Drops of Jupiter

I got my flu shot yesterday, as well as the second and final vaccination for shingles, and just like the first shingles shot, my shoulder (flu went into the left, shingles to the right) is achy and sore again this morning. But I have absolutely no regrets–a few days of sore shoulder is certainly worth never having shingles. Ironically, one of my goals for this year was to be better about my health in general; who knew, of course, when setting my goals there would be a global pandemic and all of the resultant fallout? But while I still need to get that damned colonoscopy scheduled, I have managed to get the lumps in my chest X-rayed (fatty cysts, RUDE!) and my shingles vaccination. I was in a regular routine of going to the gym again before it closed (and I really really miss it), and need to get into at least a regular routine of stretching, push-ups. and abs every morning (which hasn’t happened yet). I think that will help with what I call malaise, but really is depression.

Malaise just somehow sounds better to me than depression–but that’s also due to stigma. I don’t know why I am so reluctant to admit that I have depression sometimes–it never gets truly bad, just bad enough that I fail to see the point in doing anything of any kind–but of course, when i had to go to the office every day and see clients that helped keep it under control; helping people every day and talking to them about their own problems and issues made me feel better about myself–hey at least you’re helping people and you can do that even during a bout of depression–so obviously, only working with clients two days a week now does not help as much with that. I also am not one who likes to admit to weakness of any kind–thank you, systemic toxic masculinity–and so talking publicly about it, let alone admitting to it, has always been an issue for me.

I did watch The Believers while making condom packs yesterday, and yes, I was right; it doesn’t hold up and it’s really terrible about what is essentially just as valid a religion as Christianity. At one point an expert in santeria does explain to the main character–played by a very handsome younger Martin Sheen–that there is a difference between santeria (white magic; the forces of good) and brujeria (dark magic; the forces of evil)–but throughout the film it’s only referred to as santeria, and the entire point of the film is to exoticize an ancient African religion, make it seem mysterious and evil. Ironically, even though the film was made in 1987 or so, it actually fits into my Cynical 70’s Film Festival because it, too, is about paranoia and conspiracy and not being able to truly trust anyone. There was also a fear of Satanism rampant in the 1980’s; devil cults and so forth–and a lot of it had to do with heavy metal music as well. I suppose this swing back in the 1980’s was to be expected, almost predictable; after the social upheavals of the 1960’s and the cynicism of the 1970’s, the 1980’s saw a swing back to older values of a sort. Evangelicalism–which began to uptick somewhat in the 1970’s, on the wings of end-times religious theory, like The Late Great Planet Earth and The Omen, began preaching about “family values” and trying to censor film, books, television, and music. The film, which I didn’t really remember much of, played down some of the paranoia and motivation of the novel (which was called The Religion, until the release of the film); in the book the religion followers were being warned by the Seven Powers that child sacrifice–three children, in total–was necessary to prevent the coming end of the world; and the stakes of the novel lie in the fact that the main character’s son was to be the third. This plot point was written out of the movie, which obviously turned them into crazy child sacrificers; at least their motivations in the book were sort of pure–an end justifies the means sort of thing, which was a very popular mentality in the 1980’s, as I recall. The book ends with the main character, his new second wife (love interest throughout the book) and the son, saved from sacrifice, living on a farm somewhere; their radio and television goes out, and the adults look at each other with worry as the sky outside also begins to change to an eerie color…the movie obviously ends differently, and not as satisfyingly; I liked that the book depicted that their unwillingness to allow their son to be sacrificed in order to save the world–selfishness, really–doomed the entire world. (The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay also does a most excellent job of portraying this same dilemma–seriously, Constant Reader, you need to read that book.)

Thinking about this book, and rewatching this movie, naturally has me thinking about the connections between santeria and brujeria to the type of voodoo that was practiced in New Orleans; something I’ve long been interested in but hesitant to write about, particularly, as I’ve said before, because the historical writings about New Orleans and voodoo culture is extremely, horrifyingly dated and racist. My story “The Snow Globe”–coming next year in the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime’s anthology Magic is Murder–touches on New Orleans voodoo, and I was absolutely terrified of getting it wrong. The primary issue I have with both fictional and historical depictions of voodoo under any name is that it’s always painted as devil-worship and evil, which is predicated on the notion that Christianity is the only good religion. (I’ve also, often, noted that horror fiction–film, television, novels–while always attacked by Christians, actually almost always portrays Christianity as good, and true, and real; a confirmation of its beliefs and value systems. Vampires inevitably recoil from the cross and holy water; same with demonic possession–and inevitably not just Christianity but Catholicism in particular. I’ve always thought that rather curious.)

Scott Heim’s wonderful story “Loam”–available here at Amazon–was very interesting (not just because he’s a terrific writer and it’s very good) to me because it was about the after-effects, years later, of one of those devil-worshipping/Satanic cult scares from that time period, in which child abuse and so forth were also alleged, and convictions gained, only to later discover the kids had “false memories” that were implanted by the questioning (similar to what happened to Greg Kelley in that documentary we recently watched, where he was falsely accused and convicted of molesting two children). I’ve always been curious about the after-effects of these kinds of traumas, not just on the children but the adults involved as well. How do you parent in that situation? I have a book idea that’s been lying around here for quite some time called I Know Who You Are, which is sort of based on that idea; someone escaping a deeply troubled past and starting a new life with a new name somewhere else, only to have someone from that past turn up, because you can never escape the past. It’s a great idea, and one that I was originally intending to use as a Paige novel in that aborted series, but I think it will also work as a stand-alone–I’ve considered using it as the spin-off from my true crime writer Jerry Channing, who has shown up in the Scotty series a couple of times.

But I must get through these other manuscripts before I can even consider writing anything else.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me.

Forever and Always

Wednesday morning and the sun is shining, which is always a lovely thing. After the last few days of incessant rain and gloom–but not as bad as a tropical storm coming through–it’s nice to see the sunshine again. The weather is also beginning to take that shift towards cooler, which is also incredibly lovely. I slept really well last night– I inevitably do on the morning after two consecutive days of getting up at six–and as such, I don’t feel very tired today. Also a lovely thing. I am working from home today–I think I am going to pick an 80’s movie today for watching during the inevitable making of the condom packs; I had already cued up Martin Sheen’s The Believers, a horror movie about santeria, because I wanted to see how it held up after all these years–and i am relatively certain it is probably guilty of a lot of things that would keep the film from being made today; not the least of which would be portraying a non-Abrahamic religion as a tool of evil. I read the book the film was based on as well, The Religion by Robert Stuart Nathan, and a quick google search brought up this: The Religion is a horror novel written in 1982 by Nicholas Conde*. It explores the ritual sacrifice of children to appease the pantheon of voodoo deities, through the currently used practice of SanterĂ­a. (*Nicholas Conde was the pseudonym he used for the novel.)

Yeah, that doesn’t sound terribly promising.

As I said, it’s probably a terribly offensive movie (and book), but reading/seeing it made me more interested in both voodoo and Santeria, and was the first place I learned about how the enslaved Africans in this hemisphere adapted their religion by replacing their gods and goddesses with Catholic saints to fool people into thinking they’d converted to Christianity. Voodoo was something I didn’t know much about at the time–I still don’t really know much about it–and I’d never heard of santeria before; I’ve always wanted to learn more about it, but the problem is so much of the available material cannot be trusted, particularly when it comes to the New Orleans version of the religion; so much history here is word-of-mouth legend, and when people started to write “histories” (such as Robert Tallant’s Voodoo in New Orleans) most of what they wrote was deeply racist and most likely inaccurate–and can one really trust white Southern historians writing about the culture of people of color?

Probably not. At any rate, it’ll be interesting to rewatch the film through a modern lens.

We finished watching Ratched last night. It was highly entertaining, and visually spectacular, but you also kind of had to turn off your brain a bit, as there were enormous plot holes and there were more than a few things didn’t make sense; not to mention the connection to the character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was marginal, at best, and completely absent at worst. But the sets, costumes and visual aesthetic of the show was stunningly gorgeous, similar to the old Douglas Sirk films of the 1950’s. And it did keep me entertained, which is saying something–I don’t have much of an attention span these days, which is why I am having difficulty reading these days again. It’s so weird; I’ll have some sort of reading breakthrough and then tear through a bunch of novels in a short period of time, and then go back to not being able to focus again. I intend on working on the book again tonight once my workday is finished–I wasn’t joking about that mess of a chapter–and I also haven’t worked on anything short-story related at all this week either; even if it’s just to reread and figure out how to fix one that has a finished draft already, or one that is unfinished while trying to figure out how to keep going with it.

And on that note, I am going to get some more coffee and get this day started. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.

Daylight

Well, here we are again, back to something resembling normality, whatever that may be, for this awful year of 2020. The stress hangover has finally, seemingly, passed; and now I have to try to remember what I was working on and what is in progress and what is finished and what I need to do. Lord. It also seems weird to be talking about my stress hangover while western Louisiana still is in ruins, with Mobile and Pensacola and everything in between joining them after this latest natural disaster. (And California is still burning.) But, as I always say, suffering isn’t an Olympic sport, and admitting to being in a weird place emotionally doesn’t demean or diminish those who are losing, or have lost, everything.

Ah, well. That which doesn’t kill us, or whatever.

This week is very off, as so many this year have been. I have trouble remembering that today is Thursday, frankly; I’ve had to stop and think about it several times this morning already and occasionally there’s even a thought o oh wow it’s Thursday already isn’t it? Yeesh.

I feel rested and rather emotionally stable this morning–always a plus, and becoming more of a rarity it seems these days–and so I am hoping that today will be an enormously productive day as well. The sun is shining outside, there’s no haze and I can see white clouds and blue sky; so overall that’s a very pleasant way to go into the day. I think one of the primary issues I’ve been having lately is related to the lack of a football season thus far–I know games have been played, but the SEC season hasn’t started, and for me, that (mostly LSU) is how I gauge the season, and so for me at least, I won’t think of it as having started until LSU plays a game. It’s also going to be weird that the entire conference is having a conference-only schedule. I suppose this season will have an asterisk beside it for all eternity? I don’t know–but I feel like people should be aware in the future that 2020 wasn’t a normal year on any level.

I’ve not really been able to do much reading or writing this week; hell, keeping up with my emails has been an utter failure all week and I may even have to give up on the clearly impossible dream of ever being completely on top of my emails. I tried picking up Babylon Berlin again last night while I waited for Paul to come home, but couldn’t even open to the page where I left off, and even my current nonfiction read, The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels, held no interest for me last night. I will say, though, that I am leaning more and more towards writing a stand-alone Colin adventure–a historical one–and that is becoming more and more appealing to me the more I think about it, particularly since I can go back in time and write an entire series of Colin books going back to the late 1990’s without having to deal with writing about anything in the present or current day, which I will admit is more than a little cowardly on my part. I need to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and then the Kansas book so I can write Chlorine and then do a Scotty book, or perhaps the novellas I’ve been working on. Time slips through my fingers so quickly that it’s really upsetting and frightening on some levels to know that the there will be at the very least a two–if not three–year gap between the last Scotty and the next now; and there’s also a little voice in my head telling me not to write another Scotty and let the series end, or at least write another to end the series once and for all. I don’t know what to do.

I rewatched Don’t Look Now yesterday, even though it doesn’t really fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, yet it is a film of that decade and while it may not be a cynical film per se, it certainly has its moments. It’s naturally based on one of my favorite short story/novellas of all time, the superb Daphne du Maurier tale “Don’t Look Now,” and while the film has differences from the story (I much prefer the opening of the story, frankly), it has to be, because things that are told in the story to set it up, the backstory, cannot really be done properly on film, so the tale of John and Laura Baxter and their agonizing grief spools out on film by taking us to the moment they lost their daughter, Christine, by opening with her death by drowning in a pond while wearing her bright red slicker. In the story, they’ve come to Venice for a holiday to get away from home and its haunting memories; the pain is still too fresh and Christine is still too raw. In the film, they are living in Venice now while John works restoring an old church; time has passed since Christine’s death, but Laura is still not completely recovered from it; the pain is still there, a lingering grief that still throbs like an aching tooth you’ve gotten used to. The film does an excellent job of building the tension and suspense in much the same way du Maurier did in her story–God, if you’ve not read it, you really must, Constant Reader–and the imagery director Nicholas Roeg uses–those reds!–really amplifies it. Julie Christie is stunningly beautiful as she underplays the role of the grieving mother; Donald Sutherland is also at his young handsome best (those eyes! that mop of curls!) as skeptical John–at a lunch, they encounter two sisters, one of whom is blind and psychic, who tells Laura that she sees Christine and she’s happy and laughing, but that John is in danger in Venice and must leave. John doesn’t believe in any of that–afterlife, psychics, ghosts, etc.–and so he thinks they are after something from his wife–even though he does keep having close calls with accidents and possibly death…and he also keeps seeing a small figure running around Venice, wearing a red slicker like the one Christine died wearing….

Christ, what a great film and story.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

Holy Ground

I came across the coroner’s obituary last night.

As I typed it, I realized what a New Orleans-like thing it was to say; and it made me smile a little bit. The coroner in question wasn’t currently serving New Orleans; he had retired in 2014 after ten terms in office, and his name was Dr. Frank Minyard. He played the trumpet, and was actually a gynecologist rather than a pathologist. Was he good coroner or a bad one? A little of each, I would gather, based on the obituary by John Pope you can read by clicking here.

But he was, like so many New Orleanians used to be, quite a character. New Orleans has always been a city full of characters, which is why so many people write about New Orleans, and write about it well. Not only can you probably get away with writing anything crazy-seeming about New Orleans; chances are if you dig a little into our history here, you’ll inevitably find crazier shit than anything you could dream up on your own. I have to say I have really been enjoying reading up on our local history here.

Hurricane Sally came ashore earlier this morning, and it had continued turning enough to the east that we didn’t get much of anything here in New Orleans. The panhandles of Alabama and Florida (in particular Mobile and Pensacola) are an entirely different story; my heart sank down into my shoes (well, my slippers) on seeing footage and images from that section of the Gulf Coast. Hurricane season is so emotionally exhausting, really; all that stress and tension and worry, and then when it goes somewhere else the enormous guilt one feels about the relief that your area escaped unscathed while others are losing everything–including some lives–is horrible, just horrible. It’s oddly gray and hazy-seeming outside the windows this morning, with the crepe myrtles and the young live oaks in the yard on the other side of the fence doing their wavy dance thing they do when the wind blows; the sidewalk outside also looks wet so we must have gotten some rain as well overnight, but not enough for me to notice anything as I slept through it all. (That’s the other thing about hurricanes, particularly the ones that come ashore overnight; you go to bed wondering what you’ll wake up to find in the morning–or worse yet, disaster will rip you out of a deep sleep.)

So, yes, this morning I feel very emotionally drained; well rested, but exhausted emotionally.

And then, of course, once the danger has passed, you have to reset yourself and get back to normality–whatever the hell that is, or what passes for it, at any rate.

Yesterday’s entry in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival was The Omen, which was a huge hit back when it was released in 1976 and spawned two sequels, Omen II: Damien and The Final Conflict. I had never seen the sequels, and I think I originally rented the film–I don’t think it played at the Twin Theater in Emporia–but I did read the book (the book was written by David Seltzer, who apparently, according to the opening credits of the film, wrote the screenplay; which came first? I don’t care enough to look it up) and of course, was put in mind of it by paging through The Late Great Planet Earth, which laid the groundwork for the movie. Obviously, it’s about the anti-Christ, who is Damien Thorn; the movie opens with the Robert Thorn (played with an almost wooden-like quality by Gregory Peck) arriving at a hospital in Rome only to be told that the child his wife has given birth to has died; he worries about her mental stability and how she will handle the news–and so a priest offers a substitute baby whose mother died giving birth. (And this is the first place I called shenanigans on this rewatch; one, he is about to start a lifetime of lying to his wife and two–was there any need to tell Robert Thorn his child died? If the idea was to have the Thorns accept the anti-Christ into their home as their child, wouldn’t it simply make more sense to swap the babies, so neither of them knew? Because how could they have been so certain Thorn would accept this literal deal with the devil?) The movie is paced fairly well, and it moves right along–there’s not a lot of gore or blood and guts, but it does beggar credulity at more than one point–and perhaps I am looking at it with jaded eyes some forty years later, but both Peck and Lee Remick, who plays his wife, seem to just be phoning it in for the paycheck and there’s also the element of their age; they seem to be fairly old to just be trying to start having a child at the opening of the movie. (I think the book plays this up more, stating that Kathy Thorn has suffered innumerable miscarriages leading up to this birth and it has shaken her mental stability; kind of hard to do that on film but it certainly would have made his motivation in accepting this needless deception–again, they could have just as easily substituted the baby without having to go through this entire risky rigmarole.) After finishing, I looked for Omen II but it’s not streaming for free anywhere; I then watched The Final Conflict, which was simply terrible (outside of Sam Neill, who was terrific and charismatic as an adult Damien, saddled with an incredibly bad and far-fetched script).

The movie does fit, however, with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, because here we have yet another conspiracy, one in which some members of the Catholic Church have turned to Satan to try to bring about the end times as well as the birth of the Antichrist–because whereas in the 1950’s and the early 1960’s, it would have been unimaginable for such a film to be made, but also to be believable; who would have ever believed such a thing was possible? Of course, both book and film of Rosemary’s Baby set the stage for The Omen, but both were later 1960’s, when things were starting to change, times were getting more cynical, and so were people. Rosemary’s Baby changed almost everything, both in the world of novels and film, in showing that horror was both bankable and mainstream. The early 1970’s saw the publications, and enormous success, of books like Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Thomas Tryon’s Gothic horror masterpiece The Other, and eventually, Stephen King’s out-of-nowhere bestseller Carrie. Soon Peter Straub would publish Ghost Story and Carrie would become a hit movie, triggering a horror revival that brought both the literature and the films into the mainstream. This revival didn’t lose steam until the 1990’s, and frankly, I think horror is on the verge of another revival.

I could be wrong, of course. I certainly have been before, but I am seeing some really terrific work as well as amazing new voices–over the past year alone I’ve read some astonishing work by new-to-me writers, and I only wish I had more time to read everything I really want to. Paul Tremblay is amazing, and so is Bracken MacLeod, Christopher Golden, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, among others; I’m seeing a lot of new and interesting looking titles being announced or reviewed almost every time I turn around.

I guess today is Wednesday? I am really not sure, living in this weird world that comes with hurricane watches, where it is very easy to lose track of dates and times and what day of the week it actually is. But a quick glance at Weather.com assures me that all the other storms out in the Atlantic basin pose no threat to Louisiana, so I guess we can relax for a little while, at least.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

Everything Has Changed

So, our appointments for this afternoon have been canceled as Sally draws near; so I have to run down to the office for a few hours and then come home to batten down the hatches, or at least whatever needs battening. Hopefully, we won’t get hit too hard; I’m more concerned with the rain and losing power more than anything else. Services have been canceled for Tuesday, so I get an extra day and a half this week of working at home. Not ideal, as I enjoy working with our clients and it’s lovely to get out of the house, but what can you do?

It will be an interesting few days, that’s for sure.

The weather looks weird outside the windows this morning; not the usual gray of the sun coming up through the darkness but a much weirder, unsettling kind of gray. As I said, I have to go in for a few hours this morning; clients and data entry that is due, and if I can’t get it all done before I leave to come home, I can do it at home as long as we have power. Sally seems to have slowed down in her approach to the coastline over night; it looks like the big hit will come tomorrow now rather than later today, but you never can really tell with these things, and the information weather channels and meteorologists share never is really helpful. When di we start getting the outer bands? When will the heavy rains start? When can we expect the high winds?

Instead, it’s all about the eye and when the center of the storm will come ashore, which isn’t really, you know, very helpful.

Yesterday was an interesting day. I spent most of the day trying to get my emails drafted so they could be sent today, and by the time I was finished with all of that, it was time for the Saints game. They did win, 34-23, I think was the final score; but it’s odd. My relationship with my Saints fandom has shifted a bit; I will always be a fan, but I’m not quite as, I don’t know, as big a fan of Drew Brees as I used to be. The enormous disappointment of his collaboration with the horrifically homophobic Focus on the Family, and how angry he became when this was pointed out, rather than an “oops, my bad”, just didn’t really sit well with me, and it still doesn’t, to this day. He has course-corrected on anti-racism, after stepping in it and that was great; but yet…I don’t know. Hero worship inevitably leads to disappointment, because humans aren’t completely heroic; humans are often too human to be heroic.

The Lost Apartment is starting to look less like an abandoned crack den and more like a home, so that’s progress of a sort. The vacuum cleaner works better than it did, but it’s still not quite as good as it was when new; then again, we’re all getting older and not as good at doing things as we used to be, aren’t we? And if we don’t lose power, I can probably keep vacuuming until the floors look like they normally should.

We watched the new episodes of Lovecraft Country and The Vow last night; it’s hard to decide which was creepier and scarier. The Vow gets creepier and more disturbing with each and every episode, and it was strange seeing Catherine Oxenberg (who was the original Amanda on Dynasty) on last night’s episode, worried about how to get her daughter India out of the clutches of NXIVM. As Paul and I continue to watch, we marvel at how insidious it all actually is; and how attractive the things they say to draw people in were in actuality. One can never really go wrong with self-improvement. This week’s Lovecraft Country (spoiler) was really about passing for white, only in this case a very dark-skinned woman of color, Ruby (who is a great character) uses magic to turn herself into a white woman and get the job at Marshall Field’s that she has always coveted…which is an interesting look at the old trope of “passe blanc”, which is something I’ve also always wanted to write about. It was interesting to see how this was handled in the book and in the show; I have to say, the show is also diverging from the book in very interesting and smart ways.

We are also trying out a Netflix comedy series called The Duchess, but after two episodes we aren’t really sucked into it, so I don’t know if we’ll keep going. Raised by Wolves has also slowed down and we’re losing interest in it. Visually it’s amazing, still; the story is losing us.

I’ve also been reading about another great 1970’s conspiracy theory that still effects us today, and one that most Americans don’t particularly know about, but really should. A while back, I remembered there was a book published in either the late 1960’s or early 1970’s that had to do with the end times, and it was an enormous bestseller, so I thought hey you should order a copy and read it. It was written by someone named George Lindsey, and was titled The Late Great Planet Earth. I’ve been reading it, off and on (wow, is it ever racist) and it’s all about Biblical prophecy, and how all these Biblical prophecies are coming true. (The most hilarious thing about it is how dated it now is; Lindsey, for example, didn’t find the Camp David accords bringing peace to Israel and Egypt in his Bible, and JFC, is it ever racist, and right-wing; you can almost hear him sneer the word liberal.) But what’s even more interesting (other than how wrong he has proven to be about so many things over the last four decades) is that the book, despite having been proven demonstrably wrong (the chapters about the Soviet Union and communism are especially cringeworthy) is that it is still in print, and this is a mindset that a lot more evangelicals actually believe in to this very day. When you look at their behavior and voting patterns in the light of what Lindsey claims in this book…it makes a lot more sense, and it’s also fucking scary. What else is interesting about this book is that it’s almost a complete blueprint for the movie The Omen (I can’t speak to the sequels or anything else since the first movie, as the movie and its novelization by Brian Seltzer are the only ones i am familiar with); almost everything in that movie (and the novelization) is directly lifted from Lindsey’s book–to the point where Lindsey should have gotten a story credit on the film. (And now, of course, I am going to have to look up Seltzer.)

This has also led me, in a roundabout way, back to the work of Elaine Pagels on early Christianity; I’ve been looking through her book The Gnostic Gospels, and like Dr. Pagels, I’ve always been interested in how Christianity was originally created as a religion rather than as a values system, and what was included from the New Testament and what wasn’t (it also interests me how evangelicals and other Christians literally believe what they read in their Bibles is the word of God, handed down over centuries yet never edited or wrongly translated from one language to another); this also ties into that Colin novel I’ve always wanted to write.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay safe in you’re in Sally’s path.

Half of My Heart

So, it’s now Tropical Storm Sally, with landfall expected sometime on Tuesday, given its current projections, and we are right smack dab in the center of the Cone of Uncertainty–although the path overnight has shifted somewhat– it going right over us; with storm surge through Lake Borgne through the Rigolets and into Pontchartrain as well as the mouth of the river. The surge is only supposed to be a maximum of twelve feet, which is okay since the levees can handle up to sixteen, but yikes if you’re outside the levee system!

I got caught in a downpour yesterday while running my errands–file this under What Else Is New–which I honestly don’t mind; it’s kind of becoming expected for me. I’m surprised when I run errands and don’t get caught in a downpour. What’s annoying is how rain makes New Orleans drivers–never the best in ideal circumstances–makes them forget everything (what little) they actually know about how to drive and become even bigger morons. I am also amazed at how many people cannot deal with the possibility of getting wet in the rain, or having to walk a few extra yards in the pouring rain. Um, if I’ve learned anything about New Orleans rain in the nearly twenty-five years I’ve lived here, it’s that it doesn’t matter: you’re going to get soaked, no matter what, and once you reach a certain point in soaking wet it really doesn’t matter anymore. You can only get SO wet.

It’s really not rocket science, people. Seriously.

I started writing a short story which started forming in my brain on Friday night–“Fear Death by Water”–and that title is actually a quote from T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Lands.” Nothing to fear here, Constant Reader–while I do own a copy of Four Quartets I’ve still not read it; there was a lengthy quote from the poem at the opening of a book I was moving in the ever-shifting attempts to declutter the Lost Apartment Friday evening–the book, which I loved and should probably reread, was Nightmare Alley, which my friend Megan recommended to me and it is quite the dark noir ride, But those four words–fear death by water–struck a chord in my creative brain and I heard the opening sentence very clearly in my head: But she would have never gone out on a boat, she was always afraid of water and as the sentence began to crystallize in my head, I started seeing the rest of the opening scene and also that this would be a gay NOPD detective Blaine Tujague story. So after I put the groceries away yesterday afternoon and before changing out of the clothes that got wet in the downpour and showering, I opened a new Word document and began writing this story. It stalled out about a hundred or so words in; I am hoping to get back and spend some time with it again today.

The vacuum works better now that the filter has been clean, but it’s still not as strong as it once was; or perhaps I am merely remembering it being more powerful. I am not really sure. It takes more than a couple of runs over things to get the properly vacuumed (I love that the Brits say “hoovered”, as they turned the brand name of a vacuum into a verb). So the Lost Apartment looks much better this morning than it has in a while, but i still need to get some more work on it done. It’s a start, though, and every little step works.

We watched The Babysitter: Killer Queen last night, and while the previews made it look quite marvelous, it wasn’t really. The highlight was Robbie Amell shirtless, and he was the only person in it who seemed to have committed to actually performing, other than the male lead and the new female love interest. (Note to producers: you can never go wrong with Robbie Amell shirtless.) We also started watching a new series called The Duchess, which had moments of humor but seemed kind of flat in all; we’ll give it another episode to see if it picks up. We are also sort of losing interest in Raised by Wolves; the most recent episode struck us both as a bit dull and we’re losing interest in the story; it’s taking a bit too long for the story to really start moving. I was playing Bubble Pop and checking social media while watching the fourth episode, and let’s face it, that’s a pretty damning indictment.

I also started Babylon Berlin yesterday, and it’s quite marvelously written.

I way overslept this morning. Our phones of course went crazy around six in the morning with the emergency alert about the state of emergency being declared with Hurricane Sally, which may now be a category 2 and again, I am worrying about the power situation more than anything else; I have a freezer filled with food that will perish should we lose power for a significant amount of time, which would absolutely suck rocks. It appears there will be lots of rain as well as high winds that we’ll be dealing with most of tomorrow; I’ve not received any notice yet about work so currently the plan is still for me to go in to the office. That, of course, could change at any moment, so we shall see. No, we aren’t planning on evacuating–but that may change given the power situation, and if we do lose power, at least I can get some reading done.

I plan on trying to make some progress with my emails today, as well as trying to work on the story and getting chapter eight finished on the book as well.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, wherever you are, and stay safe.

King of My Heart

I went down a wormhole thought pattern of sorts this morning, triggered by reading a Crimereads essay about spy novels, and their genesis; it mentioned that Rudyard Kipling’s Kim was one of the first spy novels, and I also realized that only had I not read Kim, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever read Kipling; however, a quick Internet search just not has reminded me that I have, indeed, read Kipling: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous, but I really don’t remember anything about them (let’s be honest, all my memories of The Jungle Book are naturally from the Disney animated film). I may have also even read Just So Stories, but am not entirely sure. I’m sure Kipling’s work does not stand the test of time–just the title of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” made my eyes almost pop out of my head when I came across it this morning–as they undoubtedly reflect the white supremacist view of Imperialism and the need for the British Empire.

On that same note, I feel relatively certain that the M. M. Kaye novels I once enjoyed (Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions) probably wouldn’t hold up well, either.

I always read for pleasure and for enjoyment; to escape the world in which I found myself inhabiting and feeling like a changeling for the most part; I still do, for the most part. I haven’t been paid to write a book review in over a decade; I’ve always felt that as an author myself, there was a conflict of interest in accepting pay to read and critique another author’s work, and there was always, inevitably, the possibility that an honest view on something that didn’t work for me as a reader would be seen as a vindictive move on my part to torpedo another author, out of jealousy or spite or both. There are any number of these reviewers being employed, and paid quite handsomely, by major newspapers, and I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t like writing negative reviews, and if I am reading something I don’t care for, having to finish reading it because I am being paid to write about would inevitably make me resent the book and its author and would thus color the review.

I generally read things I think fall under my purview as a writer–mostly crime novels, some horror now and then, and maybe something every once in a great while, that would be considered literary. Often these are books by writers I already have discovered, or new ones recommended to me by others whose tastes I respect–The Coyotes of Carthage came to me in this way; Lisa Unger was recommended to me by numerous friends; and yes, Paul Tremblay came to me as a recommendation from a friend. I know I need to expand my horizons to improve as a writer, which is why I am not only committed to the Diversity Project (books by marginalized writers) but also to the Short Story Project. The Diversity Project has been a terrific learning experience, and the Short Story Project has helped me become a better short story writer. I’ve been trying to read New Orleans history lately–with a dash of Louisiana thrown in for flavor–in order to get a better sense of the city and state, so that I can write about them both more knowledgeably; plus there is so much inspiration in reading about the past of both city and state! It’s also incredibly humbling to know how little of that actual history I did know, and even though I knew how rich that history was, I had no idea just how much of a gold mine of inspiration and ideas it would prove to be.

Like I said, I tend to read things I think I will enjoy, and if I am not enjoying the experience, I inevitably stop reading. I have started things and put them aside, only to go back to them again and greatly enjoy them; Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts being the best and most recent example of this I can remember; I started it, got several chapters in, and wasn’t feeling it. I went back to it months later and couldn’t put it down, and frankly, after The Cabin at the End of the World, Tremblay is becoming one of my current favorite authors.

So, I’ve been wrong about books before, and I’ve also been wrong about authors before. Hence the dilemma in being a book reviewer, and why I have chosen for many years now to seek extra income by reading for reviews. I enjoy writing about books I enjoyed on here, my blog; that’s part of its reason for existence, and I also curate what I read and write about here. No one chooses for me what I read or what I write about; and I will only review something negatively if the writer is, frankly, long dead; and even then, it’s simply an explanation of why the book didn’t work for me (an example of this latter type was Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich; I appreciated the book but there were things about it I didn’t like, that I felt didn’t “play”, but since he is long dead–over fifty years–I wasn’t overly concerned about hurting his feelings….and I have enjoyed other works of his).

I often talk about how my education in what the Academy considers to be classic American literature (British, too, for that matter) is sorely lacking. It’s something that I occasionally wonder about; should I go back and read these so-called classics as decided by a group of people whose opinion I generally don’t respect very much? It’s entirely possible, I know, that books I was forced to read as a teenager in high school and college were actually better than I thought at the time because I loathed being forced to read anything and I despised the way they were taught by pompous pseudo-intellectuals with tenure (I really enjoyed mocking that world in my story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar”, and will probably mine it again at some point as story fodder).

But I can honestly say I went back twice to reread The Great Gatsby only to discover that I loathed it even more than I remembered loathing it the first time; I also spent some time in my twenties trying to read other works by the writers I was forced to read and found that I did, in fact, enjoy some of them. I hated Sinclair Lewis when I was forced to read Main Street in college; I later went back and enjoyed both Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here very much. I disliked Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise very much, and I loathed the Hemingways I was forced to read (The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms) so much that I just can’t bring myself to read anything else of his. I was very surprised, actually, to find myself enjoying Faulkner quite a bit, and I keep meaning to go back and reread both The Sound and the Fury and Sanctuary–but there are also a lot of other Faulkner novels I’ve not read, and probably should. I also despised Tom Sawyer and the other, celebrated Mark Twain short stories I was forced to read; but as an adult greatly enjoyed Puddinhead Wilson, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Life on the Mississippi.

But I am not someone who became a writer because I wanted to have a legacy, or be lionized; I became a writer because I wanted to tell stories, and I wanted to tell the stories that I wanted to tell. I never had any desire to have my work be taught in colleges, or for students to be forced to write papers about my work. I always say that sort of thing isn’t up to me to decide, and it’s never been my aim. If I’m forgotten after I die, well, I won’t be the first.

I justify to myself not reading a lot of literary fiction by saying there simply isn’t enough time for me to read everything that I actually want to read, let alone find the time things people think I should read. But I also have this sense in my mind that perhaps I am missing out on something; I know I’ve read books that have gotten critical acclaim that were more on the literary side and liked them very much and learned from reading them. Colson Whitehead, for example, is simply brilliant while also writing genre fiction–The Nickel Boys and Underground Railroad were stunningly brilliant; I really need to read more of his work–and thinking about Colson Whitehead led me to thinking about, of all people, Cormac McCarthy. I’ve not read McCarthy, but from what I have gathered from what I have heard about his work is it technically is also genre fiction; The Road is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, after all–a friend whose opinion I respect read and hated the book, so I’m probably not going to go there–so I started going through his canon on the web and I finally settled on one to add to my TBR pile at some point, Outer Dark, because it too sounds like genre fiction. We shall see how that goes, shan’t we?

Laura Lippman often says that genre fiction is literature, and by claiming literary classics as genre (the most common is, of course, Crime and Punishment) we are demeaning the great genre work, which stands on its own without the necessity of claiming Dostoevsky or Faulkner’s Sanctuary as crime fiction (although I do believe Sanctuary is pulpy noir of the best kind). I do agree with her to some degree; as I said, I do think Sanctuary is noir, and an argument could be made that An American Tragedy by Dreiser is as well. (I’ve also pointed out numerous times that The Great Gatsby is really a murder mystery told in reverse) But her point is spot on: genre fiction doesn’t need to claim classics from the Academy in order to be recognized as literature, and claiming those books does make it seem like trying to make fetch happen.

I also like to believe that my best work is still ahead of me.

Of course, that means I actually need to do it.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

Only the Young

And it’s already Wednesday! Well done, everyone, for making it this far.

Okay, so it wasn’t as big of a deal as usual, since this is a short work week (huzzah for Labor Day!) but there it is, you know. And it is a Wednesday, nevertheless, and we should be truly grateful that we have again made it to the midway point of the week, even if was relatively easier (comparatively speaking) this week than usual. But you know what? It’s still Wednesday, and I may–just may–take this Friday off and have another three day weekend. How’s about that?

I was very tired yesterday; we were busy during clinic hours and since I had to get up early, of course I had insomnia Monday night. So by the time I got home from work I was very tired–too tired to really think about starting to read Babylon Berlin, or to work on the book much–I did get a bit into the seventh chapter, but still, not very far–but I did decide to rename my story “After the Party” to something else: “No Place Like Home,” which I am still not crazy about, but it’s much better than “After the Party,” which is one of the lamest story titles I have yet to come up with, and I was quite happy to change the name of the file and folder on my computer, as well as print out the thousand words or so I’ve written on it with the new title on it, so I can get rid of the old print out and can deny to myself that I ever gave a story such a shitty title. It’s also a bait-and-switch story; it starts out going in one direction and then completely switches gears; the problem is I’ve gotten to the gear switch and am not entirely sure how to drive it in the new gear.

I really hate when that happens.

Then a friend on Facebook recommended everyone watch a show I’d had my eye on, Ted Lasso, and I clicked on the Apple Plus app, queued up the first episode, and was immediately entranced. The premise of the show is one of those that seems sort of predictable, like Schitt’s Creek was as well; a small-time American college football coach is hired to manage a major league (Premier league? I don’t really follow soccer, my apologies) team in England that has been fairly mediocre for a time. My first thought, when I first saw a preview for it, was why on earth would anyone do such a thing? And again, like I did initially with Schitt’s Creek, I thought, so of course his small time ways will be mocked and the Brits will be brutal with him and then he will win them over and they will become champions and I’ve seen this before, so I didn’t make it a priority to watch until last night, when I saw my friend’s post about it, so I thought, well, let’s give it a whirl.

Wow.

I’ve been a fan of Jason Sudeikis for a while now; not the oh I have to see everything he’s in type but the I’ve certainly enjoyed everything of his I’ve seen; the movie We’re the Millers was surprisingly sweet, funny, and enjoyable. The premise of the show goes a bit deeper than what it appears at first; a loathsome British billionaire has been divorced after thirteen years by his long-suffering wife, and in the settlement she got his soccer team; which is his pride and joy, and she has hired Ted Lasso for no reason other than she wants to punish her loathsome ex by driving his beloved team into the ground; her exact words are “burn it to the ground completely.” She manages to somehow play off the mysterious coaching hire very well–and Game of Thrones fans, I had to look her up because she looked familiar to me; imagine my surprise to see that Hannah Waddington, who plays her and is stunningly beautiful, tall and sexy; PLAYED THE SEPTA, the one who followed Cersei on her Walk of Shame ringing the bell and saying “Shame”–and the character of Rebecca, whom she plays, is pretty awful; but you also understand why–which is a credit to the show nd the writers, frankly. Horrible Malcolm publicly and openly cheated on her for years, playing out in the tabloids, and often she is mocked and humiliated by them as well. She treats her assistant, Higgins, terribly; but Waddington also plays her so well you also can’t help but feel for her even as she is terrible.

But the key to the show is Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso, who is the kind of person who always looks for the best in everyone and genuinely is a nice guy; no matter how rude or nasty someone is to him, he sees their humanity and rather than thinking what a dick or what a bitch, he thinks how can I get through to this person? And he does it with kindness, by treating everyone with respect and dignity. The show walks a very tight rope, as it could easily descend into schmaltzy sentimentality, but it never does, and that’s not an easy trick by any means. The show follows Ted as he slowly begins to win over everyone in Richmond (the town where it’s set) and the team, by being a genuinely kind person. There’s a very strong episode where Ted spends the day with a very cynical journalist who can’t quite figure out what the point of hiring this buffoonish-seeming American could possibly be; a coach/manager who flatly tells the press he doesn’t care about wins or losses. The point of the interview is, of course, so that this cynical journalist who has asked him pointedly insulting questions at press conferences can write a hit piece on him that will further damage the team, and it was all set up by Rebecca; but as the journalist, whom he always treats with respect and kindness and appreciation, spends the day with him and watches him interact with people, he’s won over. He writes the piece, and he still thinks Lasso is going to fail managing the team, but its not a hatchet job at all; the final line of the piece winds up being something along the lines of “I still think he is going to fail, but I am not going to enjoy watching it the way I thought I would.”

The show sneaks up and hits you in the feels, the same way Schitt’s Creek did, and it makes you laugh and it makes you tear up because you find yourself loving the characters so much, and caring about what happens to them. Six episodes have already aired, and we blew through them all last night; the next will air on Friday, and I am already looking forward to it.

It’s also wonderful watching the character of Rebecca, so determined to avenge herself on her husband, becoming conflicted with her plan because she isn’t really the icy bitch she thinks she is, and responding not only to Ted’s kindness but that of other characters.

I do recommend it highly.

And Archer comes back next week!

I have to also add that Apple Plus is really upping their game. The first two shows there we tried to watch didn’t hold our interest and we abandoned them after a couple of episodes–the story and the characters didn’t hold out attention, despite how well the shows were produced. But The Morning Show and Ted Lasso are exceptional television, and the previews for the service’s adaptation of Azimov’s Foundation series looks amazing, airing in 2021.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Check out Ted Lasso; if you liked Schitt’s Creek, this is right up your alley as well.

Sad Beautiful Tragic

And here we are, Tuesday morning before the sun comes up. Huzzah?

I’m very pleased that I did manage to read three terrific books over the course of the Labor Day weekend, even if it meant not getting as much writing done as I would have liked. But sometimes, as I rationalize to myself fairly regularly, one has to allow the creative mind and batteries to rest and recharge, and it never hurts to read works by really gifted writers while allowing the creativity to recharge. I do, however, pity the author of the next book I read, as Celeste Ng, Steven Wright, and Paul Tremblay have truly set the bar ridiculously high.

Ergo, I must choose wisely.

But I do believe I have chosen wisely: next up is Babylon Berlin. I loved the show, and from a glance over the first page it looks to be really well written (or should I say translated? I’m never really sure about these things), and I love the idea of going back in time with my reading.

I did work on a chapter yesterday, adding some important things to it, including a scene where my main character goes to the grocery store in town and is recognized by someone he doesn’t know; this happens to me every time I go back to where we are from in Alabama, without fail, and I was realizing, as I looked at the chapter yesterday, that several things were missing from the story thus far: him running into someone who recognizes him because of the family resemblance (including the unsettling “I changed your diapers!” which always bothers me, and I am only sorry I never said what I always think when someone says that to me, “Why do you want me to know you’ve seen my dick?”), any mention of guns or church; and more information about what the town is like. The book is already too long; the next draft/version will be about trimming the fat and making it more lean, but I am still pretty pleased with it and how it’s coming, even if it is coming more slowly than I would like.

When I get through this version, I think I am going to have to take some time off from work and spend like five concentrated days with it.

I am also still thinking about Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, which is really saying something; and I keep thinking about things I could have said in my review yet somehow didn’t. I am really looking forward to my next venture into reading Mr. Tremblay, which will most likely be Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. He also has another one coming out soon, Survivor Song, which sounds absolutely terrifying.

I am treating myself to cappuccinos this morning, as a reward for having to get up so early. I do love my cappuccinos, even if they are made with a rather cheap machine I got somewhere as a kind of back-handed gift to myself, but I now have a really terrific milk frother that I love and does a truly terrific job on making my milk nice and warm and frothy. (Plus I need the extra kick from the concentrated caffeine to help me get underway with my day.) I had insomnia again last night–which seems to always inevitably happen the night before I have to get up early; I wonder if stress about oversleeping or sleeping through the alarm is part of the problem? If so, it’s not something I am consciously aware of, and perhaps something I should take some kind of initial steps to take care of–less caffeine the day before, etc.

We started watching a new crime show last night on Showtime, We Hunt Together, which seems to be rather clever; particularly in depicting the police team investigating the crimes as a mirror image of the couple committing the crimes; white woman, Black male immigrant. So far their victims have been pretty awful men who kind of had it coming, so there’s that, and it’s cast very well. We also watched the older Netflix film The Babysitter, which was interesting and funny in parts; we primarily watched because a sequel is being released soon that is highly recommended. You also can never go wrong with Robbie Amell shirtless–he is absolutely beautiful, and he must have a Netflix contract because he shows up in a lot of their movies/shows…as do any number of other young actors and actresses; makes you wonder if the studio system is sort of coming back.

But this is a short week–feels like Monday, even though it’s really Tuesday–and so that’s also a win.

I’ve also decided not to stress too much about what I get done this week; I always have extremely high hopes going into the week every week, only to suffer crushing disappointment at my inability to get things done. Maybe it’s not the best thing to lower expectations, but it’s better to feel good about getting things finished rather than bashing yourself for not getting more things done, isn’t it?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone.

End Game

I’m really becoming a huge fan of Paul Tremblay.

I’ve always enjoyed horror, ever since I was a kid; I used to love watching Creature Features on WGN in Chicago, and getting scared–sometimes having nightmares. But the supernatural has always interested me, as well as horror; in the 1980’s and even into the early 1990’s I saw myself as becoming a horror writer rather than a crime writer. And while I’ve written some “scary” stories and novels, I don’t know that I could classify them as horror– I think Sara and Sorceress are probably the closest I’ve ever come to writing horror; maybe even Lake Thirteen would count (it certainly bears my favorite cover of all my novels). But I see myself as more of a fan of horror than a writer of it; as I’ve said many times, I tend to write more about human monsters than supernatural ones. I had heard great things about Paul Tremblay before I started reading his actual work; my friend Megan in particular is a big fan of his, and based on her recommendation I started reading A Head Full of Ghosts, but it didn’t really strike my fancy that first time, and so I put it aside and moved onto something else. I did pick it up again later, and then, of course, I couldn’t put it down.

After finishing The Coyotes of Carthage, I was looking through the TBR piles, pulled out a book or two before putting them back, and then finally decided to read a second Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World.

It was a most excellent choice.

The girl with the dark hair walks down the wooden front stairs and lowers herself into the yellowing lagoon of ankle-high grass. A warm breeze ripples through the blades, leaves and crab-like petals of clover flowers. She studies the front yard, watching for the twitchy, mechanical motion and frantic jumps of grasshoppers. The glass jar cradled against her chest smells faintly of grape jelly and is sticky on the inside. She unscrews the aerated lid.

Wen promised Daddy Andrew she would release the grasshoppers before they got cooked inside the homemade terrarium. The grasshoppes will be okay because she’ll make sure to keep the jar out of direct sunlight. She worries, though,, that they could hurt themselves by jumping into the sharp edges of the lid’s punched-in holes. She’ll catch smaller grasshoppers, ones that don’t jump as high or as powerfully, and because of their compact size there will be more leg-stretching room inside the jar. She will talk to the grasshoppers in a low, soothing voice, and hopefully they will be less likely to panic and mash themselves against the dangerous metal stalactites. Satisfied with her updated plan, she pulls up a fistful of grass, roots and all, leaving a pockmark in the front yard’s sea of green and yellow. She carefully deposits and arranges the grass in the jar, then wipes her hans on her gray Wonder Woman T-shirt.

Ironically, in my earlier paragraphs I talked about writing crime because I want my monsters to be human; ironically, the monsters in Paul Tremblay’s latest, sublime entry into the horror genre could easily be considered a crime thriller as well because his monsters are all too human, and this set-up is just as terrifying as any supernatural horror novel I’ve ever read. Being out in the country has never really appealed to me very much (ironically, my current work-in-progress is set out in the country) precisely because it’s no safer out in the country than it is in the city; at least in the city someone will hear your screams or cries for help. The very isolation of the country is part of its terror for me; in no less part because country people always smugly assert (and reassure themselves) that crime and murder are MUCH more likely to happen in the big, bad, dangerous city.

Sidebar: I still think there’s a terrific essay to be written about the proliferation of rural horror/crime novels in the 1970’s, directly tied to the inherent racism of white flight from integrated schools and neighborhoods to the suburbs and the country, and perhaps someday I will have the confidence to write the essay based on that abstract theme.

Tremblay has set his terrifying tale in a small cabin on a lake in upstate New Hampshire, close to the Canadian border, where our heroes–a married gay couple (Andrew and Eric) are spending a ‘back-to-nature’ vacation with their adopted child, Wen. The story is told in the present tense (always creepier in horror, seeing the action unfold as it happens rather than in the much safer past tense–it’s happening as opposed to it’s already happened) and the point of view shifts between the two dads and their young daughter. Wen is out on the lawn catching grasshoppers and naming them when a big man appears suddenly out of the woods, friendly and nice, he tries to win her over but ultimately fails, sending her running inside to warn her daddies that they are no longer alone in their rustic cabin–with no cell service and no wi-fi (which, ironically, was part of the cabin’s original appeal–to unplug; that appeal will righteously bite the in their ass now that a Dionysian influence has arrived in their idyllic world).

The big man, Leonard, isn’t alone; he has three friends with him, all wearing similar button-down shirts in different colors and jeans: Redmond, kind of an asshole every-straight-man; Sabrina, a nurse; and Adriane, who is older. As the three family members barricade themselves into the cabin, the four seemingly normal visitors let them know they are there to present them with a horrible, horrific choice: they have seen, in visions and dreams, that the apocalypse is nigh, but have been shown the cabin and the small family, and told that if one of them will voluntarily sacrifice himself, the end of the world will be stopped.

This is, of course, every parent’s worst nightmare: a threat to not only their family but to their child, and Tremblay does an amazing job of letting us, the readers, get to know all three of the family members, developing them into complicated, realistic characters with backstories and levels and layers; I also applaud him for writing about a same-sex family and making the characters absolutely real. (This is how you do it, people; read the book and take notes). Wen is completely believable as a little girl; the family bond and love is absolutely real; and that makes the horror even more horrible, more horrifying, more of a gut-punch…as we go through every step of the process with them, all over the course of less than twenty-four hours, as their lives are irrevocably altered and changed, as they refuse to believe the story of their visitors, but slowly but surely the wonder begins to creep in…what if this is absolutely real and they are indeed messengers from God?

I will leave it to the horror academics to discuss the symbols and symbolism threaded throughout the story–but I have to bring up the colors of the shirts the visitors are wearing, and the fact there are four of them: representing the four horsemen of the apocalypse along with their warnings of doom. The questions of faith, of existing as gay in a heterosexist society, of family and love–all of these are beautifully explored and written about, and the building of tension and suspense is unparalleled; it’s really hard to put the book down and walk away from the story without finding out how it all ends–will they make the sacrifice, or will the world end? Are the visitors right–and how will anyone ever know if they were, because the world not ending doesn’t prove anything if the sacrifice occurs.

Or are they just insane?

I highly recommend this book, and cannot wait to read more Tremblay.