Saw was brutally simple, spending much of its runtime in a small room with two men chained to opposite walls with a corpse between them. A saw, and a way out: Cut off your foot if you want to live. The villain was a moralist, punishing his victims for perceived faults. The brilliant premise kept the budget down and begged viewers to consider if they’d cut off their own foot to survive. The next six installments in the franchise invested their substantially larger budgets (from $1,200,000 for Saw steadily increasing to an estimated $20,000,000 for Saw 3D) in inventing more creative kills. They were fun as far as the gore could carry, but didn’t always make sense. It hurt their box office take enough that after seven years of Halloween releases, viewers had to wait seven years between 2010’s Saw 3D and this year’s Jigsaw.
Although Penguin Random House classifies The Changeling by Victor LaValle as “Literary Fiction” and “Contemporary Fantasy,” LaValle’s book doesn’t fit neatly into either genre. The novel defines itself in its first line: “This fairy tale begins in 1968 during a garbage strike” (3). While modern audiences may have become accustomed to seeing Hans Christian Andersen’s tales in their sanitized Disney form, LaValle, as well as the characters in The Changeling, work to return fairy tales to their visceral origins, packed with social commentary while incorporating technology and addressing race.
LaValle’s protagonist, Apollo Kwaga, is a rare and antiquarian bookseller and for the first one-hundred pages or so, his life is mundane. The only hints of a supernatural world emerging in the opening pages are seen in pictures texted to his wife Emma that mysteriously disappear before she can show them to Apollo. They have their first child, and Emma suffers from something that looks very much like postpartum depression; however, something shocking happens, forcing Apollo into a new, much darker, magical world…
Read the rest at Spectator and Spooks!
Denis Johnson had a way of crafting stories that lived in readers because they felt so real. I don’t think about Fuckhead that often, but Georgie I think about a lot. My fiancee and my brother are doctors so when I daydream about them I remember Georgie pulling the knife out of the man’s eye and the overworked nurse saying it was just one of the those things. I think of the baby rabbits that get forgotten and crushed on the car seat too.
And damn, Johnson’s sentences were fine. He’s infinitely quotable. “I knew every raindrop by its name.” “Generally the closest I ever came to wondering about the meaning of it all was to consider that I must the victim of a joke.” “We heard music coming from inside—jazz. It sounded sophisticated and lonely.” He had that wonderful way of mixing adjectives. Everything he did embodied his style.
I’ve only read the one book so far, but if Jesus’ Son was all he’d written he’d still be one of the greats.
Rest in piece, Denis Johnson.
I reviewed B&B and Naciye for Wicked Horror. Neither was great, but if you want to know more, you can find out more in “Naciye is a Chaotic, Sordid Horror Movie” and “B&B is a Brilliant Premise Weighted Down by Dull Writing.“
Entropy picked up my story “Birds of Prey.” Check out this excerpt, and if you like it continue reading here.
Since Sarah had had Travis, her mother had called every day. Sometimes two or three times a day. “I hope you’ve decided to do the right thing about your job?” “Do you need help with the baby?” “I’m an expert.” Her voice was nasally in person, and the static from her phone exaggerated it. Her mother was indisputably experienced, but she’d shipped her six kids off to swimming practice every night so she could “cook dinner,” but the only smell in the house was the chlorine dripping off Sarah and her siblings when they got back from their nightly swimming lessons. Her mother was calling again, but Sarah declined. She’d had enough for one day and Dave was out of town on business. The last thing she needed was more stress.
She popped in her headphones and sock hopped from Travis’s nursery to the laundry room, swaying to Frank Sinatra’s “Witchcraft.” She was shoveling wet clothing from the washer to the dryer when the first knock came.
There were three frame shaking clunks, like a man battering on the door. She paused the music and headed down the stairs. She wasn’t expecting anyone. The floorboards creaked and groaned under her weight.
What’s that at the door? Who’s there? Find out at Entropy!
Human Acts, Han Kang’s second novel translated into English (and 6th overall), is breathtakingly good. Its opening follows Dong-Ho from a close second-person perspective and slowly reveals to the reader that he is surrounded by the bodies of those who were killed in the brutal put-down of the Gwangju Uprising, a real demonstration in South Korea where paratroopers opened fire on protesters. Dong Ho is helping families find the bodies of their loved ones and helping the other volunteers dispose of the unclaimed. Kang writes that Dong-Ho is young enough that his “PE jacket is buttoned up to the top,” cleverly showing with that detail that he’s much too young to be helping families identify corpses. There are so many dead in the city that they cannot perform individual ceremonies for each of them.
Continue reading at Spectator and Spooks.
The Belko Experiment opens with Michael Milch (John Gallagher Jr., 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush) driving through a market in Bogotá, Columbia. Two little boys in skull masks are playing. A third boy in a creepier mask stares Michael down. He looks back at the boy, and an old man selling safety charms pounds on the opposite window, jolting Michael and the audience. He buys a charm and the opening montage starts introducing the other characters to José Prieto’s upbeat, Spanish cover of “I Will Survive.”
Continue reading at Wicked Horror.