51hdTqS3nLA bril­liant and mes­mer­iz­ing novel by John Lan­gan, THE FISH­ER­MAN begins as a tale of two wid­ow­ers and their attempts to come to terms with unimag­in­able grief. The nar­ra­tor, Abe, lost his wife to can­cer some years ear­lier; his friend Dan’s loss is more recent and, arguably, more bru­tal. Next to friend­ship, fish­ing is the great­est gift Abe has to offer Dan. In the search for new places to try their luck, Dan comes up with Dutchman’s Creek, which omi­nously enough, seems not to exist on any map and fig­ures promi­nently in local lore.

Here Lan­gan diverges from his orig­i­nal plot and goes into a lengthy, some­times mean­der­ing story told by the owner of a diner where Dan and Abe stop on their way to Dutchman’s Creek; it’s a dark tale of sor­cery and the fate of a man named Rainer and sets the back­ground for what is to come.

With the his­tory of Dutchman’s Creek estab­lished, Lan­gan returns to Dan and Abe, their bat­tle against the Fish­er­man, and the cos­mic forces in league against them. Here Lan­gan sweeps the reader into a mythic realm of mon­strous sea crea­tures, sur­real seascapes, and shapeshifters capa­ble of chang­ing from hideous denizens of the deep into that for which the men might sell their very souls.

Even with its fan­tas­tic imagery of a creek flow­ing through hell itself, THE FISH­ER­MAN tran­scends genre. Above all, it remains a very human story of loss, friend­ship, and redemp­tion that is sure to cap­ti­vate a wide vari­ety of readers.

1437719821Char­lotte Wood’s new novel, a tale of bru­tal misog­yny set in the Aus­tralian out­back, is both riv­et­ting and, at times, almost painfully intense. Ten young women are drugged, impris­oned, and forced to toil at back­break­ing labor under the super­vi­sion of two men, one a not-​too-​bright yoga prac­ti­tioner (when he isn’t play­ing at prison guard), the other a sadist obsessed with which of the women he’d rape should his mys­te­ri­ous ‘boss’ give him the go-​ahead.

The reader soon learns that each of the cap­tives has some­how trans­gressed the soci­etal rules gov­ern­ing the proper con­duct for women, espe­cially in mat­ters sex­ual. One slept with a priest, another took part in an orgy, yet another had the mis­for­tune to be gang­banged. Wood focuses on two of the women, the brainy Verna, who tries to believe she is ‘dif­fer­ent’ and that her lover Andrew will even­tu­ally res­cue her, and the wily, phys­i­cally pow­er­ful Yolanda, who knows full well no one com­ing to save her and, over time, returns to a feral state, hunt­ing rab­bits and dream­ing of “push­ing her sharp teeth through the soft belly flesh of a zebra”.

Wood’s writ­ing is vivid and often lyri­cal, as when she describes a mag­i­cal inva­sion of hun­dreds of kan­ga­roos, who bound across the camp in ‘thump­ing syn­co­pa­tion” or a flock of cock­a­toos that resem­ble “white laun­dry on a line.” Even in scenes involv­ing great suf­fer­ing, both human and ani­mal, her prose often cap­tures a kind of tran­scen­dent beauty.

As pow­er­ful and dis­turb­ing as this novel is, how­ever, I must admit I found the end­ing dis­ap­point­ing. The image of the women swoon­ing over designer bags and lav­ish make-​up prod­ucts, items that were tro­phy pos­ses­sions in their old lives, rang false to me. On the other hand, given the soci­ety in which we live, I can see how oth­ers might find Wood’s end­ing not only shock­ing but utterly satisfying.

Def­i­nitely a book that needs to be read and dis­cussed by women and men alike.

witchcraft and madness in a small townHEX is the first of Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s five nov­els to be trans­lated into Eng­lish, a pow­er­ful and riv­et­ing tale of witch­craft and a town’s slow and ghastly descent into madness.

In 1664 Kather­ine van Wyler was forced to kill her own child and then sen­tenced to death for witch­craft in the Hud­son Val­ley town of Black Spring – a crime the towns­peo­ple have been pay­ing for ever since. Katherine’s ghost pops up every­where, in the midst of a town fes­ti­val, at the bed­side of a child, in plain view on Main Street. She makes for a pathetic fig­ure, bound in iron chains, her mouth and eyes sewn shut to pre­vent her from caus­ing more havoc.

Yet havoc she does cause. Res­i­dents of Black Spring may leave the town for short dura­tions, but for those that linger too long in the out­side world, the urge for sui­cide becomes over­pow­er­ing. You buy a house in Black Spring, as one newly arrived cou­ple learns, you never get to leave.

Teenager Tyler Grant finds the lim­i­ta­tions of life in Black Spring intol­er­a­ble. He recruits some friends, includ­ing one bud­ding sociopath, to help him post videos of the witch on the inter­net, thus vio­lat­ing Black Spring’s most pow­er­ful taboo – thou shalt not let the out­side world know about the witch. What begins as lit­tle more than a prank unleashes an ever-​widening cir­cle of hell, one that sweeps Tyler and his fam­ily up in a hor­rific chain of events.

Heuvelt rewrote the Dutch ver­sion of HEX for an Amer­i­can audi­ence, chang­ing the set­ting to the Hud­son Val­ley and, accord­ing to the author, writ­ing a new and even more shock­ing end­ing. What­ever the lan­guage, it’s a chill­ing novel on many lev­els – from cruel sev­en­teenth cen­tury cus­toms to a har­row­ing and deeply dis­turb­ing vision of human nature.

horror fictionThere are many ways a nov­el­ist can write about the unrav­el­ing of civ­i­lized impulses, but for sheer hor­ror, noth­ing rivals the LORD OF THE FLIES-​style bar­barism of the young and ‘inno­cent’, who we may naively imgaine have not yet attained their full capac­ity for sadism.

In James Newman’s riv­et­ing ODD MAN OUT, the degen­er­a­tion into sav­agery takes place at the Black Moun­tain Camp for Boys, where Den­nis Munce, the fifteen-​year-​old nar­ra­tor, has been deposited by his globe-​trotting par­ents. His one friend is the shy and effem­i­nate Wes­ley West­more, who becomes the tar­get of relent­less bul­ly­ing. At first Munce tells him­self the name-​calling and crude homo­pho­bic jokes are not seri­ous: after all “it was all in fun. Just words.” But as the abuse esca­lates, he’s torn between his own inher­ent decency and the urge for self-​preservation.

With two camp coun­selors side­lined due to a car acci­dent, the boys are basi­cally unsu­per­vised. Munce fan­ta­sizes about tak­ing a heroic stand against the psy­cho­pathic pack leader, but when his own safety is on the line, the choice is clear: “Stand­ing up to a bully in defense of a friend meant sign­ing your own death warrant.”

Years after the week at Black Moun­tain Camp, Munce still strug­gles with what hap­pened and tries in small ways to make up for his com­plic­ity in the tragedy. But can he ever really atone?

ODD MAN OUT is cer­tainly a page-​turner, but make no mis­take: it’s not only engross­ing, but deeply disturbing.

51QThEzR7eL. AC US160 Is the same man who risked his life to save a friend dur­ing the Viet­nam War also capa­ble of rap­ing and mur­der­ing a fourteen-​year-​old girl? Does one act of herosim make impos­si­ble the one of sav­agery? Or is char­ac­ter so fluid and per­son­al­ity so elas­tic that any­one may be capa­ble of anything?

These are some of the ques­tions col­lege stu­dent Joe Tal­bert finds him­self deal­ing with when he opts to ful­fill an Eng­lish assign­ment by inter­view­ing and writ­ing a biog­ra­phy about Carl Iver­son, con­victed mur­derer, now an old man dying of can­cer in a nurs­ing home. Joe’s bur­dens extend far beyond the aca­d­e­mic ones: his alco­holic mother spins in and out of his life like a recur­ring car crash, leav­ing Joe to take care of his autis­tic brother Jeremy.

At first, much of Joe’s inter­est in Iver­son lies in the fact that a pretty neigh­bor, Lila Nash, finds the case fas­ci­nat­ing, but lit­tle by lit­tle, he comes to ques­tion Iverson’s guilt. With his mother in a down­ward spi­ral, Joe also has to decide just how much he’s will­ing to sac­ri­fice for his brother. Eskens’ nar­ra­tive is grip­ping, his char­ac­ters endowed with all the frail­i­ties and con­tra­dic­tions of human nature. By the end, I found myself root­ing for a happy out­come for both Joe and Jeremy, who despite his men­tal chal­lenges, helps Joe and Lila uncode a diary that’s vital to Iverson’s case.

By the final chap­ters of the book, the plot twists ratchet up the sus­pense as Joe makes a har­row­ing escape from the clutches of a reli­gious zealot and Lila faces an even dead­lier threat from an unex­pected source. The end­ing may strike some read­ers as a bit too ‘sto­ry­book’, but after every­thing Joe, Lila, and Jeremy have been through, I found it satisfying.

Although THE LIFE WE BURY was pub­lished in 2014, I dis­cov­ered it only recently. Hav­ing read it, now I’m eager to begin read­ing Eskens’ other novels.

the vegetarian han kangThis remark­able, even mes­mer­iz­ing, novel was first pub­lished in South Korea nearly a decade ago, where it became an inter­na­tional best­seller. Only recently has the book gained wide acclaim in this coun­try, after being trans­lated by British trans­la­tor Deb­o­rah Smith.

While not hor­ror in the tra­di­tional sense, THE VEG­E­TAR­IAN con­tains plenty of sur­real images and graphic, often dis­turb­ing vio­lence and sex. Yeong-​hye is a melan­choly and sub­mis­sive house­wife whose bland life is upended when dread­ful dreams of butchered ani­mals drive her to throw out all the meat in the freezer and announce that she is hence­forth veg­e­tar­ian. This seem­ingly innocu­ous deci­sion sends her rigidly tra­di­tional fam­ily into a tailspin.

Clearly the social mores of Yeong-hye’s world con­strain females to a lesser sta­tus. Her author­i­tar­ian father, in a fit of rage, tries to force pork into her mouth. Tellingly, when Yeong-​hye snatches up a knife, it’s not to fend off his brutish attack, but to slash her own wrists.

The book is told in three sec­tions, the first nar­rated by Yeong-hye’s clue­less and indif­fer­ent hus­band, the sec­ond by her smit­ten brother-​in-​law, the third by her sis­ter, who strug­gles to save Yeong-​hye and keep the fam­ily together. Yeong-hye’s own voice is sel­dom heard, as she retreats more deeply into a delu­sional world of silence and self-​starvation.

Tube-​fed in a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal, Yeong-​hye fan­cies she can turn her­self into a tree. As her fran­tic sis­ter offers her one favorite food after another, each of which is rejected, Yeong-​hye asks, “Why, is it such a bad thing to die?”

Why indeed? In one poignant pas­sage, doubt is cast as to who is the pris­oner and who isn’t, as Yeong-hye’s sis­ter admits she is unable to for­give Yeong-​hye for “soar­ing alone over a bound­ary she her­self could never bring her­self to cross, unable to for­give that mag­nif­i­cent irre­spon­si­bil­ity that had enabled Yeong-​hye to shuck off social con­straints and leave her behind, still a prisoner.”

The reader is left with a haunt­ing image of Yeong-​hye, still cling­ing to life, being rushed to yet another hos­pi­tal. Her bizarre obses­sion with becom­ing a tree has destroyed her body. Whether or not it has also freed her from some­thing even worse appears to be still in question.

review of weird fictionMichael Griffin’s THE LURE of DEVOUR­ING LIGHT is the short story col­lec­tion of an excep­tional writer, whose evoca­tive, lyri­cal tales are impos­si­ble to for­get. Griffin’s work has been described as “quiet hor­ror”, a sub­genre of Weird Fic­tion. Con­sid­er­ing that Griffin’s prose is both bold and often graphic, the descrip­tion may be some­what misleading.

Nature – seduc­tive, tan­ta­liz­ing, and ulti­mately unknow­able – is fre­quently the set­ting of these sto­ries. In “Far From Streets”, city dwellers Dane and Car­olyn seek renewal by spend­ing week­ends at a cabin Dane built by hand. Sin­is­ter omens abound – from the bird that beats itself to death try­ing to escape the newly fin­ished cabin to the starv­ing young man who seems to be keep­ing watch on them. In the mid­dle of this daunt­ing land­scape, Dane and Car­olyn become lost in more ways than one. As Grif­fin writes of the belea­gered Dane, “Noth­ing had pre­pared him for the pos­si­bil­ity of mean­ings deeper than office toil, with short breaks for television.”

In “Dream­ing Awake In the Tree of the World”, the enig­matic Nomia appears to be a tree-​dwelling nature sprite, a kinswoman per­haps to Rima in GREEN MAN­SIONS. She has res­cued the ill-​fated Tomas and nursed him back to health high in the tree­tops. But in Griffin’s work, real­ity is rarely what it seems. Is Tomas safe in the heart of lush, wild nature or is he fac­ing some­thing alto­gether dif­fer­ent and more deadly?

In “The Acci­dent of Sur­vival”, a ter­ri­fy­ing near-​miss on the high­way leaves two peo­ple badly shaken. As they con­tinue to their des­ti­na­tion, how­ever, it becomes increas­ingly unclear who’s sur­vived and who per­haps hasn’t, and how peo­ple “shaken loose from life” can strug­gle to reclaim reality.

Griffin’s prose sings, but his for­mi­da­ble power resides in his abil­ity to make us doubt our own senses, his abil­ity to explore the deeply unsta­ble and shapeshift­ing nature of what we blithely con­sider ‘reality’.

9781616894542 custom 39c6e478a34afbed9d5879845f153af9e2550e79 s300 c85The story of James Edward Deeds, Jr., who cre­ated this col­lec­tion of haunt­ing sketches while locked inside a men­tal insti­tu­tion, is both inspir­ing and tremen­dously sad, an extreme case of cre­ativ­ity melded with men­tal illness.

Born in Nevada, Mis­souri, in 1907, James Edward Deeds was a shy boy abused by an author­i­tar­ian father. At age twenty-​eight, after con­fronting his brother Clay with a hatchet (whether seri­ously or in jest is unclear), he was taken to State Hos­pi­tal #3, where he would spend the next thirty-​seven years, under­go­ing drug ther­apy and elec­tro­con­vlul­sive shock ther­apy. His poignant draw­ings dur­ing that time – drawn on Hos­pi­tal ledger paper – came to light only recently, after hav­ing been lost to the world for over three decades.

Look­ing at Deeds’ draw­ings is a jour­ney to another world, not the one that Deeds actu­ally inhab­ited, but a quaint, gen­tle era of long-​haired women in plumed hats, grace­ful arbors, and stately pad­dle­boats. Despite their benign charm, the draw­ings seem infused with a quiet under­cur­rent of hor­ror. Deeds’ peo­ple stare out at the viewer with round, stunned eyes and pose stiffly, like peo­ple trau­ma­tized by some­thing so hor­rific that, once seen, can never be forgotten.

Some draw­ings seem to con­tain cryp­tic mes­sages. A par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing one, #33, shows a small, hat­ted man with the cap­tion WHY.DOCTOR. Daw­ings #94 and #95 con­tain the ini­tials ECT, a ref­er­ence to the ther­apy Deeds was forced to endure.

The book’s title comes from draw­ing #197, a metic­u­lous por­trait of a woman point­ing to a bou­quet of posies in her other hand. Deeds cap­tioned the draw­ing ECTLEC­TRC, a ‘mis­spelling’ of the word ‘elec­tric’ in which the ini­tials ECT occur twice and which some have inter­preted as another ref­er­ence to shock treatments.

Deeds story is a heart­break­ing one, and I found the 282 draw­ings both fas­ci­nat­ing and dif­fi­cult to look at. For all the sweet nos­tal­gia for some bygone era the artist never actu­ally knew, they are pow­er­ful and some­times wrench­ing to behold. His draw­ings are surely a tes­ti­mony to the spirit of some human beings to cre­ate art under the worst pos­si­ble circumstances.

It’s Feb­ru­ary again, and we all know what that means – Women in Hor­ror Month! This year, we’ve got the debut of Bil­lie Sue Mosiman’s FRIGHT MARE: WOMEN WRITE HOR­ROR, an anthol­ogy of twenty sto­ries by top-​notch female authors th5168XzBCqL. SX331 BO1204203200 at puts to rest once and for all the notion that men some­how writer hor­ror ‘better.’

As author and anthol­o­gist Mosi­man points out, “Women have been writ­ing great hor­ror since Mary Shel­ley came out with Franken­stein,” yet there are still a few who think only male authors can deliver when it comes to the gory, the grue­some, and the grotesque. Not so! Girls kill, too (and some­times do a lot worse).

Among the ter­ri­fy­ing tales in FRIGHT MARE, you’ll find “Sakura Time” by Loren Rhoads, a won­der­fully creepy story of a man under the spell of a dead woman’s dolls; in Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “The Whole of the Wide­ness of Night”, you’ll meet a tor­mented girl who pays a ter­ri­ble price for tak­ing revenge on her broth­ers; and in “Snow Angel;” by Amy Grech, a father strug­gles with an unthink­able decision.

My story “Dead Mes­sen­gers” fea­tures an Anglo who goes by the name of Raimundo and falls under the sway of some inter­est­ing New Age beliefs, includ­ing those of “a crazy preacher-​lady who thinks you can fuck your way to God.” Maybe he can, maybe he can’t, but Raimundo’s sure going to try. Check out FRIGHT MARE to see how it all works out for him.

Look for FRIGHT MARE in Kin­dle and paper­back ver­sions at Ama​zon​.com.

review of Stanley Kubrick's The ShiningEdited by Danel Olson and pub­lished by Cen­tipede Press, Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing: Stud­ies in the Hor­ror Film is an enor­mous tome packed with inside infor­ma­tion from cast and crew, includ­ing Jack Nichol­son, Shel­ley Duvall, Scat­man Crothers, the Shin­ing Twins, and even Lia Bel­dam, the actress who played the ghost of the woman in room 237.

This metic­u­lously researched vol­ume also includes illu­mi­nat­ing, some­times sur­pris­ing, essays by many of those who know the film best. In Tony Magistrale’s “Sutured Time: His­tory and Kubrick’s The Shin­ing”, we get a detailed look at Jack Torrance’s descent into insan­ity, includ­ing Stephen King’s thoughts on how Kubrick han­dled the col­lapse of the character’s emo­tional state and the speed with which Jack’s men­tal unrav­el­ing took place.

In “They Ate Each Other Up?”, Ber­nice M. Mur­phy looks at The Shin­ing as a tale with roots in the windigo of Native Amer­i­can leg­end, a the­sis she claims is rein­forced by the fre­quent ref­er­ences to can­ni­bal­ism in the film. Bev Vincent’s “The Genius Fal­lacy” analy­ses attempts to uncover mes­sages hid­den in The Shin­ing and how the search for this secret sub­text has even given us a new word – crypto-​kubrology. And in Danel Olson’s “Shin­ing Through the Labyrinth”, we’re treated to an intrigu­ing and thought-​provoking com­par­i­son between Kubrick’s work and that of Guillermo del Toro.

To com­plete this defin­i­tive vol­ume, there are dozens of pho­tographs of cast, crew, and set, as well as a detailed analy­sis of the film’s music and lit­tle known facts about scenes that were filmed but that never made it to the final cut.

In short, the book is a visual and lit­er­ary feast that can only enhance what Lee Unkrich calls “our dread for and per­verse inter­est in the Overlook.”