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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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Horror Vs. Europe, part 7

Owls Hoot in the Daytime by Manly Wade Wellman Vs. Fourteen Little Gustavs by Goce Smilevski

Owls Hoot in the Daytime by Manly Wade Wellman: A wandering adventurer meets a noble dwarf hermit in the woods, shares a meal with him, and learns about the scary cave-devil that the self-denying codger has been containing for a lifetime. Guess what happens then. When I was a kid I was entranced by a book titled Jack Tales by Richard Chase; it was a collection of fairy tales retold in an Appalachian idiom. Manly Wade Wellman is working in the same basic idiom. The battle between hero and devil is less interesting than the dinner and conversation between hero and old man. In a Jack tale, the hero would best the Devil with guile and cunning; here, he bests the Devil by pushing real hard. Still, it's Appalachian fantasy; I'll take all I can get.

 Fourteen little Gustavs by Goce Smilevski: In this excerpt from a novel, we learn that visionary painter Gustav Klimt (or at least this fictitious representation of him) didn't treat the women in his life as well as he treats your eyeballs. He sired a bunch of sons with a bunch of ladies, but his actual wife remained childless. This is the story of how she became a caregiver to all those sons, and how they tried to repay her once she was in a position to need help.

Compare/Contrast: Both tales involve self sacrifice that's motivated by necessity. In Owls a man lives alone in the woods, a self-appointed guard protecting travelers from a devil. He's a dwarf compensating for his outsider status, and choosing loneliness and terror over mockery. In Gustavs, a woman compensates for a faithless husband by providing for the children he has with other women.

Verdict: Owls is sweeter candy to me, but Gustavs is a tender meditation on how we make familial ties where we can find them, and how that isn't always enough.

Where There's a Will by Richard Matheson and Richard Christian Matheson Vs. Resistance by Stephan Enter:

Where There's a Will by Richard Matheson and Richard Christian Matheson: A guy's been buried alive. Little by little he fights his way out of the coffin, out of the grave. Then there's a twist ending (spoiler warning: he's a zombie). Richard Matheson was one of the key figures in 20th century horror; his Twilight Zone scripts alone make him legendary in the field, and Stephen King has cited him as a key influence. Matheson's son RCM is a punchy prosesmith in his own right. Together they craft a taut, detail-oriented action thriller with vivid physical and psychological detail that serves, rather than slows, the rockin' pace.

 Resistance by Stephan Enter: A confessional tale about a guy who regrets a youthful act of peer-pressured ingratitude. Dumb ideas about manliness lead a group of chess-loving boys to sneer at their nebbishy new tutor, even though he turns them into unstoppable chess warriors. If you're ever anguished about bad things you did when you were a kid, this is pretty close to trigger warning territory.

Compare/contrast: in both tales the protagonist fights the good fight, all the way to triumph, only to discover he's a loser in a bigger picture. One's a quick pulse-pounder which follows Poe's dictum that a story should have a continuous tone throughout; the other's a longer bildingsroman-in-a-bag which alternates cheer (it is about a group of boys doing something they enjoy, after all) and melancholy.

 Verdict: Read the first when you want an espresso shot of horror-tainment; read the second when you want to mourn the mentors you never hugged.

Traps by Gahan Wilson Vs. Waves of Stone by Jon Fosse

 Traps by Gahan Wilson: The great cartoonist, whose semi-melting figures are always embroiled in horror, gives us a whimsical tale of exterminators versus cunning rats. It's almost like one of his cartoons in textual form.

Waves of Stone by Jon Fosse: Literary minimalism that builds to a fantastical expressionism. A narrator, in a boat in a fjord, eavesdrops on a couple on a cliff over the sea. The boundaries between human and landscape dissolve, and this slippage between people and landscape takes on mortal significance. If Steve Reich and Magritte collaborated on a short story the result might be something like this.

Compare/contrast: In Traps, rats act like humans, specifically like canny guerrilla warriors, to the astonished horror of humans; in Waves of Stone, a complex slippage between people and landscape suggests that the conservation of mass and energy extends to departing souls.

Verdict: Traps is a bit of fun, though Wilson's cartoons are even more fun and even shorter. I love an ostentatious run-on sentence that utterly justifies itself, and Waves of Stone is built on such sentences, alternating with quick-chop bursts of dialogue. A quietly audacious study of loss and landscape, Waves of Stone is one of the most formally interesting stories in either collection so far.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Horror Vs. Europe, Part 6

My country chose Trump, and God turned the skies dark. It's been too bleak and cold and horrible to write. Added to which, Google Analytics suggests that my readership consists entirely of the same Russian bots that elected that morally (and otherwise) bankrupt grifter, so my blogging morale has been at low ebb. Nonetheless, I have Calvin in my blood, and no weaker toxins can overcome that fell influence for long. I woke, and found that life was duty. Let the Horror Vs. Europe series continue!

The Stupid Joke by Edward Gorey Vs. Carlo Doesn't Know How to Read by Giulio Mozzi (aka Carlo Dalcielo)

The Stupid Joke by Edward Gorey: In classic Gorey fashion, this is an illustrated story. A young boy refuses to get out of bed. The images are all built around the bed. The people in his life crowd around to insist that he cease this retreat from reality. Then the bed sprouts wings and flies away. As someone who struggles with hikikomori tendencies, I know the seduction and the horror of such fantasy.

Carlo Doesn't Know How to Read by Giulio Mozzi (aka Carlo Dalcielo): Carlo reads literature with an autistic literalness that makes fascinating hash of literary devices and norms. His friends delight in his misreadings as a kind of accidental creativity, somewhat akin to the anti-reason writing experiments of Byron Gysin and William Burroughs.

Compare/contrast: Both stories involve an oddball who cannot engage life on the usual terms. Carlo engages art in an "incorrect" but revivifying fashion; the value of the Gorey character's retreat is, as so often in Gorey, left ambiguous.

Verdict: Gobble them both up like the little treats they are. Gorey is always worthwhile, and Mozzi suggests some potentially fruitful reading/detournement strategies.

A Touch of Petulance by Ray Bradbury Vs. Ants and Bumblebees by Inga Abele

A Touch of Petulance by Ray Bradbury: Ray uses the "traveling back in time to advise/warn your younger self" troupe to address memory, regret and inevitability. A happily married guy meets his time-traveling future self, who warns him that he's going to fall out of love with his wife and try to murder her, unless he adjusts his attitude. It becomes pretty clear that this warning was for naught. Destiny as an explanation for sorrowful past events is on the table, here.

Ants and Bumblebees by Inga Abele: A woman with a difficult family (childish brother, cranky father) herds them through a trip to her mother's grave, followed by an emotionally fraught side trip to her father's mistress... This is a virtual road movie about dealing with intractable crochets and a demoralizing past as productively as possible. The conclusion finds its way to a paradoxical, renunciatory happy ending.

Compare/Contrast: in some ways this is the most logical double feature of all the forced pairings in this little project to date. Both examine dark feelings for one's family, and the ongoing struggle to rise above those feelings. Also, both involve someone seeing a dead person, whether through time travel or a visionary experience.

Verdict: I once heard Bradbury speak; the only thing I remember is that he told us to read 3 good poems and 3 good short stories a day. This struck me as worthy advice, but he added a punchline: don't read any contemporary stories except his, because they're all terrible. This touch of petulance has colored my fondness for Bradbury. With that disclosed, I think Ants and Bumblebees is the finer story, far less predictable. Anyone whose ever read a time-travel story of the sorrow-tinged variety will find no shocks in Bradbury's tale, while Abele's carries the reader down a steady stream of micro-twists and reread-rewarding internal correspondences. (This is hardly fair, but Bradbury also lost a letter grade with me for writing a forward to a coffee table book of science fiction illustrations in which he lambasted Jasper Johns for not being as imaginative as dudes who paint rocket ships.) I'm eager to read more Inga Abele.

Lindsay and the Red City Blues by Joe Haldeman Vs. Deep in the Snow by Mathias Ospelt

Lindsay and the Red City Blues by Joe Haldeman: A tourist in the Middle East lets a local boy take him on a tour of the tourist-unfriendly part of the city. This turns out to be a terrible idea. Grifts, cons, and orientalist exoticism abound. One gets the impression that Haldeman, who is a seasoned traveler and a Vietnam Vet, is trying to convey some lived experience of being a stranger in a strange land while still extending respect to foreign cultures. I'm iffy on how well he succeeds at mining a culture without othering it; but then I'm a Texas Chainsaw fan, which basically extends the same treatment to American hillbillies that this story extends to Arabic people, so one might accuse me of hypocrisy. OTOH I'm close enough to hillbilly culture to gauge how closely Texas Chainsaw captures it (Basically, Hillbillies + Meth = Texas Chainsaw Massacre - cannibalism) but I'm not close enough to Middle Eastern culture to suss out how fair Haldeman plays with the people he makes the adversary. To be fair, he does portray his protagonist as an ugly American and a fool who probably deserves a bad end, instead of making the Arabs the only creeps in the story. Oh, and if you factor out cultural sensitivity as a concern, the story's tight, keeping you guessing about when things will turn from bad to monstrous. Fear not; things get really bad for our hero.

Deep in the Snow by Mathias Ospel: An unreliable young dude leads another young dude (who should know better) over a stupid shortcut through the snowy mountains at night in an effort to get to the PAR-TAY. It's an adventure tale that captures the cruddiness of getting lost at night in an uncomfortable and potentially threatening landscape. My kinda cathartic fun. Also, the dumdum who gets our hero into this fix doubles as the kind of unreliable narrator who beguiles you but keeps life interesting with his false promises and real misadventures. He's like a storyteller who enchants you with a tale, then leads you into predicaments that test your mettle.

Compare/Contrast: They're both about dangerous trips with dodgy guides. In one the guide is a dangerous con artist; in the other, he's just a dreamy doofus.

Verdict: Both are thrilling. Lindsay and the Red City Blues is longer, grosser, and of dubious cultural sensitivity, which may not be a bad thing in a grossout horror nightmare. Ospel's story gets you into a recognizable bad situation and ends with an equally recognizable comic twist.

A Garden of Blackred Roses by Charles L. Grant Vs. Allure of the Text by Giedra Radvilaviciute

A Garden of Blackred Roses by Charles L. Grant: A house in Anytown USA boasts a beautiful bush of odd roses, and the Norman Rockwell locals can't help but pilfer a few. Afterwards, terrible things happen to the thieves. 

This is the kind of story where people curse silently, and young women hold their schoolbooks over their breasts. In other words, Grant is building his Anytown USA on a foundation of Anyfiction USA. He does it with a certain glib virtuosity; his prose is a bit like radio-ready soft rock, smooth and bland and familiar. The horror twists are distressing, though, and deserve a more keenly observed milieu to play out against.

Allure of the Text by Giedra Radvilaviciute: Radvilaviciute begins her story with some thoughts about what makes prose memorable, and provides a few examples that I found far more compelling than Charles L. Grant's slick cliches. From this essayistic beginning she segues into a story of a family feud, and how going to meet a cousin whom she hadn't seen since childhood expanded her sense of story. Radvilaviciute, with help from translator Darius James Ross, writes prose that fulfills her final standard for prose: it draws one back. Sadly not much of her work is available in English.

Compare/Contrast: Both stories unify a variety of concerns: Grant tells stories about various characters, unified by small-town familiarity and the curse of the roses. Radvilaviciute draws family, prose (as subject as well as process), memory, and lived experience together in a bouquet.

Verdict: Radvilaviciute writes the kind of fiction that, for me, makes reading worthwhile. Grant not so much, but if you like Ray Bradbury and mid-20th century sentimental fiction, you might dig him. Grant edited The Best of Shadows, which I'll be reading to round out the horror half of this project, so hoo boy.