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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Horror vs. Europe, Part 3.

Start here.

Where the Summer Ends by Karl Edward Wagner Vs. And All Turned Moon by Georgi Gospodinov.

Where the Summer Ends: Knoxville, Tennessee (where I was born) is the setting for this tale, in which a young antiques lover and his girlfriend befriend a grouchy antiques dealer whose shop is being overrun by kudzu. What does the kudzu have to do with the odd skulls the shopkeeper collects? Why does the shopkeeper drink so much? Why is he so skeered? Wagner knows how to paint an atmospheric picture of the down-at-heels yet aspirational lifestyle, as well as the grunge of unremarked southern poverty; it's too bad he died young. Someone could turn this story into a rockin' low-budget movie.

And All Turned Moon / Georgi Gospodinov: Elegiac satire. It's like a license to print money!

 In a near future, a environmentalist scientist prepares to commit suicide (or rather, be voluntarily euthanized) as he comes to terms with his failure to convince people to stop ruining the environment. Also, his son won't call him. Humanity has become completely consumerist; modern plants have no odors. Our protagonist concludes that the basic building block of the universe is loneliness. He waits in vain for his estranged son to contact him before it all ends. And, as the enigmatic final sentence tells, all turns moon.

Compare/Contrast: Both stories build towards futility and loss. In Where the Summer Ends the problem is only revealed at the very end; it took me a second read to see how hints and warning signs were woven throughout the story.

In And All Turned Moon the causes of futility and loss are not mysterious; the story's energy comes from the protagonist's ruminations on his failures and lack of hope.

Verdict: Both stories are finely crafted; it's a matter of taste as to which, if either, you should read. Atmospheric and cinematic Southern horror, or woebegone lamentation for an empty future? Or both? Or neither? You should probably trust your gut with this decision; I'm confident I've given you all the info you need for a solid consumer decision.

The Bingo Master by Joyce Carol Oates Vs. Veres by Neven Usumovic.


The Bingo Master by Joyce Carol Oates: Oates has written warmly of H. P. Lovecraft, and has written quite a bit of Gothic fiction, so she could easily produce the kind of horror tale one might expect from a collection titled Dark Forces, but here the Dark Force is just a violently priggish jerk, which in some ways is scarier than imaginary boogers. It's a nonfantastical tale about a woman who is bright and ironic in her correspondence with female friends, but painfully uncertain in romantic relationships. The contrast between her sharp-witted internal monologue and her clumsy behavior makes her a compelling character; nowadays she'd be a big fan of The Toast (but then, who isn't?). She decides to discard her overdue virginity with a likely Lothario who runs the local bingo parlor. Shirley Jackson and Flannery O'Connor would probably approve of this sprightly yet distressing story about isolated oddballs who damagingly misunderstand one another. 

Veres / Neven Usumovic: A refugee in Budapest befriends a fellow exile who works at a Chinese restaurant. Their nervous conversations open up the absurd underground world of Budapest crime families. A story that begins at a favorite lunch spot becomes an account of evil children, bloodthirsty birds, exploitative human smugglers, and employers who may or may not be slavers. It's told with an off-the-cuff cheer and a deft sense of humor that delays but deepens the impact of the horror. The floating uncertainty of the refugee really comes through.

Compare/Contrast: In Oates, two people try to come to an understanding but fail due to utterly different sexual values. In Usumovic, two fellow countrymen come to an appalling understanding about the alliances they must make to survive in their new country. Both are horror in a flamboyant, expressionistic, but essentially reality-based mode.

Verdict: Read both.

Children of the Kingdom by T. E. D. Klein Vs. Bulbjerg by Naja Marie Aidt.

Children of the Kingdom / T.E.D. Klein: Put a big ol' trigger warning on this for rape and racism. It's like Where the Summer Ends, except it's New York, it's psychotically racist, its characterization is more type-driven, and it's a lot longer. Maybe Klein thought he was upending racism ("y'see, black people are scary but white underground troglodytes are even worse, get it?") but no sale. He'd need to have some black characters who amount to something more than "ghetto thug" or "Aunt Jemima" to have a shot at upending anti-black racism here. The story does generate some authentic terror; his rapacious sewer-dwelling sons of Cain do HORRIBLE things, and his depiction of a riot during a blackout conveys a powerful sense of why Guiliani got and held office. As an artifact of early 80s New York I suppose this story is of some future sociological value.


Bulbjerg / Naja Marie Aidt: A deeply disfunctional family trip. Aidt plays some intriguing games with her vile narrator, an unfaithful husband whose internal monologue uses variable tenses (you/she) to keep us guessing about when he's thinking of his wife, and when he's thinking of his lover/sis-in-law. Both parents live to protect their autistic son, and this may or may not be enough to keep them together. The poor family dog doesn't come out ahead. Aidt cites Cormac McCarthy as an influence. You'll believe it. This savage tale is a critic's darling prestige TV series waiting to happen, in the "conflicted sociopath" vein of Sopranos and Breaking Bad. I'd watch.

Compare/Contrast: Klein's scared of bogus bogeymen; maybe Klein 2016 isn't racist, but Klein 1982 published a grotesquely racist story (and overlong... odd that he's famous for writer's block. Maybe he figured out that black people aren't really evil and, deprived of racism, his muse dried up.) Aidt understands real evil. She also understands the ways that rotters try to grope their way toward some kind of goodness. Redemption isn't out of the question in Bulbjerg, but there are NO completely good adults here. Only kids and dogs are innocent, and they both suffer at the hands of the creeps in charge of their lives.

Verdict: I'll be looking for more by Aidt. I've got another story by Klein on my shelf, and I'll check it out due to his exalted reputation in the horror lit community, but the title is The Black Man's Horn so you know I'm not optimistic.

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