stand out?
Answer: I mentioned this above, but what Pierre does to Benedicte is horrifying. I hated every moment of it and I have no idea what's going to happen next with him and her.

Question: What are your feelings about Dom in these first two sections of the story?
Answer: I'm a little annoyed but intrigued with his character. I'm not sure how bad he truly is, but I'm disappointed that we aren't quite getting a sense of how charming he truly is, that could take this quiet woman and magically sweep her off her feet and take her to a small farmhouse in the middle of France. I'm only told that Eve's madly in love with him, but I don't quite feel how she could be.

Bonus Question: Did anyone else hear "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" ringing in their ears through the first sections of the book?
Answer: Since I just concluded reading Rebecca a few weeks ago for the RIP Challenge, the sounds of Rebecca were still resonating with me. While at first I enjoyed it, now I'm not sure how I feel about when Rebecca is actually mentioned in the storyline and that a chapter also starts out with an actual title of a Du Maurier short story when Dom tells Eve, "Don't look now."

Week 2:
Question: The title of this book is The Lantern, and a lantern makes an appearance in both of the stories. In Bénédicte's past, it had a meaning, but what do you think the lantern signifies in her future and in Eve's story?
Answer: I'm not sure just yet. I'm thinking that perhaps it might be something as obvious as that it draws one out of darkness into the light of understanding, but that is only a hasty guess. Another part of me wonders how it might relate to Marthe's blindness and if it's those gifted with sight who need to see something visually in order to follow it and find the truth, whereas it seems Marthe might already know all of the answers.

Question: Carl mentioned scents in last week's questions, but they have been addressed even more in these sections. What significance do you think scents have in this story overall?
Answer: Bénédicte mentioned that when one of the senses is lost, the others are heightened. It seems that this is what continues to keep Marthe grounded, keeping her present and ever connected to the land around the farmhouse. I'm enjoying the descriptions considerably.

Question: What do you think of the combining storyline of Marthe. She connects Bénédicte, Eve, and Rachel. What do you think will be revealed about this connection in the next sections?
Answer: I confess. Don't laugh, however...I have a really odd thought that there is a serious scientific or medical connection between Rachel and Eve and I don't want to reveal too much now because part of me think it is silly, but part of me doesn't want to give anything away to the group read participants if I'm right. But I think it is so odd that both Rachel and Eve have the same interest in writing about Marthe's life. I'm trying to be practical about it all, when it very well is not grounded in anything rational or medical, but these multiple coincidences layered within it all are making me wander down the path of one particular conclusion...

Question: Now that things are moving along, what do you think of the characters? Are any standing out for you? Do you particularly like any? Dislike any?
Answer: I dislike Pierre, and Sabine is starting to make me mad. Spit it out! What do you want to share with Eve that you are holding back on? You're being tough enough to take her to places one on one, why not spill whatever it is you are so dying to ask or share?

Question: Lastly, what do you think of this book overall? Other than for the read-along, why are you reading it? Is it meeting your expectations?
Answer: Other than my red-faced pseudo-confession above on what I think might be the ultimate case with this story, I'm enjoying this Gothic and haunting tale and am eagerly awaiting what each chapter reveals. I'm reading this because I've heard so many wonderful things about it, but because it's also the type of story I like to read. Recently, I made a decision that I would change the type of books I'm reading to be exactly the type of categories that I like instead of just reading anything, and I've been enjoying my reading much more now. This is reminiscent of Rebecca and The Thirteenth Tale, and while there are no vampires, I do think it has the same haunting feel that made me love The Historian so much. After this, I might dive into some Wilkie Collins just to keep the Gothic ride going.

I'm participating in the Peril of the Group Read for the RIP Challenge. Click here to see other thoughts for the book.


16 October 2011

The Sunday Salon...Downton Abbey, anyone?

What a busy week. I spent four days in Boulder, Colorado for work, reviewing among other things, the correct way to present before a group. Some subjects were already something we knew, but it's always good to be reminded of how to build that structured format to effectively communicate. I do need a lot of help with it, since in a social setting I'm comfortable, but stand me up in front of a group of people and speak? That makes me nervous. I have to overcome this soon especially considering we have a huge presentation coming up in three weeks in Chicago. Any tips? Books, breathing, or hypnotheraphy?

I'm behind on posting for the RIP readalong of The Lantern because of the business trip but I'm not behind on reading. What an excellent book! Deborah Lawrensen has a superb ability to describe the lush Provence landscape and weave in the creepy haunting of previous tenants of the beautiful home that she's living in with Dom, a man who has his own secrets. It's exactly the type of book to read as the cooler months come upon us.

I did download onto my iPad the movie Jane Eyre for the flight to Colorado. And while I know that it's received mixed reviews, I really enjoyed it. The cast was fantastic and it was shot beautifully. I'll need to post my review for the RIP Challenge's Peril on the Screen.
And thanks to Jenn aka the picky girl, I went ahead and also downloaded Downton Abbey, featured on PBS' Masterpiece series and is currently in its second season. It will be available for Americans to watch in January 2012. Let me not shout this too loudly, but...I LOVE THIS SHOW. Fellow addicts Dolce Bellezza and Lakeside Musing and I tweeted this week on our love for the show and cannot wait for the return of next season. A brilliant show that begins in 1912 and and watches the lives of the wealthy family of Downton and their servants, there were only seven episodes for season one. I watched it all within two days. Beautiful set, wardrobe, hair, add to the ensemble cast which includes everyone from Elizabeth McGovern to Maggie Smith (Harry Potter!).  If you like historical fiction, or even just an incredible story line with a variety of characters, you really should rent or download this series right away. You'll be addicted.

Are there other shows similar to Downton Abbey that I should watch?