The Need by Helen Phillips There are subtle shades of Jordan Peele’s “Us” present throughout this novel as it tells the story of a housewife encountering an entity in her home that will up-end her life. Molly is an anthropologist by day and worn out mother by night, often tasked with caring for her two very young children by herself while Molly’s husband is away. It’s one of these lonely nights at home when Molly becomes aware that something else is in the house. The brief movement of a toy chest lid in the living room informs her that this thing is watching her, and when it reveals herself, she isn’t quite sure how to process what is going on. Then the deal is struck, and soon, Molly finds she’s an outsider in her own life, becoming an observer as someone else takes her place. The scary part is that Molly finds relief in handing the burden of parenthood off to another. The Need is a tightly written and deeply existential & weird text. I’m not a parent, but the anxieties experienced by parents are palpable in this book. I imagine this could be a cathartic release for parents who naturally have those moments of regret from time to time.
Song for the Unraveling of the World: Stories by Brian Evenson
I have yet to read any of Brian Evenson’s novels, but I have enjoyed his short stories so far. His first collection, A Collapse of Horses was tremendous, but this volume is even better. He’s very confident in the work and can present multiple perspectives without ever being reductive about mental illness. There are quite a number of characters who could be considered mentally ill, but they never get presented as tropes. In “Room Tone” a young filmmaker is obsessed with getting the ambient noise of a filming space. However, the house he shot his movie in has a new owner that wants to be left alone. The director just can’t move past this and goes to extreme lengths to get his recording. In “Born Stillborn” a patient believes his psychiatrist is visiting him at night as he tries to go to sleep, asking the real questions. His daytime sessions are full of false questions with secret messages the doctor is sending. “Leaking Out” is a wonderfully simple horror tale about a drifter seeking refuge in an old house. The premise is classic, but the monster living in this place is nebulous and terrifying. “The Tower” is a dark fantasy apocalypse about what might be a vampire who comes to a scattered settlement of survivors. This story was one of my favorites and created such a fleshed-out world in so few strokes that it made me want to explore this world even more. “Lather of Flies is a mind-being horror story about a reclusive director’s lost film which goes to some fantastic places. This is one of the most substantial short story collections I’ve read this year, which says a lot because I’ve consumed some great ones.
Here are the things I have planned for the second half of the year on my blog.
I’ll start doing a bi-weekly short film review roundup on August 17th. I plan to feature quality short films that are available online so that readers can view them. I have the first eight posts planned with three short films on each post. The first post will feature reviews for the short films He Took His Skin Off For Me, Janciza Bravo’s Eat, and Ari Aster’s The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. I’ll be looking at films that come from all corners of media from classic French shorts (Le Jetee) to Adult Swim middle of the night surreality (the works of Alan Resnick).
Fiction Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado I’d heard much acclaim about this short story collection and figured it was time to sit down and read it finally. I’m thrilled I did. Machado reminded me a lot of Kelly Link, weaving themes of feminism and horror into stories that stand strongly as genre pieces or a literary piece to be dissected. There’s an incredible inventiveness to the stories Machado tells. She repurposes the old folktale/urban legend about the girl the green ribbon around her neck to tell a story about a woman having her sexuality slowly but surely stolen from her over the course of decades. There’s a tale about a store clerk uncovering the horrific truth behind the seams in the prom dresses she sells that is chilling. The stand out work is the novella “Especially Heinous” that starts as TV Guide-style episode synopses of Law & Order: SVU. Things get strange when a narrative strand begins to connect these summaries, and we see a story unfolding of evil twins and demon possession. It’s one of the most ingenious ways to twist how a horror story can be told and well worth the read.
I decided to make a quarterly update about the books I’ve been reading. This was done because I have a hard time writing reviews without just recapping and spoiling the fiction books. Honestly, for some of these books, I could write papers as I did back in school. However, I’d like to keep a little more concise and share some titles and necessary information about them in the hopes you go out and pick up a book that hooks you.
I’m Thinking Of Ending Things by Iain Reid A narrator tells us about her trip to boyfriend Jake’s family home out in the rural environs of some darkness consumed place. She recalls how she and Jake met and the development of their relationship, eventually admitting to the reader she’s planning on breaking up with him when they return from this visit. Something feels off during the car ride, but things genuinely get bizarre when the narrator and Jake arrive at his parent’s home. You’ll likely recall shades of David Lynch in the surreal and subtle horror of the encounter. The novel also owes much to the classic Gothic genre, with a contemporary American twist. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a fast read, it hooks you quickly, and the flow encourages you not to put the book down. Charlie Kaufman is in production on a film version of the novel starring David Thewlis and Toni Colette as the parents; I suspect their portion of the story will get a more significant focus in the movie.
As I did with non-fiction, here are the fiction books I read this year that I loved.
The Shadow Year – Jeffrey Ford From my review: The aspect of this novel that struck me the hardest was the strength of the narrator’s voice. Ford does an excellent job framing the story through the eyes of an adult man remembering the events. From the first pages, events flow in a dreamlike and hazy fashion. There are not many places where the author lingers in detail. Instead, we get the broad brushstrokes of childhood memory. Even better, the fantastic elements of the story are met with little fanfare by the children. They live at a point in their lives where monsters, ghosts, and other supernatural things are just as real and mysterious to them as the complicated relationships of their parents and the struggles of school.
This year I committed myself to read three books at a time: One comic book collection, one fiction book, and one non-fiction book. As a result, I read some very informative books, filling in my knowledge on subjects I realized I only understood tangentially. Here were my favorites, in no particular order, expect the last book which is my favorite.
The Second Amendment: A Biography – Michael Waldman After the shooting at Majorie Stoneman Douglas High School in February was moved emotionally in a way that none of America’s previous school shooting tragedies had hit me. I think I’d chosen to be numb to what had gone before, notably Sandy Hook, despite being an elementary school teacher out of pure psychological survival. I knew I had issues with the proliferation of guns in the United States but was unable to articulate my views and wanted to clarify facts so that I could clarify or possibly change my understanding. Author Waldman does an excellent job of giving in-depth explorations of gun ownership from colonial America to the most recent Supreme Court cases surrounding the issue. I walked away having a firmer, never final, viewpoint on an issue and was able to navigate past my emotional response to holding a much more reasoned one, while not eschewing the humanity involved.