We Sold Our Souls – Review 🤘

We Sold Our Souls

by

Grady Hendrix

 

“Strums a guitar on flames”

Let me take you down on a metal memory lane trip back to the 90’s when MTV had actual music with actual musicians and heavy metal was no mainstream…no, forget it. That’s kind cliché, isn’t it?

But still let’s toss some hair around and aggressively stroll back to the 90’s to meet the rising heavy metal band called, wait for it

Dürt Würk

Dürt Würk is born and formed out of boredom, anxiety, bloodied fingertips, and childhood trauma I suppose. Kris Pulaski, the only female part in the band learns her notes and Black Sabbath intros in the basement of her home and soon enough other outcasts flock to form what is essentially every band’s biopic journey – it’s epic in a blood spitting way, ends each night with shouts and sucker punches; plays at the utmost dumps and run-down bars etcetera; creates massive mosh pits that end up consuming stage, band and instruments; rolls on by high and mighty, young and hella metal. It is an epic journey, no question. It leaves marks both physical and mental. When you read about it while Kris reminisces you kind of want to be there a part of the sweaty extreme, bombarding a wild crowd with everything you’ve got, pouring soul and heart out. It’s sad and poetic in strange ways.

So get this, the band writes their own music which is pretty neat for a heavy metal band in the 90’s and early 2000’s with deeply rooted influence in various heavy metal bands –  along the way and as the primary characters are introduced Hendrix gives us a tiny showcase of the various subgenres of metal most not-into-metal people might not be super familiar with like Slayer, Tool, Motley Crüe; we meet a drummer who’s heavily into Viking metal! (think Amon Amarth), and then we have what the books refers to as mainstream, basically nu-metal bands such as Korn and Slipknot.

But Dürt Würk aims for something more than that; they sit down, more like Kris sits down and writes and after time she creates this massive album called “Troglodyte” which is not only probably the best heavy metal album that never was (will get to that in a minute), but it’s a mythology on its own that tells the story of a main hero – Troglodyte, breaking out of his chains down below Black Iron Mountain and escaping the Blind King. Each track on the record develops the story – it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s a full cycle.

Now, I 100% fell in love with that first part of We Sold Our Souls, because I grew up in the 90’s and was exposed to this type of fantasy, dragon-slaying nuanced heavy metal  – think Manowar for one. So thinking the novel would explore that mythology and that it somehow might be real was an exciting notion that naturally I wanted to pursue. So, I read onwards.

Jump to present time and 20 years later, Kris Pulaski, the girl who once wore a leather jacket with bones painted on it and had a firm grip on her guitar, is now a miserable 40-something working a poor job, at a downgraded neighborhood and making poor life choices. She is reminiscing the good ol’ Dürt Würk days when she meant something as a being, when she was a rising star, make no questions about that – she was THE guitarist of the band everyone was talking about; back then she was fearless and could take on the whole world. We come to learn, however that her former band-mate and best friend, vocalist Terry Hunt is essentially an evil bastard on two legs. Years back, Terry quits, scratch that,  essentially sells the band and everything it stood for and instead creates his own mega successful mega popular and pretty mainstream brand called Koffin, where he is The Blind King. Get it? The myth lives on.

We also learn something terrible has happened on the so called contract night when Dürt Würk were supposed to sign the deal of their lives and become the band that they’d always dreamed off. Instead Terry did something…but what? Here the notion that we sell-out constantly as people to the corporate, thus selling our souls, becomes apparent and remains a running theme making the title of the book dual checking both horror and the horror of reality. That is a clever part on Hendrix, because even when the novel is fiction and has all these supernatural elements going on, it still feels grounded enough and close to real life, not only for musicians and not only for the rock stage, but for artists in general and then a second time for people in general, for consumers. But I don’t want to get all political here, I dig the way Hendrix spins the narrative that way but honestly I’m here for the fiction aspect of it, for the horror stuff.

40 something year old Kris is somewhat content with what she has until Koffin announce one last farewell tour and Kris decides its time to face her past, face Terry and learn the truth that ruined her life.

So she goes on a little journey to reunite with her bandmates and ask for their help only to discover there is a major, and I mean major conspiracy going on – Black Iron Mountain is watching and it’s not happy with Kris trying to expose the darkness. So begins We Sold Our Soul’s second spiraling into a bloody frenzy journey from the suburbs of Pennsylvania out on the road, out to Las Vegas and the worst, biggest and craziest music festival in the history of both fiction and reality.

The novel has a tune to it, I’ll give it that. It plays a constant rhythmic solo that allows crazy riffs here and there when the tension amps up to a claustrophobic scale. But as a whole We Sold Our Souls isn’t a typical horror story, I don’t think it aims to be that – it sure has a lot of “wtf” moments that are on the creepy, uncomfortable to read/experience scale. Some scenes can easily be nightmare worthy, so maybe don’t read it late at night, while in bed, just before sleepy time. A note of advice.

It has satanic undertones but their actuality is more hinted at than anything else, at least in my view. Cult vibes, oh yeah it has those going for it, not only via Koffin’s mega fan base, but with the general population. No spoilers here.

The main character, Kris Pulaski is really up against everyone all the time and the narrative escalates to a paranoid, conspiracy-crazy second part that accents on this brain-washing mythology her former band has created and which ultimately is a key to fighting evil. How it comes to be or why is not explained but in the general aspect of things it doesn’t need to be. It just exists and that’s the horror of it in a way.

The novel powers through tossing Kris in various uncomfortable, messed up scenarios that seem to be very final for her, but she manages to somehow escape, find alternatives that semi-work in her favor. That doesn’t mean she leaves unscathed. Oh dear, no.

She’s out of luck for 99% of this story but it’s the end that counts, right?

There were some issues at the second part of the novel, some typo’s, some narrative and plot misses that earned a re-read of the section, so that’s a bit of a bump in the flow.

However, it’s a story you can enjoy and follow through. It has many cool metal references, pseudo interviews and radio interruptions that add up to the conspiracy, brain-washing part.

What I most enjoyed was the mythology of the album “Troglodyte” and how it’s existence was worked into the solution to the reign of the Blind King. I kind of wish there were recordings even one or two from actual musicians to represent what Dürt Würk sounds like, because their lyrics are imbued into the storyline heavily and they mean a lot. But then again having the lyrics there on the page and having the notion of what the band was and was meant to be allows for a certain rhythm to play in your head as you read. You can make it as heavy as you like.

All in all, We Sold Our Souls is a gory, crazed, fast-paced novel that takes you free of charge to a festival you kind of want to go to but are too afraid to visit, because of obvious reasons such as death; it features a good-hearted but troubled musician who only wanted to contribute, to not waste her life and for her songs to be heard and for her to be remembered in the heavy metal hall of fame as the guitarist of Dürt Würk; a bunch of quirky musicians who worship music and live and breathe thanks to it; a satanic, weirdly supernatural myth that comes to be of existence and some heavy ass metal.

“A girl with a guitar never has to apologize for anything.”

Damn straight, Kris!

My recommendation – check it out. It whiffs of early 90’s, it’s scary enough to keep you on edge and it’s a very interestingly written and presented by Grady Hendrix biography of a band that went straight up and came crushing down because of real life events aside from the messed-up supernatural ones.

7/10

Advertisements

#BestReads2018: Mindhunting!

Lists from previous years:

Best Reads 2012

Best Reads 2013

Best Reads 2014

Best Reads 2015

Best Reads 2016

Best Reads 2017

2018 rolled by bizarrely fast but if you managed to squeeze in some good reads (or even bad ones) and they made you shriek or cry or laugh or had any impressive impact on you – then it was a good year! If you also have a list of your #BestReads2018, please feel free to share it in the comments! Book suggestions are always welcomed.

CRIME

Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Edward Douglas

Image result for Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit

When Mindhunter came out on TV at the end of last year my Twitter feed was full of constant feedback on how amazing the show is, how chillingly creepy and precise it is, and true enough the show was phenomenal! But in all the back and forth talk hardly anyone mentioned the source of it, but nevertheless a quick Google search gave the desired results – a spectacular true crime novel that delves deep into the brutal realism of some of the most sadistic criminals of our time.

Obviously the book isn’t up to anyone’s taste – it does get graphic and even without photographic leads it is descriptive enough to allow a very detailed reconstruction to appear in one’s head if one’s imagination is… vivid enough I should say. John Douglas being the special agent who was central in implementing behavioral science and criminal profiling in the FBI’s work process propelling it to a new age of crime fighting has a surprisingly solid storytelling skills – no wonder he was I believe the model for Jack Crawford in Thomas Harris works.

In this nearly 400-page novel the reader gets to not only follow through on more notorious serial crime cases in the US, but more importantly it allows a frightening gaze into a vast reasearch spanning multiple interviews and “confrontations” with serial killers of various capacities. In that sense “Mindhunter” is a remarkable study that aims to understand their motives, to showcase them to the general public – us the readers.  If you are in any way interested into these behavioral patterns in subjects such as Ed Kemper, Richard Speck and even Manson, I highly recommend this book as a starting point. It gets real.

 

FANTASY/SCI-FI/HORROR/HUMOR

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

23129410

*swirls wine in glass, takes a sip, smacks lips loudly.* “The strange lights in the sky over the desert are mysterious in their bluish glow. What strange lights? I see no lights and therefore I am undisturbed.”

And what a strange introduction. But this is charm in the “Welcome to Night Vale” fashion. It’s without question a novel worth reviewing and a podcast worth listening to, or vice versa. However you feel like. But it’s worth your time, your mental state and your erm…dreams and questioning of life and reality and all.

It’s a novel rich in characters, healthy on the weird and scary and chockfull of delicious mindbending scenarios all of which are wrapped in a bubble about to burst, written in a delightful easy-going language that tickles you in places you like but feel weird about. It’s damned good!

Be not mistaken – the novel has a plot that concerns two very special, very different and yet somehow similar women – Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton. Between the two of them is…well its a very unending desert which has no name but in which Night Vale, a small town of weird proportions and happenings is situated. Between its streets and walls are angels called Erika, some aliens with their strange night lights, a pinch of ghosts, some overly creepy librarians and a shit ton of government conspiracies. Those are everyday normal things that occur and exist. What is not normal is another place called King City and a piece of paper that you just can’t seem to get rid of no matter what you do. Oh and time-bending, reality-reshaping plastic flamingoes. Oh boy.

“Welcome to Night Vale” is unlike any novel I’ve ever read which is both disappointing and not, because otherwise I believe I wouldn’t have been so amazed by it instantly. I easily took it to heart, embraced all the ‘what the heck’ moments and plot twists and radio intrusions into the narrative by Cecil, the voice of Night Vale.  For me it was insanely refreshing being well-humored but also weird and dark where it needed to be. The added fantasy and sci-fi elements mainly concerning time-travel and reality reshaping were an absolute joy. There are even many great quotes that stand out and can be taken out of context and applied to life and such:

“Remember that misuse of language can lead to miscommunication, and that miscommunication leads to everything that has ever happened in the whole of the world.” 

“Comfort was the answer to all life’s problems. It didn’t solve them, but it made them more distant for a bit as they quietly worsened.” 

“It was a fair question, although the problem with fair questions is that they are asked about an unfair world.” 

And just so you could get a snipped of how wording goes in Night Vale:

“Librarians are hideous creatures of unimaginable power. And even if you could imagine their power, it would be illegal. It is absolutely illegal to even try to picture what such a being would be like.” 

My recommendation: go check out the podcasts and read the novel. You’ll get a weird sensation. But it spreads warmth, I promise.

*All quotes belong to Joseph Fink

 

COMICS/GRAPHIC NOVELS

The Arrival (2007) By Shaun Tan

Back in May I did a more detailed review of “The Arrival” and without a doubt it scores a place in this year’s Best Reads list without actually having any written words inside its pages.

“The Arrival” explores the struggles of immigration through the heartbreaking story of a man parting from his wife and daughter as he boards a steamship across the ocean to find a better future for the three of them.

Very intimately through Shaun Tan’s brilliant imagination and gorgeous pencil art we are invited to observe the man’s exploration, his experience and struggles as he arrives in an unknown land of impossible proportions and architecture without the knowledge of the language and understanding of the local customs.

And the protagonist cannot communicate with the symbol language of the megalopolis, so can’t  we as the reader. We are forbidden that luxury and so understand the isolation that builds for the man so far away from home. We begin learning with him, growing in this world and slowly becoming part of it. We are left with wordless art that speaks volumes.

You can read the full review of “The Arrival” and get quick access to some useful links and to Shaun Tan’s website here.

 

Descender (2015 – 2018) By Jeff Lemire Dustin Nguyen

Descender invites you to enter a universe where androids are a common element in people’s daily lives, from companions to worker bots and so on. Of nine core planets that are under the rule of the United Galactic Council or UGC for short our attention is placed on Niyarata, the technological and cultural hub of the UGC, populated with over 5 billion people. Then, right from the get go an attack of colossal proportions takes place – a space invasion from gigantic robots called Harvesters, an unknown and unpredictable force.

Naturally people blame the androids for the death, destruction and anihilation that follows the massive attack. There’s an open hunting invitation for all humans against the remaining numbers of robots. A young boy bot companion called TIM-21 is far away from the troubles of the planets. He has been asleep for the past 10 years on a small mining colony. And once he wakes up only to find everyone dead and the mines abandoned, the journey begins.

The art style is fucking amazing – the watercolor layer makes everything pop out and is really gorgeous to look at; the character models and world building, these huge, desolate landscapes and vast patches of space are simply beautiful – Dustin Nguyen has done and is doing an outstanding job of bringing to life visually pleasing faces and places  in a kind of old school way, it often just reminds me of older SF comics.

I highly recommend Descender. It is as I said a refreshing and of the times SF story inhabited by wonderful characters via a strong storytelling and a mystery still unfolding plus the cherry on top – its gorgeous to look at.

For my full review click here

 

The Books of Magic 1-4 (1990-1991)  By Neil Gaiman 

The Books of Magic give the starting point to Timothy Hunter’s adventure in becoming, if he choses so, one of the greatest if not the greatest magician of his generation. As he is quite young and unaware of that possibility, four practitioners of magic take it upon themselves to introduce Tim to the capabilities, promises, dangers, opportunities and costs of magic.

If you are keen on magic but in its philosophical, transcendental, esoteric, ancient, powerful and dark visage and admire smart and elegant and through and through brilliant writing that’s syphoning life-lessons on the backdrop of angels cascading flaming to earth, or Atlantis crumbling in the distance, or the universe and the stars being birthed, led by hierophant’s and jackasses and occult figures without true names, then this is absolutely the mini-series for you. You even get Death telling you about that appointment in Samara. Well not with so many words. You know the one, right? There was a merchant in Bagdad…

Read the full review here!

 

Sandman Overture by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

18310944For some people it has been twenty-five years since The Sandman first altered in ground breaking proportions the bone structure, the cosmic essence, the reality of modern comics. For others time has been more forgiving and the wait a lot shorter, but nevertheless, the mystery behind Dream’s capture in Prelude & Nocturness is finally revealed between the pages of six gorgeous chapters.

Now a quick note: if you go back through the lists linked above you’ll notice hardly a year goes by without some Gaiman in it, and it’s painfully obvious I’m a huge fan. So, the reason behind me putting “The Sandman Overture” in this year’s list is because I had some catching up to do with the original series and all the extra volumes, special editions, spinoff’s before I could allow myself to read this wonderful beginning, original story, called it whatever you will.

My wait has been totally worth it! Not only is the art spectacular – the mix in artstyles, the cosmic explosion of colors and clever implementation of the chapter titles within the environment are just some of the aspects worth mentioning simply because they define the storytelling, the character’s individual experiences, moods, thoughts so much it’s incredible! The new illustrator J.H.Williams III together with Dave Stewart did an outstanding job in bringing to life a complex world by adding so much more life into it than it already had.  Gaiman goes back to his Sandman roots with the easy step of a ballet dancer but with the same heavy decision-making and fate-bearing flawed Dream we know and love since 89′. Although we have a glance at him before the events that lead to his *SPOILER* incarceration, we are allowed the special peek behind the curtain that semi-explains why Dream is who he is or what he is as we get to meet the Mother and Father of the Endless in their stripped of mortal affection relationship to each other and their children.

Photo credit belongs to Neil Gaiman and J.H.Williams III

If you haven’t read the original Sandman series I believe you should before even coming close to Overture – sure, it does kickstart Dream’s journey, but it might tangle you in characters, behavioral patterns and world-view that would make your head spin. So take the long way round, read the original first, come to love or hate or both Dream and the Endless and then when your heart is possibly broken and you’ve attended a funeral or two and have invested yourself into the story so deeply it hurts, then gently crack open the hard covers of “Sandman Overture and bask in its beauty!

 

Honorable mentionesNaomi’s Room by Jonathan Aycliffe;  Plutona By Jeff Lemire & Emi Lenox ; Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean

This does it for this years BestReads2018 list! I hope you got something new from it or remembered something old. Let me know what you read this year! Stay safe xx

 

 

Visiting “Naomi’s Room” [Review]

Naomi’s Room

by  Jonathan Aycliffe

*Spoilers, maybe, I don’t know…

 

I can say with ease that I love horror novels. I love spooks, creaking floors and unnatural shadows and all that. I love horror in general, sub-genres and all. I’m a fan. One thing I don’t particularly like is little creepy ghost children. There’s something impossibly horrible about them versus any other ghost. So naturally “Naomi’s Room” was the perfect choice for a late night read.

To keep it short, the novel first introduces us to Dr. Charles Hillenbrand, the narrator of the novel. He’s a Cambridge academic enjoying a fantastic life with his wife Laura and four-year old daughter Naomi. The year is 1970 and as all is idyllic and the season is that of celebration, Charles takes Naomi out to shopping in London for Christmas Eve where the eager little girl wonders and cheers at the splendor of a toy store. Until Charles takes his eyes of her and Naomi disappears. Days later she is found dead in a nearby alley.

Now right off the start I really enjoyed what direction the novel took. It’s eerily atmospheric with a sort of archaic feel and phrasing to it but it settles the reader nicely in and doesn’t fool around with the paranormal aspect. But it can be quickly put aside for a certain amount of the first part of the novel, because it centers more on the grief of two parents who are completely helpless and equal doses of hopeful and devastated and desperate as the hours roll by and their little girl is missing. Ultimately she is found but she has been killed. The novel prepares you for that early on; it’s the story that leads to the reason of that early reveal that’s important.

We’ve all experienced the haunted house trope either through movies or games or novels and there’s a general idea as to how they work and what we can expect, so it’s crucial how the author controls and uses that environment. In “Naomi’s Room”, Aycliffe has the house more as a background character, a stage on which the story develops; it’s not highly interactive, it’s not responsible for the spooks themselves but it does serve a sufficient and important role as it is dimensional. In the true sense of the word, it shifts between time periods within the characters presence, so it not only provides a stage for the ghosts to manifest, but it also helps propel the story and gives it a refreshing touch with these very creepy time shifts happening in real time that feel not only like a gaze foreshadowing the outcome of the novel, but as a trap created by this evil presence and not by the house itself.

Aycliffe dodges the clichés haunted houses tend to run along with; the information he provides to the reader via Charles is compressed and given at a tension infused pace that helps keep you on edge. It’s very present as the memoir Charles is writing is the now of the story but we’re also experiencing the past very gradually at a nice pace that offers chunks of the truth, of the final reveal, filling the puzzle piece by piece. So the novel itself has a sense of time shifting in which the horror is both in the present and in the past; it’s very close and imminent in the present where Charles is 20 years after Naomi’s kidnapping and death, it’s with him in the rooms of the house, behind his back, so he’s very stationary as he tells that but the reader is prompted to understand and feel a lurking evil.

 “She is here now, here with me in the study. I do not have to look round to know, I can feel her presence, I have acquired a sensitivity. She has never come down here before, into this room, I had thought I was safe from her here.”

“Daddy.” Her voice, behind me, at the door. “Daddy.”

“I will not turn, I will not look at her.”

Like that. It spooks you because it comes as interruptions in his storytelling and it sometimes does that unexpectedly, reminding you the horror is not forgotten and this isn’t a novel telling of something that is over. Whereas in the past the horror happens slowly, it comes in waves that suffer proper explanation due to grief and is more inconsistent, the evil is still more of a theory and a sensation than a true happening. Until the novel kicks into full gear. Then it’s straight to hell.

What weirdly enough had me chuckle a bit were the steps of revelation into Naomi’s death. That’s probably my only bicker with the novel. It was like those jokes that keep adding up for the shock factor, black humour-esq. I suppose the author detained the details so the reader could gradually find out the murder wasn’t a regular one, that it meant something or it was the exact opposite, that it served to derail both the characters and the readers as to the nature of the killing. I’m not sure, that’s pretty much open to interpretation.

For me the “shock factor” for a lack of a better word was not in these gory descriptions of mutilations of a child, though I know that would upset most people and it would sit with them for some time. It was the notion the novel first installed, the one in the quotes above, that the child is still present in the house but that she is an apparition between the moments before death and the moments after it, so she appears normal and interactive in that way but at the same time she is a walking demonstration of the aftermath of her killer’s actions.  I suppose that’s how the necessary added details connect with the narrative. Charles also sees both versions and instead of handing them to the reader at once, the author slips in the details here and there to prepare us for how and why the characters act a certain way later on. Also again for the desired shock factor in the end that just keeps on adding and adding mercilessly. It’s a foreshadowing in a way for the finale. Not for the faint-hearted readers I guess.

I did enjoy the way the reveals were done in terms of discovering there are multiple ghosts in the house. It was through photographs taken by a journalist or paparazzi come to film the grieving couple. As all that may seem familiar what’s nice here is that the journalist took it upon himself to understand the logic behind the existence of spirits in the house and their intent, to try to save Charles and Laura by providing them with evidence of multiple shots from different angles and places in and of the house. He is the key figure in the narrative prompting an investigation.

The fact that the novel stays away from doors slamming and nightly whispers most of the time and instead works in a more psychological manner with overwhelming feelings and abnormal behavior infesting their clarity, was very nice. The force of evil that the characters faced was more often present inside them, manifesting through impure thoughts and desires to harm and control and abuse, quite directly sexually abuse even. And that was the uneasy part of the novel, the one you know will escalate tremendously by the end. Again there is a shock factor there to show how merciless and impossible to bypass the situation is – there is no hero of the hour, no escape, no last survivors in that sense of the word. We are weak and corruptible and the thoughts of harm are there in our being just waiting to be unlocked, to be guided perhaps. All it takes is a whisper in your ear, an idea.

Overall “Naomi’s Room” is a great read; it’s proper scary, it’s gory, it’s psychological and intense and for such a short read (somewhere around 200 pages, depends on the copy) it serves a complete story with heart-thumping escalation and reveals that keep you on edge while at the same time takes the readers on an emotional ride through loss and grief and insanity. And if like me you don’t really fancy creepy little ghost children, I recommend reading this late at night, under your bed covers if you’re a Kindle user, or under a fragile light in a quiet room. All alone. 10/10

#BestReads2017: Outdoorsy Horror

Lists from previous years:

Best Reads 2012

Best Reads 2013

Best Reads 2014

Best Reads 2015

Best Reads 2016

I hope you had a fantastic 2017 and that you read the best, the kindest, the scariest, funniest, saddest and most adventurous stories to your heart’s content! If you have a list, please feel free to share it in the comments. Book suggestions are always welcomed.

FANTASY/SCI-FI

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

9969571It’s a somewhat weird moment when you find a book through a song but browsing through YouTube’s forgotten hits of the 80’s would do that for you it appears. Oingo Bongo’s ‘Dead Man’s Party’ had a top comment “Waiting for Anorak’s invitation to arrive” and naturally I got curious what that references. I’m very glad I did because ‘Ready Player One’ was probably my favorite summer read.

It has a pinch of that teen romance gamers edition, but it runs alongside a deftly generated world (to think of one close reference, it’s akin to what you can see in Sword Art Online for all you anime fans out there) geekish to bursting, chock-full of references, stretching out platforms to Japanese tv shows and cultural pop phenomenon’s and of course paying a wonderful homage to everything 80’s. And I loved that. I’m a big 80’s enthusiast myself, music and movie wise, so those were 385 pages of sheer pleasure and geek-out.

All that is nicely layered on top of a dystopian future in which as a paradox opposing the societal degradation, endless possibilities exist built within what is a beastly virtual reality machinery in the face of a complex imagination-stretching world, or I should rather say universe, called the Oasis.

Throw into that mix some traditional RPG tropes, an adventure, a quest system worth billions and I think you end up with an entertaining story worth the read.

HISTORICAL/DYSTOPIAN

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

38447The most captivating aspect of this ageless dystopian novel is its protagonist’s point of view storytelling. I’m sure there’s no argument there. It’s akin to time traveling within the narrative without the pressure of it being labeled as sci-fi or having need of machines and quantum mechanics. And it shakes you; it pulls you down and strips you naked and often takes your breath away.

It’s kind of fitting reading it today and I’m certain we’ll be reading it tomorrow and next year and at these different times we’ll view it either as a dystopian, futuristic story, or as a historical artefact. It will be relevant at all times and it will be a pinnacle for many women as it has been thus far.

I was fascinated at how much nostalgia it carries and what strong attention it gives to these everyday “invisible” things and objects that serve as some sort of weird corner stones of our lives, of our understanding of modern and ownership. And then there’s the interaction human to human, a frivolous act that can be difficult and anxiety burdened and that usually requires a non-linear and a vastly subconscious approach and it’s destroyed in Atwood’s work. It’s brought down to absurdity. Can you imagine not having Offred’s inner thoughts, her memories? Just those orchestrated interactions, dry and suspicious? You wouldn’t even think about the layers of words and thoughts and fears that are quieted down behind “the right thing to say”.

It’s a fascinating novel and I strongly advise reading it.

HORROR/THRILLER

Bone White by Ronald Malfi

32920015‘Bone White’ is a 2017 newbie but man, does it pack a punch! It’s what I’d say a claustrophobic novel set within the coldest, most remote parts of Alaska. Malfi deftly handles what could easily be local lore, mythology and the supernatural elements mixing it with the sudden confession of a serial killer, the discovery of numerous unmarked graves, a town called Dread’s Hand (which isn’t a far stretch cause’ Alaska has places called Red Devil, Holy Cross and Crooked Creek) and a man hell bent of finding what happened to his missing brother.

I loved’ Bone White’ and would have even if it didn’t throw in the word ‘wendigo’. As far as its wilderness exploration goes (and boy does it go far) it has that Algernon Blackwood flavor that I respect and love and fear but it does its own thing. I can’t share the lore of it without spoiling major aspects but it’s gut churning, skin crawling and worth delving into.

As with these types of novels where it’s a whodunit mixed in with a supernatural fueled thriller, the ending doesn’t disappoint. Far from it.

I highly recommend Ronald Malfi’s ‘Bone White’. It’s certainly a high contender for best horror novel.

The Ritual by Adam Nevill

12063443It’s been years of bypassing anything Nevill and I blame ‘Apartment 16’. Or maybe my mood at the time. Could be a mixture of both. But I had a hard time digesting his pacing until I gave ‘The Ritual’ a fair try.

Sure, at the start its all japes and grumbling and friendly banter but the atmosphere is tense right from the get go and it’s a miserable one. The surrounding nature is nothing equal to that described by Blackwood for example with ‘The Willows’. It’s not a direct character per say, it’s a nuisance, it’s a labyrinth and it’s a guide of sorts but it’s not the subject of the character’s direct fears. It’s what within the woods.

What I love about ‘The Ritual’ is the sense of true expedition, though one gone horribly, horribly wrong. But the hike bears all the marks that make it believable – it’s tiresome and treacherous and lonely. It however lacks that spiritual, cleansing, outdoorsy sensation and replaces it with the helplessness and hopelessness of disorientation, lack of communication and the feeling of trespassing. That on itself is terrifying and it progresses and escalates in terms of the narrative with the decreasing amount of provisions, the sustained injuries and the incessant battle with the unyielding nature. It’s barren against the human spirit, a continuing isolation far, far from civilization and yet rather close to the wrong one.

I’m happy when a novel keeps me suspicious and cautious and I love it even more when it tweaks things to that disturbing level making you me uncomfortable. ‘The Ritual’ certainly did that. I enjoyed the lurking monstrosity, was pretty on terms with the gore part, but I was mostly a fan of that religious aspect of it, of the desolate, forgotten monuments, the Nordic runes hidden within the forest’s folds. The decrepit filter on top of the base narrative is what really sold it to me. And of course the sudden shift from endless wandering and death to a very reminiscent of actual Scandinavian metal/riot history, part 2 of the book. That’s when the true Ritual begins and when the novel really tests the reader. It’s by far not the most disturbing or lacking humanity story I’ve read.

I mean there’s ‘Zombie’ and many, many more all disturbing in their own fashion, but ‘The Ritual’ being the psychological horror that it is, kept me reading way into the early hours day after day. It urges to be progressed and thus served to give me a very different opinion on Nevill’s work. He gave the novel a reality check on superstition, old, pagan beliefs and deities, brought them back under the sounds of death metal (black metal, doom metal any kind of worshiping metal. Rock on!) and he did it via Norwegian and Swedish lore risen together in an effigy of its own.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

The October Faction by  Steve Niles and Damien Worm

25061099‘The October Faction’, a four-volume graphic novel is nothing particularly new on the drawn horizon, but its art done by Damian Worm is outstanding and the issues are worth checking just based on that.

It tells the story of the monster-hunting Allan family, semi-retired from the ghastly business until they are urged to get back in and this time include the children, who also possess certain abilities witching and warlocking being the main two. It’s an adventure beautifully done in browns and blues, blacks and deep yellows and dried-blood reds, dealing with the price of hiding truths and feeding lies, of soul-seeing teens, homosexuality, coming of age, purpose in life and much more craziness.

It’s the family business up-jumped aka popularized vastly by Supernatural but with refined finesse that in following issues expands and welcomes in a werewolf and a robot?

Nothing can suffice to convince to the worthy read so look at these pages I took the liberty of adding for viewing pleasure.

 

SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS    

 Fishing the Sloe-Black River by Colum McCann

110898Life is being far away from home, being alone, being weak, being loved. It’s being afraid and caring about others. And when it’s done like an Irish lullaby, well…it’s something special. It’s very human. It’s stories you wished you knew yourself but then reading them in ‘Fishing the Sloe-Black River’ you feel like you might have been there.

There are a roulette of outstanding characters, quirky and bold, young and old. They each have unique stories.

‘Sisters’ and ‘Around the Bend and Back Again’ are favorites, I think. Tomorrow maybe others will be.

 

 

 

I wish you to read many more books in 2018 and share them with others. A single book can bring so much joy in someone’s life.

The Witch’s House

 

Tender steps. Hand loosely than harshly grasping the rail. Splinters entering the softness of the cold palms. Cold with sweat. Cold with the stickiness so common in fear. Eliot is afraid and that feeling is making his insides freeze. They cheated him into this, his friends, hiding behind the trees, feet rustling in the fallen leaves, no footprints just imprints, the heaviness of their bodies leaving a mark they were there before they run off leaving him with the shortness of their laughter whispery and frail, reverberating in the October chilliness. They called him a faggot, a pussy, a piece of good-for-nothing shit when he didn’t want to go into the Witch’s House, barking the word on repeat.

So Eliot went, not wanting to be anything, anyone but himself. He didn’t want to be scared of their mockery. And as he went up the steps, she came out after hearing the creaks and pops and breathing of the house. With her came the sort of sound wind makes through abandonment, through foreign cracks, alien and old with time and poised with things – words and noises, music bumping on and off, voices and wet eyes watching. With truths kept secret and identities hidden underneath layers of skin that gets pulled and teased and worn until it rips open and the truth oozes out. Like the wind slipping through, a whistle at a time.

‘Do you know what she does, the Witch?’ they asked him when they were all playfully pursuing paths in the forest. ‘She takes your skin away, peeling it with her claws and she wraps it around herself like a cloth. She wears you and you see and hear and feel everything she does. The Witch is fat with the skins of children.’

Standing before Eliot, she was pregnant with the promise of their words. She was layered, folds of smooth skin, colorless and colorful overlapping in the form of shirts and skirts but leaving her naked all the same. There was however one lie to their story and he saw it as she bend over, faceless yet seeing. He wouldn’t see, nor hear nor feel anything she did with his skin after she took it. He would be just another corpse, neatly hidden somewhere. The empty eye sockets, red around the rims of their flesh stared at Eliot emptily devoid of that essence remaining in them that his friends spoke off through puffs of smoke from that shared packet of cigarettes and splashes of stolen beer.

However them having run off meant they would never see or hear the Witch leading him inside a damp and dark room, floor littered with syringes, the pungent smell of piss soaking the walls, the corners. In there she would unfold her face and allow a glimpse at her eyes merging that in-between, outwordly feeling Eliot had standing on her doorstep. She would look at him as her teeth emerge and she lowers her mouth onto his pinky finger, delicately separating skin and meat from the bone. Eliot would watch the Witch chew the soft redness and churn the skin, stretching it with her tongue, modeling it to her own being.

Then she would leave him there, a boy with a skeleton pinky finger trembling in his own pooling piss and she would rustle the leaves with her draping skin to find the friends which left him at her doorstep and ran off with their flesh pink from the October cold.

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 5

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4, Part 1

Chapter 4, Part 2

foxo2n5

It came bounding from the threshold of dusky woods, an achromic color like dying fire stirring the ashes, anemic body spilling between the tree trunks, tangling skin and bone and muscle in the branches and wailing as it did.

Neave caught the yellow of its eyes as it narrowed them upon her, piercing, devouring even from the great distance. Like smoke it moved swaying trees in its wake, borrowing a shade of the enclosing night, translucent, yet vibrant as it shifted making her eyes water. The color of death and decay.  Ambrose was eager to send biting bullets and they flew passing through the prism of its body hacking at wood and rock instead.

polaroid12

Neave took them away, leaving behind the gaping mouths of unclosed doors, like black tombs erect in the dying light. She chose the path not down, never down where it was a territory of the dead and forgotten but up where people had a chance to come and go. Go. It was possible, wasn’t it? Neave wasn’t sure, tripping in the dark audible with snakes hissing, goats belowing. Ghost things, past things, things that didn’t exist but came with the Fox.

The introduction reminded her of something that had happened not long ago, something rotten, cruel, intimate. She jumped at each gunshot unfamiliar to the sound live and present not dull like in the movies. Bang! The growling, drooling sound leapt left to right and back again now outside of its hideout, now with them on the blind road. The sun was nearly gone and everything that didn’t exist in it took a form.

polaroid11

A car thrown in the bush emerged, doors ajar, light flickering, radio croaking, waves overlapping with indistinguishable voices. Neave recognized her silver, the car she had come with. Come. She had chosen to visit here, days ago, years ago. She had been here and with her had been the Fox. The only memory that mattered appeared.

She stopped abruptly, facing the Fox.

“Go, I’ll keep it busy!” Ambrose was shouting gesturing towards the car. Sierra was already working at it, trying.

The Fox had halted, throbbing, pulsating, a worm wriggling phantom. Its proximity was familiar to Neave, dangerously so. It leered at her, recognizing her scent. Its ragged head dropped down, muzzle sniffing between her breasts.

“You knew. When you asked whether it came for me, you knew it did. But you weren’t sure whether it had taken me.” She looked at Ambrose, reaching for him with eyes that he didn’t return quickly enough.

“If I had said anything you would have run. Back then, across the field in the rain. And I wanted to keep you close, safe. I saw the marks, Neave. I had to do something. For you to face it, however not like this.”

Neave bent back on herself, into herself, shuddering. The bruise where he had grabbed onto her arm, latching himself like a leech, sucking joy out and inducing fear, hurt. She rubbed at it, feeling the muscle underneath leather and skin convulse. He came at her, pushed her into a corner, tasted her, trying her on and off. Fast it became something else, terrifying, unwanted. Something to run away from, unaccepting. Ambrose took careful steps towards her, rifle aimed high at the Fox’s head.

“Maybe if I wasn’t so afraid we wouldn’t be here,” Neave put out a hand untangling a piece of her to give to the Fox. He licked her palm, ruby red tongue darting out to lap at sweat and dirt.

“Neave, don’t…” Ambrose pleaded, his rifle rising and falling with the heavy breaths of his chest, unsteady, sweaty in large palms.

“I have to, Ambrose it’s the only way. He takes me and it all ends. Just like in the story. Otherwise I am no one and everything around me is nothing. He would return me to me. I won’t be afraid this time.”

The Fox nodded, a grotesque thrust of its large head.

“Bullshit. Look at me. Hey!” Ambrose just like the night when he found her, stood there a towering figure with secure eyes and secure smile, grey hair falling against the side of his narrow face. “It will hurt you. You don’t need to indulge its whims. You can come home with me and Sierra.” He looked at the Fox, a tense smile and reached out his hand, long slender fingers touching her skin. Touching. A mistake.

The Fox recoiled from Neave and snapped its jaws closed on Ambrose’s hand tearing flesh from bone, dividing. The scream was Sierra’s, running from inside the car to pick the detached, cradle Ambrose in his blood-spurting convulsions. The luminous yellow irises lacking pupils rolled in their sockets, foam bubbling around the rabid snout. Midway it met Sierra, darting at her neck, departing the head half from her body. The person that had been Sierra seconds ago dropped to a shapeless form.

“They wanted to help…” Neave told the Fox, briefly catching the man that walked inside its skin. The Fox opened its steaming jaws, the pungent smell of carrion escaping, mixed with fresh blood, and laughed a human laughter.

Because she had nearly been stolen and in fear of losing herself she had run here, where there was simplicity and in it there was no one. Except the Fox in the autumn looking for his sacrifice. And in the attempt to escape what was nearly done to her she had come here to receive it anew but unlike the other time, the first time she couldn’t run now. She had been returned to it, some anomaly, some paradox that prevented her from going further. The memory leak.

The opaqueness presented itself to Neave, opposite, upside down, astray. Peripheral. That was a good word for it, Neave thought tasting bitterness and iron on her bitten tongue. Not remembering wasn’t a symptom of him and his advances, the hurtful bruise on her arm, but of this place. She didn’t exist in it, but she had crossed its threshold in a desperate attempt to escape to some familiar normality away from prying eyes. The density of it was unfamiliar to her and she felt lightweight, paper thin, impossible to gather, impossible to connect.

“Take me home,” she spoke to the Fox, gripping a handful of fur between her trembling fingers. The missing item locked into place, the harsh feel of the sharp hair irritating her palm. Going back home, she had to face herself. She closed her eyes waiting patiently, obediently for the Fox to do its duty. Take her, kill her, return her.

It weren’t jaws that closed on her neck but lips, salty and rich on blood. Ambrose’s scream punctured, her eyes snapping open. In his slumped form in the red dust, in the lightless night his grip on the rifle was janky, his voice incoherent, thick with grief and pain but he did send a bullet. It connected with the Fox’s eye, the great beast bellowing at the leaking juice from its yellow socket. In its confusion and pain it snapped different set of jaws on Neave.

The night seeped into her eyes, a cosmos reeling down on her, cold and solid, strangely like daggers sliding into sheaths.

“Neave! Neave!”

She stood on unsteady legs, swaying like the grains had been beaten to a submissive motion by the rain in that field so long ago. A brotherly hand came on her shoulder shaking red dust of her jacket, tears of her caked with regret cheeks. The illumination of multiple flashlights fell upon her, the brightness impossible to stand. She turned her head towards the place where Ambrose lay but there was no one there, there was no one where Sierra had fallen. Something was taken from her hand, a weight disappearing leaving her fingers numb, flexing in and out. Her brother held the rifle putting it away, safe distance, good intentions.

“What are you doing here, Neave? I looked for you everywhere, I thought you were dead!”

It’s not something she could answer sleeping in yesterday’s clothes. Yesterday she’d given herself over to the Fox, a ripple in time, a ghoul prancing in golden tilting fields in the moaning mountains. He hadn’t taken his token, his promise. Ambrose had robbed him of that, not allowing for her to sacrifice that which she valued, feared losing, feared giving. He’d understood, had seen why the runaway, why the lack of memory.

But she’d seen the out of place, the different. Now, being picked up, carried away past the trashed car with its doors ajar, past the crumbling houses she gave in to a different touch, the soothing caress on her back, thumb drawing circles. But she missed the other, the friendly hand pulling her from the mud leading her safely to a sanctuary. The only thing existing in that place had been the house with the swing and Ambrose and Sierra in it. She wept for that. She wept for his black eyes. She wept for Sierra.

Coming home she felt like running away again. Coming home she felt like going away.

***

The End

Take you for staying for this short journey!

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 4, Part 2

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

foxo2n4

Their eagerness to know more transfused into Neave. She allowed herself a deeper breath, eyes not meeting eyes, hers into the distant where the memory existed.

“The man who lived in that house over there told it to me.” Neave pointed at the smallest of the three houses, a green door marking it. “When I asked why he would want to hurt a hungry fox he asked me ‘what do you think the fox eats, little girl?’ and I said ‘chickens of course what else’.” Neave reached for Ambrose’s cigarette, an old habit calling back, and took a drag that jimmied open her throat clogged with difficult memories. He received it back with a twinkle in his eye.

“That man was not nice, I recall that. He laughed at me but when I tried to run away he grabbed my arm and took me inside his house. ‘Do you want to know the truth about your precious fox?’ he asked. His breath stank of alcohol and milk, his hands of gunpowder and dirt. But I wanted to know. I wanted to.”

She looked at them, Ambrose eager to hear, Sierra eager to see.

“He told me a long time ago just after the first houses were built near the river ill luck befell the people and the village. It desolated most of it and the elder stricken with grief, took a rope and headed to the oak tree to hang himself. When he got there a man wearing a fox skin was sitting under it roasting a chicken leg on a tiny fire. He talked the elder out of suicide and shared his chicken with him while the elder told him of their predicament. After hearing all, the stranger offered a solution. He told the elder that if they dined him with the finest meal tonight, tomorrow the sick would be healed and the crops would be rich again and if they gave him one girl after her first blood every autumn the village would flourish and expand and fill with the riches of the earth. They would be kings among the hills.”

“The elder agreed and in the morning when he returned to the village what the stranger had promised had come true. Come autumn the man in the fox skin came for the first girl just as he’d promised he would. The villagers were angry with the elder and how he’d hidden the truth from them. Dealing with demons and spirits…they called him a witch and butchered him. The demon took his girls despite everything, sneaking in the night soft as a whisper, quiet as a fox.” Neave inclined her head towards the green door of the small house. “I was so little, couldn’t be more than six. After I heard the story I wanted to cry but the man just laughed. ‘It’ll happen to you too! The man in the fox skin will come to take you and make you his whore you little bitch.’ I snuck past him and didn’t leave our house for days.”

“What a fucking weirdo. I’m so sorry, Neave. That must have been horrible,” Sierra sighed.

“Did it come? Did he come for you?”

Neave watched Ambrose, his unblinking stare piercing.

Sierra’s eyes widened. “Ambrose! Don’t be an asshole!”

She wanted to tell him, she wanted to be sure. The mark of something held in her hand returned and she flexed her digits tickling at her palm and the pressure there. Her mouth was dry, the red dirt carried in the wind crunching beneath her teeth.

A distant almost indistinguishable cry pierced her ears.

“Did you hear that?” Sierra asked and she swiftly ran down the stone steps and back to the yard where it was darker. The narrow light from her phone’s flashlight provided indication as to where she was.

“Inside the cave lived a Fox,” Neave whispered staring at the jagged rock.

 “Why isn’t it marked on the map, the cave?” Ambrose asked.

“It’s so people don’t go there.” Neave said listening to the cry. It was a woman crying, a child screaming, a person wailing in agony. It was a horrible sound and it chased away all other noise present in the vanishing daylight – the sound of night approaching through the trees making them sway as it came.

polaroid10

Ambrose joined Sierra adding to the stretch of yellow glow. He clutched his hunting rifle and aimed it at the approaching darkness.

Chapter 5