Readings: Hill, Faye

Now that I have moved and unpacked all my things, I am trying to get back into some sort of a routine. It’s harder than I thought it would be; for several days I could not even remember what things I used to do before the Month of Anxiety and the End of the World (aka March). What was the last book I read from start to finish?

It seems like I did not do any reading in March at all, but as I think back, I realize I did finish Joe Hill’s The Fireman in two or three days. In retrospect, it wasn’t a wise choice to read when my mental state was already not particularly steady. It’s big and on fire. People already refer to it as Hill’s magnum opus, which I suppose it is, but I don’t think it’s my favorite of his. It is very good, though. I remain a fan of N0S4A2 (as much as its title annoys me). But The Fireman will please you if you like your novels in high gear for many many pages. It’s out in May.

janesteeleAfterwards, a couple of books were picked up and then abandoned after a handful of pages, and then I read a memoir that was fine until it used the ‘t’ word to refer to a certain type of bar. It seems that its author is one of those gay men who remain largely ignorant of the fact that certain terms are no longer kosher to use (see also John Barrowman’s usage of the same word a few months ago).

And then I picked up something I did not expect to like. It did not seem like my type of book at all, but a number of people mentioned it was quite good, so I decided to give it a shot. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is definitely delightful, smart, and witty. It is a reimagining of Jane Eyre, wherein Jane happens to be a serial killer (“Reader, I murdered him.”).  I never particularly liked Jane Eyre, to be honest. Maybe I have been waiting for this iteration.



Reading update: Stephen King’s Revival

In case you didn’t know, Stephen King has a new novel coming out tomorrow (November 11th). He is up to 54 or so books now, which means he has a separate ‘Bibliography’ page on Wikipedia. It also means it’s quite unlikely to find a reader who loves everything King has ever done.

I always say I like King in general. I like his mode of storytelling, his style, his imagination. I also really don’t like some of his books (*cough* Dreamcatcher *cough*). Gunslinger is still one of my favorite books, but I never finished the Dark Tower series because I could not get through the last three volumes.

revivalAnd now there is Revival. It’s a cool story. A young minister comes to a small town, befriends a kid named Jamie Morton. After a family tragedy, the minister delivers a sermon filled with loss of faith in god and is subsequently banished from the town. The novel follows Jamie Morton through his life. He meets the minister again. There is rock-n-roll, and drugs, and terrible dark things.

And yet, I plodded through this book. It might be that it was not dark or weird enough. It might be that the pacing was not to my liking. Whatever the reason, I was not along for the ride. That said, my friend, who was looking for a less terrifying read, liked it. We are just different King fans, I guess. Maybe I should go and finally read The Stand instead.

One interesting thing I noticed is how much of himself King puts in his novels, and in what ways. I’m not talking about meta-writing himself into books (see the later Dark Tower volumes), but more about having characters reflect his worldview and philosophy. In most cases, I don’t even know if his characters think and voice his opinions, but it feels like they do. There is a certain lack of subtlety and palpable desire to work some things out through fiction, especially in King’s later works. All writers do that, I think, but they do it in different ways at different times in their careers. The cool thing about King is that because he has so many novels out there, you can get a glimpse into his mind and decide which King you like best.

‘It’s always early summer in Wink’: American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

AmericanElsewhereIt’s always comforting to compare a new thing to something already familiar. This is why, about 20 pages into American Elsewhere, I thought ‘This is like Eureka, but terrifying. It’s like they hired Stephen King to write scripts for them.’ A coworker told me she thought of it as the novelization of Welcome to Night Vale.

We like to think that we are looking for originality in fiction. But I think what we actually look for is original familiarity, or familiar originality. We want something that is not entirely unknown, but unknown enough to jolt us. Thankfully, there are centuries and centuries of stories, and making connections is not difficult. I think saying that a work reminds you of some other work is not a criticism, especially if it reminds you of something that genuinely stayed with you. And I can say that this novel reminds me of Eureka, but it is NOT Eureka. It’s also NOT Bradbury (though there are tones of Bradbury in there), or Danielewski (there are odd houses, never-ending hallways), or King. It is Robert Jackson Bennett, and he is very, very good.

The story, in short: an ex-cop Mona finds out that she inherited a house that belonged to her mother. The house is located in Wink, New Mexico, a town so remote that it doesn’t seem to be on any maps. But that’s not the only weird thing about it. Or rather, it’s not even the weirdest thing about this town…

I am a sucker for ‘nice little town where spooky things are happening’ theme. Same with ‘uncomprehending stranger in a strange town’ theme. Both of those allow for some nicely done exposition and create a situation where a creepy town seems that much creepier precisely because its residents treat odd things as either normal or as things that have to be put up with because that’s the status quo. They know there are weird things going on, and try their best to steer the newcomer away from them (‘You know not to go out at night, right?’). It’s perfection tainted on the inside.

It is a fairly big book, and yet I finished it in just a couple of sittings, thanks to Bennett’s skill as a writer and specifically as a horror writer. I started it before bed one night. That was a foolish mistake, because three hours later I was still awake, stuck in the vicious ‘one more chapter’ loop. I was also kind of reluctant to go to sleep because it meant turning off the lights. American Elsewhere terrified me (and I mean that as a compliment). The last time I was this terrified was when I read Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. 

In sum, American Elsewhere in unsettling, excellently paced, well-plotted, and full of great characters. I imagine it only improves on rereading.

Plus, there is an abandoned government science laboratory in it.