Posts Tagged ‘horror novel’

Short takes: ‘Alice Isn’t Dead,’ ‘Glass Houses’ and ‘Explorers’

June 6, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 6, 2020

Joseph Fink adapted Alice Isn’t Dead, his striking 2018 horror novel, from a podcast of the same name. Both book and podcast describe a harrowing series of journeys undertaken by Keisha Taylor, a chronically anxious woman who becomes a long-haul trucker after seeing her missing wife in the background of a television news shot.

Alice’s long disappearance is far from the strangest thing that will plague Keisha during the tale, which was written by the co-creator of the acclaimed Welcome to Night Vale fiction podcast. In the first chapter, a man with loose skin begins to consume someone, a sight that terrifies Keisha and sends her fleeing into the gathering night. But the “Thistle Man,” as she calls the monster based on its shirt, begins to stalk Keisha, setting up a confrontation she is powerless to avoid.

The Thistle Man turns out to be part of an array of shadowy forces preying upon Americans who happen to be unruly, unwary or unlucky. Keisha will discover a secret town, hidden bases, people possessing supernatural abilities and even a potential ally or two as she fights for her life and tries to repair an existence that seemed irreparably broken after her wife vanished.

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Mourners spend their summer vacation next door to a haunted house in Michael McDowell’s superb horror novel ‘The Elementals’

April 11, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 11, 2020

The prologue of Michael McDowell’s 1981 novel The Elementals opens in an empty church in Mobile, Al., on a scorching midweek afternoon toward the tail end of May. The matron of a wealthy, powerful family has died, but only a dozen or so people are in attendance. Because of some grisly history, we soon learn, Savage family tradition demands that no decedent be entombed without checking that the corpse is thoroughly lifeless — a procedure that the influential clan would very much prefer to keep out of the public eye.

This unusual funeral service sets the stage for a Southern horror story mostly set on the remote coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The Savages own a beachside estate consisting of three houses built back to back to back using identical blueprints. But these dwellings certainly aren’t all the same: “The third house,” as all visitors to Beldame automatically call one of the structures, is slowly being buried under a mound of sand far higher than any dune in sight. Moreover, this supposedly empty abode seems to be strangely active

Still, this isolated estate — separated by six miles from the nearest neighbors, and entirely cut off from other land at high tide — is beloved by both the Savage and McCray families, who own the remaining two houses. And it’s where businessman Dauphin Savage; his wife, Leigh Savage, née McCray; his mother-in-law, Big Barbara McCray; his brother-in-law and best friend, Luker McCray; Luker’s 13-year-old daughter, India; and the Savage family’s longtime maid, Odessa Red, settle in for an indefinite stay.

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Short takes: ‘The Last Stone,’ ‘Bird Box’ and ‘The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek’

March 27, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 27, 2020

Lloyd Lee Welch, the prisoner at the heart of Mark Bowden’s 2019 true crime book The Last Stone, is a repellent figure. A seventh-grade dropout who spent years abusing alcohol and drugs, Welch is a chronic liar who insists that the lengthy sentence he’s serving for child molestation is largely the result of bad luck.

And yet it’s almost impossible to turn away from Welch, a member of an impoverished Southern clan rooted in the Virginia mountains. As an 18-year-old, Welch had spoken to police about what he’d seen on March 25, 1975, at a popular Maryland mall from which 12-year-old Sheila Lyon and her 10-year-old sister, Kate, had vanished. The disappearance, presumably a kidnapping, remained unsolved for more than three and a half decades.

Near the start of The Last Stone, members of the Montgomery County, Md., police department travel to Dover, Del., in the fall of 2013 to speak to the then 56-year-old Welch. Although local police had deemed the information they got from Welch on April 1, 1975, to lack credibility, the county’s cold case squad now wanted to question him about the man with a limp whom he’d reported seeing at Wheaton Plaza on the fateful day. And after some initial evasions, Welch indeed confirmed to questioners that Ray Mileski, a known pedophile and murderer with a permanent leg injury, had been at the mall the day the Lyons were abducted.

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Short takes: ‘The Devil in Silver,’ ‘The Third Lynx,’ ‘Odd Girl Out’ and ‘The Eagle Has Landed’

February 21, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 21, 2020

Victor Lavalle’s 2012 novel, The Devil in Silver, begins in the early weeks of 2011 with a large, powerful man named Pepper being committed to Northwest, the psychiatric inpatient unit of the fictitious New Hyde hospital in Queens. Pepper isn’t really crazy; he’s just hot-tempered, and a little socially isolated. Three cops bring him to the hospital because it allows them to bypass an hour or two of unpaid overtime that they’d need to book him in jail for scrapping with them.

The system is hard to escape, Pepper discovers, especially after two altercations indefinitely extend what could have been just a 72-hour stint in the psych ward. He loses two months after being heavily medicated; even when his mind has fought off the drug-induced fog, the 42-year-old professional mover still thinks and moves and talks like an unsteady nonagenarian.

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Short takes: ‘Famous Men who Never Lived’ and ‘Meddling Kids’

January 28, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 28, 2020

The New York City that Helen Nash and Vikram Bhatnagar travel through is not the one they knew. The two main characters in K. Chess’s 2019 debut novel, Famous Men Who Never Lived, are UDPs, or universally displaced persons. Their New York City has been destroyed; they are permanently cut off from everyone and every place they ever knew.

The protragonists are among about 160,000 New Yorkers from an alternative timeline who escaped nuclear catastrophe through a sort of one-way dimensional portal. Their timeline diverged from ours about 11 decades ago, in 1910. Some landmarks and neighborhoods in the new New York City are familiar; others are entirely different.

The same is true of the linguistic, political, cultural and technological landscapes for the UDPs. Back home, the refugees used ordinators, not smartphones; a world war in their 20th century saw America besieged by a hostile Latin American power; gay people there were called verts and hadn’t won marriage equality.

It’s no wonder that so many UDPs are lost in the new world — although to be fair, Hel (who plays a more prominent role than Vikram, her lover), didn’t fit in so well back home. She was a cancer surgeon there who’d ceded custody of her son to her ex-husband; here, she’s an unemployed layabout.

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Parents just don’t understand the number of the beast in Grady Hendrix’s sprightly horror novel ‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’

December 13, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 13, 2019

Abby Rivers, the heroine of the comedic horror novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism, bonded with her new classmate Gretchen Lang in December 1982, when they were both fourth graders. The bulk of Grady Hendrix’s 2016 novel takes place during the fall of their sophomore year, in 1988. That gives the author, who seems to have grown up around the same time as his characters, an excuse to reference a whole bunch of 1980s pop culture that many readers may have forgotten, or never known in the first place.

An early chapter about Abby and Gretchen’s budding friendship reminds us, among other things, that Madonna’s early music and the miniseries The Thorn Birds were considered to be very scandalous at the time, at least in certain quarters. That’s not the only appeal to nostalgia here; in a clever touch, each chapter title is borrowed from period pop songs: “The Number of the Beast,” “King of Pain,” “Missionary Man” and so on.

This eighties homage will obviously appeal to members of a certain generation. But that needn’t limit the book’s appeal. Hendrix, a prolific author with a deep love of horror, trashy novels and Asian movies, has crafted an appealing story about teenage friendship that should resonate with people of almost any age.

Gretchen’s sophomore year goes awry shortly after it begins, when she, Abby and their friends Margaret and Glee take tabs of acid over a September weekend at Margaret’s family’s beach house outside Charleston. The drug doesn’t seem to have much effect, but Gretchen wanders off and disappears into the woods until dawn.

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Short takes: John Darnielle’s ‘Universal Harvester’ and Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘2312’

September 1, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 31, 2019

The Mountain Goats released their debut record, Sweden, in 1995, and have gone on to make 15 more albums. One of its members is a Durham resident, John Darnielle, who is described in part in his publisher’s biography as “the writer, composer, guitarist, and vocalist for the band.” His first novel, Wolf in White Van, debuted to critical praise in 2015.

Darnielle’s second book, the horror novel Universal Harvester, came out two years later. Genre fans should be aware that this is horror is literary, not lurid; the volume is far more reminiscent of the painting “American Gothic” than, say, a slasher film or the science fiction/horror movies of which I’m fond.

That 1930 work by Grant Wood may well have served as inspiration for the novel, which takes place almost entirely in small Iowa communities. Universal Harvester’s characters are as repressed as the Iowa couple — in reality, a dentist and the artist’s sister; in Wood’s depiction, a farmer and his daughter — that peers out of the canvas.

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A marine legend turns terrifyingly real for the scientists and sailors of Mira Grant’s ‘Into the Drowning Deep’

June 18, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 18, 2019

Author’s note: This book review, and particularly the novel excerpt featured herein, concerns a horror story and may not be appropriate for younger or sensitive readers. MEM

The California-born author Seanan McGuire has published, by my count, more than 40 different books, a handful of essays and dozens of short stories — all this before her 42nd birthday. In a somewhat catty assessment, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction sniffs that “[t]he fluent copiousness of McGuire’s talent helps explain the rapid increase of interest in her work; but may also explain its occasional repetitiveness.”

Some 10 of McGuire’s novels appear under the nom de plume Mira Grant, which she adopted for reasons unclear to me. The most recent Grant book is 2017’s Into the Drowning Deep, an entertaining trifle about a research vessel that makes… well, not exactly first contact… with carnivorous human/fish hybrids that normally dwell in the deeps of the Pacific Ocean.

Grant assembles her voyagers aboard the Melusine, a spacious new research vessel that sets sail for the Mariana Trench in August 2022. The ship and expedition have been commissioned by Imagine Entertainment, a media empire with the approximate success and scope of Disney — although its aesthetics are more aligned with those of infamous C-movie studios like Cannon Films and the Asylum.

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The undead populate the Big Apple in Colson Whitehead’s haunting ‘Zone One’

July 9, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 9, 2013

Colson Whitehead’s 2011 zombie novel, Zone One, gave me nightmares.

There are a number of reasons why that might have been. One is that it’s a horror novel — a tale of the zombie apocalypse — and a damn scary one, to boot. Another is that I rarely read or watch horror stories. A third is that the ending is quite macabre.

Zone One takes place over one weekend, but the events it portrays are pulled from the entire span of the protagonist’s life. He is one Mark Spitz (as he is nicknamed), a native of New York City’s Long Island suburbs who is now based in lower Manhattan — or Zone One, as it’s been dubbed. Spitz and his two Omega squad teammates are sweepers, tasked with entering every single space that might contain a zombie.

Actually, that word is never (to my recollection) used in the book. The monsters are instead referred to by one of two labels: skels, which are the typical mindless zombies that feed on people, and stragglers, which are a novel sort of undead that are frozen in place. Both kinds are to be shot in the head, bagged and hauled (or thrown) down to the street. There, following their collection by Disposal workers, the corpses are carried by horse-drawn cart for incineration at “Fort Wonton.”

Although Zone One is a massive reclamation project, it’s part of an even larger endeavor: The cleansing of post-apocalyptic America. The effort is led by a provisional government in Buffalo that issues pamphlets on “Living with PASD” (that’s post-apocalyptic stress disorder, natch) and is preparing for a global summit.

Mark Spitz is a damaged man, yet he is also — strangely — a flourishing one. In his journey through the zombie-riddled East Coast, he finds safety repeatedly, only to see it compromised time and again. Read the rest of this entry »

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