Normally, I share a list of poems and short stories as part of my Culture Consumption post for the month. However, since I let two months go by before posting, I gathered up a long list of great reads to share. Below you’ll find the title and a few lines from the work to tempt you into reading.
Things Withered is a brilliant collection of short horror stories, in which Susie Maloney plays on the anxieties of everyday life to deliver horrifying chills. Whether it’s the need to hold onto a job, unfortunate deaths in the neighborhood, or competition between friends, the drive of each story is grounded in human beings with their own frustrations so that by the time things get really weird, the reader is already on edge.
Take, for example, “The Audit,” in which a young woman faces a growing mountain of paperwork as she attempts to prepare for being audited by the IRS. Taxes are an ordinary kind of fear, but the story manages to build an increasing tension through the escalating mountain of papers that need to be addressed combined with the indifference of the people around her.
In â€œPetty Zoo,â€ a mother and her son are stationed in a line of families waiting to get into a mall petting zoo that is more than an hour late from opening. The growing anger and annoyance of the parents, who are caught between their desperation to keep their children happy and their their own desire to leave is the vivid center point â€” at least until things go terribly, terribly wrong.
Another kind of anxiety is offered up in â€œPoor David, or, The Possibility of Coincidence in Situations of Multiple Occurrences.â€ David has the misfortune of finding the dead body of his girlfriend’s aunt, a traumatic experience that’s quickly compounded by the discovery of another body. There is nothing suspicious about these deaths, all due to natural circumstances â€” and yet it seems to be David’s misfortune to discover them. The story beautifully portrays his escalating anxiety, which makes it difficult for him to function in the world. And yet, it’s also about his relationship with Myra and how the two of them continue to build a life together through this trauma.
â€œReclamation on the Forrest Floorâ€ also deals with relationships, in this case between two girlfriend and the brutal outcome of their ongoing competition with each other. The story opens with murder and evolves into a stunningly written body horror as the consequences of that act reveal themselves.
Some of my favorite stories in the collection, are those that features older women as their protagonists. â€œThe Last Living Summerâ€ is a story of three little old ladies in continue on in a beach town that has emptied out since all their neighbors abandoned the place in the face of a strange, unsettling apocalypse. It’s a story with such melancholy beauty.
In “The Neighborhood, or, To the Devil with You,” a woman who has lived on the same block well into her old age relates the history of her neighborhood, which carries a series of tragedies. With it’s meandering style and “times have changed” tone, the story balances between the events being simply the horrifying misfortunes of an ordinary or all part of some larger, sinister design.
On the whole,Â Things Withers is a phenomenal collection of stories â€” highly recommended.
Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂 I’ll be posting my favorite reads and movies of the year in the next week or two.
I read two phenomenal (if very different) poetry collections this month, A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon and Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar. In her book, Yoon reflects on the lives of Korean comfort women of the 1930s and 40s, consideringÂ not only the history of sexual slavery, but also its ongoing impact. On the other hand, Bodnar uses imagery from horror cinema in her chapbook to delve into the dilemma of female power.Â I also interviewed both poets about their work â€” Yoon on the New Books in Poetry podcast and Bodnar on my blog.
Another book I loved this month was Ted Chiang’s stunning short story collection,Â Stories of Your Life and Others. These stories present beautiful contemplations of our world through linguistics, mathematics, architecture, and beauty â€” with characters who pursue knowledge and understanding. It’s lovely and I’ve written more on this over here.
This story started its life during The Brainery’s Science Fiction Fairy Tales workshop â€” ten weeks of writing stories in which fairy tales and science were mashed together. “A Dream of This Life” is a mash up of sleeping beauty and dream science, with the final result bearing little resemblance to the original fair tale.
Some stories come out nearly whole in one go. This was one of those stories. The first draft was very similar to the one that was finally published. Although I went through a process of writing additional scenes, thinking the story needed more, the workshop group reigned me in and guided me back toward the more concise version. Without the help of the group, I might have been lost down a story rabbit hole. But something that writing those extra scenes taught me is that there is more to this story â€” and I may just get around to writing it someday.
Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂
The Changeling by Victor LaValle is a powerful novel, presenting a variety of horror, both mundane and supernatural, a mix ofÂ folklore and familial love and violence.Â Apollo Kagwa is a book man, tracking down rare first editions to make his living. When he falls in love with Emma and they have a son together, he is determined to be a better father than the man who abandoned him when he was young. But Emma begins acting in strange and unsettling ways, building to a terrible act before vanishing â€” and Apollo’s world is spun out of control.
What makes the horrors of this novel work so effectively is how rooted the story is in normal, everyday life before slowly gathering in strange moments one-by-one. It’s beautifully evoked, layering in the anxieties of fatherhood and dealing with racism and the ways we fail to be compassionate to loved ones when things are hard and the male ego and so much more â€” all combined with its undertones of folklore. The worst horrors are not always of the supernatural kind, and this story parallels them well â€” making for a frightening and deeply moving tale.
This is the second book by LaValle that I’ve read (the first beingÂ The Ballad of Black Tom)Â and I’m itching to read more of his work.