Shannon's (sturlington) Horror and Thrillers
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First a recap of what I've read since joining this group in 2015. This has been a good reading year for me, as I feel like I've really rediscovered this genre after having been away for a long time. I've about gotten through the major classics in the genre (rereading some) and am actively seeking out horror/thrillers written by women.
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux -- listened (3★)
The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells -- listened (4★)
Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman -- short stories (4★)
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman -- short story (4★)
Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer -- weird (4-5★)
Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco -- ghost story (4★)
Dark Places/Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn -- psychological thrillers (4★)
American Gothic Tales edited by Joyce Carol Oates -- an anthology of gothic stories ranging from classics to contemporary; reread (4★)
The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe -- short story (4★)
Rooms by Lauren Oliver -- ghost story (4★)
The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson -- gothic; both rereads (5★ each)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley -- gothic; reread (5★)
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor -- humorous/light (4★)
I'm currently reading a thriller by Patricia Highsmith, The Blunderer, and listening to Dracula. Looking forward to 2016!
No worries on not following the months precisely, but do feel free to chime in on any applicable threads at any time, if you read it earlier and post when the thread goes up, or if you read later and "revive" the thread, happy to have all conversation about the topics whenever! :)
My previous project was to read the sci-fi classics, but I consider that done.
Category: Psychological thriller
Highsmith had a reputation for misanthropy, which she does nothing to dispel with this thriller. First, let's take a look at the women characters, such as they are. Two of them are shrill, nagging wives who both die violent deaths, and it seems they deserved them. The last is pretty much a non-character, who falls in love with Walter (the most non-romantic person imaginable) without any provocation whatsoever and spends the rest of the novel not doing much.
But Highsmith is obviously more interested in her men than her women, specifically three men. The first is Walter, the titular blunderer, who when his wife supposedly commits suicide by jumping off a cliff during a rest stop on a bus trip, he does pretty much everything he can to make himself look guilty of murder. Walter has none of the misplaced charisma of Highsmith's well-known Ripley character. He is milquetoast, indecisive with his feelings, slow on the uptake, "nothing but a pair of eyes without an identity behind them." After reading a news story, Walter becomes obsessed with a man named Kimmel, who really did murder his wife at a bus stop (as revealed in the first chapter). Kimmel is in every way repulsive, who considers himself so much above the rest of humankind that he can get away with murder; he thinks of himself as "powerful and impregnable as a myth." Highsmith takes care to mention Kimmel's physical appearance at every opportunity, his fatness, his lack of grace and bad eyesight, his repulsive thick lips like a heart.
It takes a lot to get the reader to feel even a modicum of sympathy for such a man, who did, after all, brutally strangle his wife without any sense of remorse whatsoever. However, when Corby, Highsmith's third man, comes into the book, she almost manages to do so. Corby is the police detective obsessed with pinning both deaths on the husbands, by any means necessary. While Walter is stupid and Kimmel is arrogant, Corby comes across as nothing less than evil, which is all the more shocking because he represents justice.
Highsmith turns our expectations upside down and has us rooting for Kimmel and Walter to triumph over Corby. She is an expert manipulator, and it shows in this novel, but after finishing it, I felt icky, contaminated. These are not people I'd care to know, and Highsmith offers no alternatives, not even a hint of one. The world is full of people like these, she seems to be saying; take a close look at anyone and you'll find something to disgust you. So while The Blunderer is a well-written novel and an effective piece of horror, it is not a book I can say that I liked.
Category: Modern gothic horror
Carter's reworked fairy tales revolve around the theme of young women (and sometimes men) crossing the threshold into adulthood, generally through sexual experiences. While each story in this short collection is a retelling of a well-known fairy tale, Carter actually incorporates allusions to many folktales and children's stories into each one. It would be fun to read through carefully and pick out all the references. Using children's literature in this way contrasts with the lush sexual imagery and the frequently earthy language (Carter doesn't shy away from having her characters fart and piss and show their genitals). The stories are set in a fantasy version of Europe, one with isolated castles and dense, wolf-filled forests but with a foot in the modern world. Her mostly female characters usually begin as fairy tale tropes--girls who are not in control of their own lives but who are sold or taken by men--but these girls soon discover their own power and use that to regain control over their lives. This transformation typically begins with a disrobing, a stripping away of all the expectations and assumptions of what it means to be a girl, so each women can define herself for herself. Carter explores different ways this can happen, usually by subverting the original tale in some way: Red Riding Hood seduces the wolf; Beauty reveals her inner Beast. Carter's style is lush and overflowing with sometimes overwhelming, frequently horrific imagery. This was a rereading for me, and I absolutely loved this kind of stuff as a young adult, but it's less affecting now that I'm in cynical middle age. However, this is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in feminist literature or who enjoys grown-up retellings of fairy tales.
Just finished listening to Dracula, a reread (on audio) of a book I last read as a pre-teen or youngish teen. I don't remember exactly when I read it, but I do remember the book: it was a large hardcover, text printed in columns, with deep blue and black illustrations. I wonder what happened to it. Still a five-star read for me, despite the now-apparent bloat, purple prose, and sexism. But that imagery! Dracula crawling down the wall of his castle, those creepy vampire women--still gives me shivers.
Oh, yeah, there's a psychopath in it so I'm counting it for April.
And my precious (hope you can see it behind the Gorey cat):
I've been on a ghost story kick lately, and I read three ghost stories this month: a classic one from the '70s, Sweetheart, Sweetheart by Bernard Taylor; and two short stories, The Grownup by Gillian Flynn and Springtime: A Ghost Story by Michelle De Kretser. Of all of these, I liked the Flynn the best and wished it had been longer.
I also read a couple of decent thrillers: Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott (historical, based on a true story) and Heartsick by Chelsea Cain (serial killer).
I did not read any young adult or graphic novels. :-(
Also read one so-so thriller: Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta. A bit cartoonish, but nice setting.
Read one gothic short story, The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen, and one southern gothic novel, Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest, for the theme.