The book up for this month is one I started last month because I knew I would need extra time to finish it. The book is JR by William Gaddis, written in almost entirely dialogue with no scene breaks or chapters, and coming in at 726 pages. Published in 1975, JR tells the story of Edward Bast, a composer working as a school music teacher. He befriends 11-year-old JR Vansant. JR appears to be an economic savant, and without Bast realizing it he is pulled into the young man’s capitalist machinations. A novel that feels like the cacophonous and biting satirical work of filmmaker Robert Altman.
Category: book club
Pop Cult Book Review – The Croning
The Croning (2012, Night Shade Books)
by Laird Barron
Don Miller has a memory problem. Throughout his adult life he has had strange experiences and encounters, yet now an octogenarian, they are only just returning, spurred on by a series of bizarre events occurring at his rural home in Washington state. His wife, Michelle, is an anthropologist who, even though retired, still jets off to attend lectures and academic conferences. His adult children are busy in their own lives, and this all leaves Don time to reflect. He begins to recall conversations with his grandfather, a man seemingly involved in clandestine affairs. He remembers weird encounters with a young man while milling about the home of a recently deceased colleague. Then there was the incident in Mexico back in 1958…
PopCult Book Club Announcement: September 2017 – Lovecraft Country
After a month long sabbatical, save for Twin Peaks updates, Pop Cult’s engines will start firing up again. To start out, our book club selection will be Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. It was recently announced that HBO will be adapting the book into a series to be helmed by director Jordan Peele (Get Out, Key and Peele). The book is described as:
“Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours […]
A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.”
Join us to read this interesting examination of the racist elements within the worlds of Lovecraft and America.
PopCult Book Club July 2017 Review
The Fisherman (2016, Word Horde)
Written by John Langan
Abe lost his wife to cancer after only two years of marriage. Dan lost his wife and two children in a car accident. These two men have bonded in their grief by fishing in and around the Catskills and the Ashokan Reservoir. One day Dan suggests they try Dutchman’s Creek, a body of water Abe isn’t familiar with and can’t seem to find on any of his maps. Dan seems to know where the creek is and on a rainy Saturday morning, they head out. A fateful stop at a diner in the area leads to them to hear the story of how Dutchman’s Creek got its name and a warning to stay away from this place.
PopCult Book Club: July 2017 – The Fisherman
For July, my book will be The Fisherman by John Langan, recent winner of a Bram Stoker award. The book is described thusly:
“In upstate New York, in the woods around Woodstock, Dutchman’s Creek flows out of the Ashokan Reservoir. Steep-banked, fast-moving, it offers the promise of fine fishing, and of something more, a possibility too fantastic to be true. When Abe and Dan, two widowers who have found solace in each other’s company and a shared passion for fishing, hear rumors of the Creek, and what might be found there, the remedy to both their losses, they dismiss it as just another fish story. Soon, though, the men find themselves drawn into a tale as deep and old as the Reservoir. It’s a tale of dark pacts, of long-buried secrets, and of a mysterious figure known as Der Fisher: the Fisherman. It will bring Abe and Dan face to face with all that they have lost, and with the price they must pay to regain it.”
Join me, won’t you?
PopCult Book Club: June 2017 Review
Universal Harvester (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017)
Written by John Darnielle
The town of Nevada, Iowa doesn’t have much going for it in the late 1990s, apart from the Video Hut. Twenty-something Jeremy works full time there while living at home with his widower father. Life is pretty quiet until customers start returning videos with hesitant complaints about “something wrong with the tape.” Jeremy finally sits down to watch these movies and finds sudden cuts to home video footage spliced in. These strange videos reveal a possible dark secret one of the townspeople is keeping. Jeremy begins to share these film clips with his manager and other people close to them causing more and more people to become entangled in the darkness surrounding his town.
PopCult Book Club – June 2017 Announcement
This June, Pop Cult’s book club choice will be Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (Mountain Goats).
The official blurb for the novel reads: “Life in a small town takes a dark turn when mysterious footage begins appearing on VHS cassettes at the local Video Hut. So begins Universal Harvester, the haunting and masterfully unsettling new novel from John Darnielle, author of the New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award Nominee Wolf in White Van”
Hopefully a nice companion piece to the small town horror of Twin Peaks. Join me, won’t you?
Pop Cult Book Club Review – The Secret History of Twin Peaks
The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost
(2016, Flatiron Books)
Almost forgotten in the hype and cult following of the early 1990s television series Twin Peaks is co-creator Mark Frost. I, like many other, only really bring up David Lynch’s name in association with the short-lived phenomenon. But that does a great disservice to Mr. Frost who was just as an essential component of Twin Peaks as Lynch. While Lynch provided the style, atmosphere, and general tone of the show, Frost pushed for mythology building and concrete plotting. Without both, Twin Peaks would not have struck such a chord with audiences of the time and continue to resonant with new viewers. Mark Frost wrote this tome that doesn’t serve to bridge the 25-year divide between iterations of Twin Peaks but rather acts as a supplement to the original run with some hints peppered in about where season 3 may be going.
Don’t get your hopes up to have 1992 through 2016 in Twin Peaks covered. There are two distinct moments where we get the fates of a couple characters revealed, but nothing that would spoil or even set up where the third season will be starting. That’s totally fine, and the book is still an entertaining piece of metafiction. The premise is that a lockbox of historical papers and writings has been recovered by the FBI from an undisclosed crime scene. Gordon Cole (the hearing impaired supervisor of Agent Cooper) pens an introduction letter to an unnamed FBI agent who is tasked with making an inventory of and analyzing the material. Someone referring to themselves as The Archivist is responsible for this assembly and the main text is accompanied by footnotes from The Archivist and the FBI agent.
So what does Mark Frost divulge about the inhabitants of Twin Peak? He chooses to focus on a small handful of tertiary characters, for the most part, mainly Andrew Packard and Douglas Milford. If you’re scratching your head about who these two are it’s understandable. Packard was the returned from the dead husband of Josie and Milford was the newspaper-owning brother of Twin Peaks’ octogenarian mayor. Pretty obscure but I suspect in need to not cover any territory the show plans to, Frost took the safe bet with these figures. However, we do get the prominent development of The Log Lady and Major Briggs. The Log Lady, in particular, is the focus of an op-ed by Dr. Jacoby’s brother, Robert, where he seeks to tell the citizenry that they habitually mock a woman with a tragic past who is an outstanding member of the community.
Beyond that, the mythology of the world is very subtly built out with pieces that directly take place in Twin Peaks and some that are thousands of miles away and only tie in thematically. Early in the book, we have a guest story written up in the Twin Peaks Gazette by a young Eagle Scout Andrew Packard where he details his troop’s bizarre experience in the woods outside of town on a camping trip. A similar story is shared by Douglas Milford about an encounter with a strange giant, who later reports attempt to correlate with Bigfoot, and an owl the size of a man.
The book starts as far back as the expedition of Lewis and Clark and their encounter with a Nez Perce tribe that refers to a place of the spirits that lies in the valley between two mountains. Frost ties in the conspiracy addled death of Meriwether Lewis and in this version he was wearing a ring bearing the sigil of an owl when found. Frost goes on to link in the Roswell Crash, UFO sightings in the 1950s in the Pacific Northwest, Richard Nixon, Jack Parson and the Church of Thelema, L. Ron Hubbard, and more into the twisted tapestry of Twin Peaks. Some moments get quite a bit off track, and I found myself wondering what this has to do with Twin Peaks. But the esoteric nature is very much in tune with the sort of thinking characters like Agent Cooper exhibited throughout the series.
One of the creepier moments happens just after the story of Lewis and Clark is wrapped up. In a small, almost forgettable vignette, the fragmented journal of a Gold Rush-era miner is presented. He talks about him and his partner coming upon a cave, referred to by the indigenous people as “Owl Cave”. His partner disappears, and footnotes reveal that it is believed the author of this journal was murdered. His vanished partner’s name was Robert (BOB?).
The Secret History of Twin Peaks is book that a new fan of the show will likely not get much from. But if you have been a long time fan and want to get lost in the strange, confusing and mysterious world of conspiracy theories and Frost’s point of view of the series, this is a pretty fun read.
PopCult Book Club – April 2017 Announcement: The Secret History of Twin Peaks
The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost
(2016, Flatiron Book)
27 years ago, David Lynch and Mark Frost brought Twin Peaks to television. Sadly, after a lackluster second season, ABC canceled the series on an intense cliffhanger. Now, Showtime is bringing the series back for one final season of 19 episodes to wrap up what was started all those years ago. To begin the journey back, I will be reading co-creator Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks for this month’s book club. The review will go up May 1st to kick off Twin Peaks Month on my blog. Hope you will join us in reading and getting hyped up for the revival.
PopCult Book Club Review: March 2017 – Bird Box
Bird Box by Josh Malerman
The day society collapses Malorie learns she is pregnant. No one can say why everything has fallen apart, but there are some theories. The most prevalent are that the people who have gone murderous and crazed saw something, creatures or entities, that broke their minds. By the time Malorie heads to the safe house in Detroit people are boarding up their windows and only going outside equipped with blindfolds. Humanity is slipping into darkness. Josh Malerman’s debut novel jumps between Malorie’s pregnancy in the safe house to her blind journey down a river with her equally blinded children. She’s been told that somewhere down the river lies a place where the three of them can be safe. But is something stalking them on the shore?
Bird Box gets a lot of things right. First, it builds tension incredibly well. The concept of something you see, possibly even from the corner of your eye and can drive you to a homicidal rage is terrifying. The book introduces the apocalypse in the background, just a few strange piecemeal stories out of rural Russia. Then more and more incidents are reported until everything has crumbled. It also hits Malorie personally as early on she comes across a loved one who has seen whatever is causing this mental break. Malerman’s smartly leaves the exact nature of what is going a mystery. Characters wildly speculating is much scarier than the book spelling out what is happening outside the doors of the safehouse.
By building a paranoid tension, the author also develops his characters based on how they react to their circumstances. This is an excellent way to let your readers quickly get to know Malorie and the six or so supporting figures around her. As soon as she arrives at the safe house, we are aware who these people are right away. We see who is keeping a level head and trying to come up with workable solutions. We are aware who is petrified with fear about the change. We see who is quick to anger and irritation. I’m not a huge fan of The Walking Dead television series, but I do think Bird Box treads similar ground in its focus on ensemble character interaction. Malerman juxtaposes Malorie against another pregnant survivor. The house’s de facto leader Tom is mirrored and contrasted by a couple of other characters, one of whom comes late the story and could be considered the antagonist of the novel.
There is also something to be said for how smart it is to handicap your characters with the apocalypse, and then on top of that take away their chief sense. Malorie’s blindfolded odyssey out to a local bar to gather supplies is a grippingly tense sequence. Everything takes longer to do, and these stretched out moments allow us to immerse ourselves in the scene. We know as much as Malorie knows. When she discovers the trapdoor in the floor and the subsequent stench of horror that comes from it, we receive the same sensory input she does. This particular mode of information delivery is at it’s best during the journey down the river. Malorie has spent four years adapting herself and her children to the world without sight. As their boat floats down the waters, every sound is a potential threat. A brief encounter with another human on their trip is paranoid and suspenseful. Everyone is a danger, and she begins to speculate about the creatures and if they can now mimic human speech.
Overall, Bird Box is a very breezy exciting read. I wouldn’t place it up there with the type of horror I treasure, but it is a read very worthy of your time. I guarantee it will keep you glued due to his narrative momentum. When the horrific finale in the safe house finally comes about in the last two dozen pages, you’ll not be able to stop until you find out how it concludes. When Malorie and the children are within hearing distance of the new haven, her paranoia will overtake you, and you won’t be sure if they will make it.