Book Review – Vernon God Little

Vernon God Little (2003)
Written by D.B.C. Pierre

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Vernon Little is a teenager living in the nowhere town of Martirio, Texas. After a life of mundanity, one day his friend Jesus up and shoots 18 of their classmates and then kills himself. Without anyone to heap their collective anger and rage on due to the suicide, suspicious immediately turn to Vernon. Everyone becomes convinced he must have known Jesus had this planned and therefore his hands are covered in blood. A reporter rolls into town who is named Eulalio Ledesma (Lally for short), and he claims to work for CNN with a promise he will help clear Vernon’s name. This is just the beginning of the foul-mouthed teen’s manipulations, and Vernon quickly learns everyone is out to claim their own piece of him. Events begin to spiral out of control, and Vernon is confronted with the fact life as he knew it is effectively over.

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Book Review – The Shadow Year

The Shadow Year (2008)
By Jeffrey Ford

shadow yearIt’s the mid-1960s on Long Island, New York, and an unnamed preteen narrator is beginning a year of his life he will never forget. This is his last year in elementary school and he, his brother Jim, and little sister Mary become embroiled in a mystery that no one else in their neighborhood seems to take note of it. It starts with the disappearance of a local boy and then rumors of a peeping tom carousing the backyards at night. The narrator spies a strange white car driven by a man dressed all in white whose presence seems to correlate with the prowler. Then his sister Mary, an odd one who allows her imaginary friends to speak through her, begins to show the possibility of clairvoyance, knowing where neighbors are at precise moments when she should not be able to. This shadow year will linger for our protagonist and what he learns will haunt him decades later.

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Book Review – Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier
Flatiron Books, 2017
Written by Mark Frost

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The final piece of Twin Peaks, for the time being, has been released. This comes in the form of co-creator Mark Frost’s meta-novel The Final Dossier. The Final Dossier continues the investigation of Tamara Preston from The Secret History of Twin Peaks. In the previous volume, she is pouring through an archive of documents about events in the Twin Peaks area dating back to the time of Lewis and Clark. In The Final Dossier, she has remained behind in the town after the events of the finale to debrief Director Gordon Cole on what has become of the townspeople and her own thoughts on what exactly happened. Beneath the surface, I read this as co-creator Mark Frost’s personal interpretation of the series. David Lynch is known for creating incredibly enigmatic art that he wants everyone involved from the actors to the viewers to interpret for themselves. It’s not too big of a jump to assume even though Frost contributed to The Return he may have different readings of what happened in the show.

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Book Review – The Third Parent

The Third Parent (Thought Catalog)
By Elias Witherow

thirdparentEverything changed in Jack’s life the day his family heard an unexpected knock on the door. For the next four years, they lived in abject terror at the cruel hand of Tommy Taffy. Tommy was an inhuman creature, resembling a life-size Ken doll, who insisted he was there to help the parents raise their children right. At night he would force them to sit in the living room and listen to his lectures on being good people. Then Tommy would debase, violate, and forever scar the four helpless residents of this home. Jack is an adult now, and he doesn’t know it, but his path is hurtling towards a bloody, violent reunion with Tommy very soon.

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Book Review – The Worst Kind of Monster: Stories

The Worst Kind of Monster: Stories by Elias Witherow (Thought Catalog, 2016)

worst kindElias Witherow is an author who I first encountered through their presence in the NoSleep community on Reddit. His stories induce such a true fear in me I felt myself drawn to his work time and time again. In this collection, he takes many of those NoSleep stories, along with new material and delivers a very powerful short story collection. As I read through the collection, I felt like I was reading, not the masterpiece of a writer, but the first seeds planted on the path to that great work of horror. Here are my thoughts on some of the stories in The Worst Kind of Monster.

“The Tall Dog” – This is what I would call the most typical NoSleep story in the collection. Grieving widower dealing with his daughter waking up in the middle of the night complaining of the “tall dog” that comes in her room whispering horrible things in her ear. The father doubts but as the story progresses, he becomes convinced something is in his home. This opening story highlights a significant element of Witherow’s work: endings where protagonists don’t die but have to endure an even worse state of living.

“The House in the Field” – I first heard this story on the NoSleep Podcast, and it prompted me to buy this collection. A narrator tells a story from their youth about seeing an old farmhouse in a field on her family’s property. No one else can see the house, until one day another person can. The monster revealed behind this house is unlike any I have read about in horror. The description will give you chills. All I will say is that gigantic monsters usually don’t scare me, but this one is both hidden and massive at the same time.

“There’s Something Wrong With Dad” – Domestic horror is a common trope in Witherow’s work (see Tommy Taffy), and this is very bare bones version. Dad comes home from work, starts to behave increasingly erratic, hell on his poor family begins. And like Tommy Taffy, the violence visited upon the family is not directly by a family member. The perpetrator is a metaphor. Or, another way to read the story is that the fantastic “happy” ending is all delusion of a child being killed by their father.

“Feed the Pig” – The most surreal and fantastic of the stories in a pretty surreal collection. Our protagonist has hung himself and ended up in a bizarre afterlife. What I love here is the mythology building. Apparently, God felt the need to create a place for suicides separate from Hell. So he created the Black Farm and put The Pig in charge. He eventually forgot that he created this place, so The Pig attempted to become a god and shape a world in his image. The narrator’s journey through the world is obscured so we get the slightest of glimpses of a place that seems like Clive Barker would be right at home. This story also features a genuinely hopeful ending.

“horse/8min” – Another very NoSleep type of story. The narrator finds a strange DVD on his front step. The video contained on it shows a murky obscured scene. Nothing overtly horrific. Then the creeping fear and dread set in. This is a great mood piece. It’s short and to the point while leaving us hanging in the final moments.

A Different Kind of Monster spans some horror genres, but the common thread is “a fate worse than death.” No one gets out that easy, especially those who have done wrong by their fellow man. The worse a person is, the worse they will get in the end.

Book Review – Lost Signals

Lost Signals: Horror Transmissions (2016, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing)

Edited by Max Booth III and Lori Michelle

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Certain things click with me as horror tropes more than others. Numbers stations, haunted baby monitors, signals coming from the deep dark woods. Something about radio waves can be genuinely creepy. No matter how secure your door is, they can get in. That’s why I was delighted to discover this anthology full of stories that touch on these very elements.

Some of the highlights of the collection are:

“If He Summons His Herd” by Matthew M. Bartlett

Finn Groomer is obsessed with the legends surrounding his small town community. One of these is a phantom FM station that comes and goes and seems connected to the disappearances of some kids. Finn is also troubled by the death of his mother and believes that through this station he can speak to the dead. There are some great classic devil worship type notes in this story but how it ends is unexpected and deeply disturbing.

“Transmission” by T.E. Grau

Max is zooming through the Nevada desert in the middle of the night when he stumbles upon what he thinks is fire and brimstone religious station. Something bolts across the road and forces the man off the road, but despite his predicament, something about this station keeps him from going for help. The more he listens, the more he realizes this isn’t about saving your soul but about being awakened to reality most can’t see.

“How the Light Gets In” by Michael Paul Gonzalez

A filmmaker and her partner are traveling through and documenting the people who live in the Salton Sea. They meet one strange, older woman who claims her husband discovered something in the area that was responsible for his death, a strange shimmer in the sky, a place where reality bends. Deciding to investigate for fun the couple ends up an abandoned hotel and experience a night of horrors as the sky splits open.

“Eternity Lies In Its Radius” by Christopher Slatsky

Molly is roommates with her fellow punk bandmates when one of them, Mark, discovers a strange pirate radio station he finds songwriting inspiration from. Now the music is evoking visions when she closes her eyes of railroad tracks leading off into a jagged cave in the side of a mountain. The images are so vivid she’s unnerved and discovers the place in her dreams is real and in their small town. All the while, Mark is spending more time locked in his room and getting lost in this strange radio station.

“All That You Leave Behind” by Paul Michael Anderson

A couple is living in the aftermath of a miscarriage. Told from the wife’s perspective, she is becoming increasingly distressed that her husband spends all day on a computer listening to the ultrasound heartbeat recording on a loop. She keeps trying to throw away objects that are connected to the late child, but her husband appears to be digging them back out of the trash. As their relationship deteriorates, she begins to have significant questions about her sense of reality. A horror story that ends with some poignancy.

More than just a one-note collection, Lost Signals gets a lot of mileage about of its concept. In our current era, there are a lot of signals crossing the globe and the opportunity to glean some horror from that is perfect.