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review 2017-09-24 05:15
Halloween Bingo - American Horror - irony
Wieland: or, the Transformation, an American Tale - Brown Charles Brockden

 

 

This has been on my Kindle for ages and ages, and on my priority list almost as long.

 

Wieland, or the Transformation: An American Tale was published in 1798, one of the first "significant" novels published by an American.  I'm not sure what that "significant" means, though it's certainly noteworthy that Wieland was both popular and influential.

 

One of the attractions for me, however, is that it's written from the point of view of Clara Wieland, the sister of Theodore for whom the novel is ostensibly titled.

 

The story is more or less straightforward -- Theodore and Clara's father had been something of a religious fanatic, who died apparently of divinely-ordained spontaneous combustion in a "temple" he had built on his property in rural Pennsylvania.  Years later, in the grip of similar fanaticism, Theodore murders his wife and their four children as well as a young female companion.  An itinerant "biloquist" -- ventriloquist -- named Carwin confesses to having provided various mysterious voices but denies using his talent to induce Wieland murder his family.  Theodore eventually realizes what he's done and takes his own life.  The end, sort of.

 

The style is awkward, and I can't say this was a fun read.  The novel purports to be a letter Clara is writing to an unnamed friend -- and I thought I wrote long letters?? -- so it's all tell and no show in a decidedly 18th century manner.  But Clara as a character and narrator often has more in common with a kick-ass heroine of the 21st century than with her gothic descendants of the mid-20th century.  Wealth inherited from her father permits her to live independently, and she even makes plans to reveal her affections to their object rather than wait for him to do so first.

 

Unfortunately, before she has a chance to do that, there's a classic "big misunderstanding" and everything goes to hell.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, the more things change and all that.

 

The ventriloquism device didn't work for me.  Regardless how clever the ventriloquist, there is still the matter of distance across which a voice can be "thrown."  Had Carwin's talent been more smoothly woven with the belief/disbelief that Wieland or Clara or her love interest Pleyel had actually heard divine voices, it might have worked better.

 

But that's a criticism coming from two and a quarter centuries of popular fiction later.

 

The novel's focal point, if you will, is the mass murder of Wieland's family.  This event was based on an actual case that occurred in 1781 in New York, in which the father slaughtered his wife and children and claimed God had told him to do it.  What struck me about Wieland, however, was that the murders don't occur until almost two-thirds of the way through the novel -- 62% on my Kindle.  By this  point, Carwin has played his games, Pleyel has learned of and revealed Carwin's sordid history, and Clara's romantic future has been destroyed by the Big Miz.  Her brother's religiosity is a very minor issue; he's been portrayed as devout, yes, but also studious and a good father and husband.  Unlike his own father, Theodore Wieland hasn't (yet) become a nut job, to use  2017 terminology.

 

Up to then, this has been Clara's story, told by Clara -- as told by Charles Brockden Brown, of course.  Then the men screw it all up.

 

Wieland kills his family then testifies in court that yes, of course, he did it because God commanded him to do it.  How could it be wrong if it was God's will?  So the court decides he's the equivalent of insane -- unable to distinguish right from wrong, essentially -- and condemn him to life in prison.

 

Interestingly -- remember, this was published in 1798 -- Clara's maternal uncle is a physician who argues that Wieland's hallucinations are an indication of mental illness, while Clara argues that they weren't hallucinations at all but rather the product of the evil Carwin's machinations. 

 

It all winds down with Carwin's doleful confession to Clara, tempered by his insistence that he wasn't the one to tell Wieland to kill anyone, and then Wieland himself escapes his prison, threatens Clara, suddenly sees the error of his ways (regains his sanity???), and kills himself.

 

There follows a kind of postscript, in which Clara recounts her life after her brother's death, and while she achieves a certain happiness or maybe at least contentment, almost everyone else has a kind of "life's a bitch and then you die" ending.  Still, the whole thing seemed rather remarkable to be told from the woman's point of view until

 

the very last paragraph.  'Cause yep, it's always the victim's fault.

 

I leave you to moralize on this tale. That virtue should become the victim of treachery is, no doubt, a mournful consideration; but it will not escape your notice, that the evils of which Carwin and Maxwell were the authors, owed their existence to the errors of the sufferers. All efforts would have been ineffectual to subvert the happiness or shorten the existence of the Stuarts, if their own frailty had not seconded these efforts. If the lady had crushed her disastrous passion in the bud, and driven the seducer from her presence, when the tendency of his artifices was seen; if Stuart had not admitted the spirit of absurd revenge, we should not have had to deplore this catastrophe. If Wieland had framed juster notions of moral duty, and of the divine attributes; or if I had been gifted with ordinary equanimity or foresight, the double-tongued deceiver would have been baffled and repelled.

Brown, Charles Brockden. Wieland: or, the Transformation, an American Tale (Kindle Locations 3308-3314). Kindle Edition.

 

 (emphasis mine, above)

 

Wieland is one of those books I'm glad I read because of its importance to the literary history of fiction by, for, and about women.  But I can't say I enjoyed it.  Only recommended to those who are truly dedicated.  (It's not scary or creepy or gory or anything else.)

 

 

 

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review 2017-09-22 00:43
Classic Horror-The Willows
The Willows - Algernon Blackwood

Maybe it says something about me, but the older classic horror novels I am always shocked at how quaint they seem in comparison to works like "It." "It" gave me nightmares for weeks on end as a kid, this book, though scary in tone, is more mental than anything, your brain can turn what the unnamed narrator is describing into something worse. 

 

The main plot of "The Willows" is about two long time friends who are taking a canoe trip down the Danube River. We have the narrator and his friend called "The Swede."

 

Though both have been out in nature it seems based on previous comments, they come across a place that ends up unnerving them both. They start to fear the wind, the rising river, the willows, and anything else that seems like it is staring and mocking them. 

 

They eventually come across a man who seems to try to warn them away from where they end up camping, but since the narrator is doing what he can to try to laugh off his increasing fears, they both camp and witness something terrible.

 

I thought this was quite good and liked the writing. I think the main reason why I couldn't give it five stars though was that I wanted more menace. I thought they got off quite easily in the end (have i mentioned that I am way too blood thirsty?) and that I wanted it pushed a bit more. 

 

I did like the surprise at the end though when both men realize that what they thought they saw when they first landed (no spoilers) was something else entirely. 

 

This is only 60 pages, so it won't take a lot of your time to read. I mentioned in my update this would be a perfect story told by flashlight or candle light. You want this read during a thunderstorm or a night you lose the power. I think if I could read it then, I would have be more afraid than what I was. 

 

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text 2017-09-21 21:14
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The Willows - Algernon Blackwood

I read this for the classic horror square and really enjoyed it. 

 

It definitely reads like a book that I would enjoy more via audio while there was a thunderstorm going on. Having our nameless narrator and his friend (the Swede) canoeing the Danube and coming across a pagan place was great. I was on pins and needles the whole time while reading this. 

 

FYI this is free via Amazon just in case you don't feel like spending any money or your library holds are mocking you :-)

 

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review 2017-07-18 14:10
Gary Gianni's Monstermen and Other Scary Stories
Gary Gianni's Monstermen and Other Scary Stories - Gary Gianni,Gary Gianni

Gary Gianni's Monstermen and Other Scary Stories was a real treat! I knew nothing about what to expect from this volume, (knowing nothing about the Hellboy series, in which these comics were originally released), so I went in with no preconceptions. I was seriously impressed. Here's why:

 

First, I LOVED the stories! The first 2/3 of this are different comics featuring a movie director named St. Lawrence, (who looks a lot like Vincent Price, BTW, and who you would think belonged in the 30's expect for the occasional glimpse of technology), and his friend Benedict a member of the Corpus Monstrum guild. Benedict is an immortal knight and always wears his knight helmet and a tuxedo. (I need to learn more about the background of this character because he was a blast to read about.) Together they fend off plagues of falling skulls, and other monstrous creatures.

 

 

 

 

Second, the last third of the book contains illustrated classic stories by the likes of Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and William Hope Hodgson. I LOVED these! When reading these short stories, I couldn't help but notice how the first 2/3 of the book carried the exact same pulpy, adventure feel that these classic stories originally created. I think Gianni did a beautiful job of carrying on that feel in his comics and in his illustrations of these pulp shorts. In a way, I feel like these were his way of paying tribute to what came before, while also making them his own.

 

Again, I went into this with no preconceptions. I came away with much admiration and respect. I'm going to eventually read the Hellboy comics and I'm definitely going to search out Mr. Gianni and see what else he has on offer, because whatever it is, I'm in!

 

Highly recommended, especially to fans of the classic pulp short stories and to fans of incredible artwork.

 

You can get your copy here: Gary Gianni's Monstermen and Other Scary Stories

 

*Thank you to Edelweiss and to Dark Horse Comics for the e-ARC of this volume in exchange for my honest review. This is it!*

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review 2017-04-21 22:55
FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT Review
Four Past Midnight - Stephen King

There is an old Family Guy cutaway which depicts Stephen King meeting with his publisher to pitch his next novel. Obviously desperate for an idea, King quickly looks around the office and grabs the publisher's desk lamp. "So this family gets attacked by . . . a lamp monster! Ooooh!" he waves his hands, trying to convey the scariness and shock of his laughably bad offering. Of course the skit is satirizing King's prolificacy. The publisher sighs, defeated, and asks when he can have the manuscript.

 

Four Past Midnight feels a little like that. None of these stories quite plummet to the lows of an evil, murderous lamp come to life . . . but this is not King on his A-game. These stories were written in the late '80s, when SK was getting off alcohol and drugs; that can have a huge impact on a person's life — especially a person who has to live up to the expectations of millions. King once said of this time period that everything he wrote "fell apart like wet tissue paper," and that self-consciousness and unease is very evident here. The writing is clunky and oft-uninspired; few of the characters come alive. The excellent characterization is why I pay the price of admission. Even if the story gets bloated and the ending disappoints, King's characters are typically reliable. Not so here.

 

In essence, it feels like King studied what worked best earlier in his career and incorporated those elements into the novellas, with diminished results. We have the small band of survivors fighting for life against an apocalyptic setting a'la The Stand and The Mist (The Langoliers), a psychic child (again, The Langoliers), the tortured writer (Secret Window, Secret Garden), repressed childhood memories/using the innocence of childhood to fight a shape-shifting monster (The Library Policeman) and a boring-as-shit Castle Rock tale about a murderous dog (The Sun Dog). All of these stories feel like they're stuck in tired, been-there-done-that territory; I almost never accuse King of repeating himself, but this collection is nothing but reheated leftovers of plot points from earlier, better novels and novellas.

 

My ratings for each story are as follows:

The Langoliers: 3
Secret Window, Secret Garden: 4
The Library Policeman: 3
The Sun Dog: 1


That puts the average at 2.75, which rounds up to 3. This is a totally average book. <i>Secret Window, Secret Garden</i> is easily the best of the lot; I don't care to ever reread the others.

 

King Connections

 

The Langoliers features a shout-out to The Shop.

Secret Window, Secret Garden partially takes place in Derry; The Sun Dog takes place in Castle Rock. Both towns are, of course, very important to the King universe.

 

Favorite Quote

 

“'I'm not taking that,' Mort said, and part of him was marvelling at what a really accommodating beast a man was: when someone held something out to you, your first instinct was to take it. No matter if it was a check for a thousand dollars or a stick of dynamite with a lit and fizzing fuse, your first instinct was to take it.”

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