All the haunted houses! The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson was an imperative re-read and a palette cleanser after having been assaulted by the recent Netflix series. I did not love the show for many reasons but most of which because all of Jackson’s elegant, powerful symbolism was reduced to “easter egg” status. I won’t spoil it for anyone who loved it, or who hasn’t yet seen it, so that’s enough of that. And if I am going to read of Hill House, then of course I must re-read Richard Matheson’s pulpy, lurid Hell House for comparison.
At first glance, they are somewhat similar–a small group of people, mostly strangers to each other, congregate for research purposes in houses known for their haunted histories. But Jackson and Matheson’s treatments of this spooky trope are so very different, and I really urge you to read them side by side for the differences in tone and language, the whos and whys of the characters and how they interact and relate to each other (or not), and to see how each story evolves and diverges. Interesting to note, if you are not already aware: Richard Matheson is also the author of I Am Legend, What Dreams May Come, A Stir Of Echoes, and the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet”.
666 by Jay Anson and The Manse by Lisa Cantrell were two used finds that I picked up while visiting Phantasm Comics in New Hope, PA earlier this month. Lured in by their ridiculous covers, I devoured both on the flight home; In 666, our main characters, a married couple, arrive home from vacation to find that a new house has somewhat mysteriously appeared more or less across the street from their own home. We learn from vague visions and various forays into the house that this structure is evil because it was built from various pieces of diabolical or horrific materials throughout history? (i.e. pieces of torture devices, stones from notorious dungeous, nails from the cross Jesus was all got up on, etc.) I’m probably oversimplifying, and this is already a dumb book to begin with. Anyway, this house reappears and disappears over the years after inciting its inhabitants to dreadful violence. Somehow the devil is involved. The devil is a realtor? Or a house flipper? I don’t know. One amazon reviewer enthuses, “Every christian should read this book”. OKAY THEN!
In The Manse, some self-important small town JCs (junior chamber of commerce members) decorate a local historical space–an old house owned by two doddering spinsters tucked away in a local ALF– every year for Halloween and make enough money from their haunted house doings to keep the old place afloat for another year. But! The house is apparently situated over a portal to hell and feeds on the fear generated by these annual Halloween shenanigans, and by its 13th year, its saved enough fear-bucks to do something big. But…what exactly? I am not sure. Hell’s grand opening, with lots of samples, like a Saturday afternoon at Costco, maybe? I feel like these vintage paperbacks are always sketchy on the details of whatever the titular Big Bad is actually trying to accomplish. The Manse, much like 666, is awfully silly, but the cover art of a demonic jack-o-lantern intensely nomming on a cobwebby banister is actually pretty great.
Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval Norwegian multidisciplinary artist Jenny Hval (whose swoony Blood Bitch album we covered in 2016) has written a surreal debut novel full of gross words that you may have issues with if you can’t handle moist ooze, bubbles of spit, sticky crotches, or other goo-soaked situations or similes. If you’re all good with mucus, rot and pus, blood, spores, and urine, well, then. You’re in for a treat. In Paradise Rot we follow Jo, an overseas student studying in a foreign country, anxious and adrift in her new surroundings. After a week’s worth of fruitless and frustrating searching for housing, she answers an ad for a roommate for what we find out is actually a converted warehouse with a strange inhabitant, who has been living there alone. “In a house with no walls, shared with a woman who has no boundaries,” Jo experiences a soporific, psychedelic sexual awakening as her surroundings decay and fall apart around her.
Hungry Ghosts by Anthony Bourdain I, sadly, became more a fan of Anthony Bourdain posthumously, and it really began, if I am being honest, when I learned that he had cooked up this illustrated collection of eerie food tales steeped in Japanese folklore and legend. The book opens with the story of a Russian oligarch who, in the middle of his dinner party, invites the chefs working in his kitchen to play a version of 100 candles, or Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, a Japanese Edo-period parlour game in which brave samurai would try to one-up each other with terrifying tales of ghosts, demons, and unspeakable beings. In this version, however, it is the chefs who share these dark and gruesome tales about food and hunger, with each story taking inspiration from the many horrors found in Japanese mythology. “ Generally speaking, I always want more from these types of anthologies than they are able to deliver, but this one was a lot of fun, and more successful than most. Recommended if you liked Zac Davisson’s Yurei: The Japanese Ghost.
Junji Ito’s Frankenstein I’m not sure how much I really need to try and sell you on this one. If you like Junji Ito, then you know you need his grotesquely illustrated Frankenstein for your collection. And if you dig Mary Shelly’s gothic classic, Frankenstein, then you probably want to see this bizarre Japanese illustrator’s take on the beloved tale. Bonus: Frankenstein only takes up half of this hefty tome–the other half features the many misadventures of Oshikiri, a high school student who lives in a decaying mansion connected to a haunted, parallel world. Oh, you’ve not heard of my favorite illustrator, Junji Ito? Have a read of “The Enigma of Amigara Fault“, a story which I think is pretty representative of the tales he likes to tell, rife with themes of body horror, obsession, helplessness, and mystery– and I guarantee you’ll be able to gauge for yourself right away if his work is something you’ll enjoy. Also, Junji Ito, can you pretty please illustrate an edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray ? I haven’t read it yet, and yours is the version with which I wish to initiate myself! (Don’t give me a hard time! I’ll read it one day! It’s on the list.)
Wild Milk by Sabrina Orah Mark – This is one of those books that’s so unusual and special, I don’t want to say much at all about it for fear of setting any expectations or unintentionally breaking the spell it so beautifully casts over its reader. Suffice it to say, we should all be so lucky as to have a friend who sometimes simply sends you a photo of a book and says, “THIS. ONE.” And that’s all the encouragement you need. The stories in Wild Milk read like dreams dreamt by our dreams when we’re awake. That might be one of the least elegant sentences I’ve ever written, but I stand by it. THIS. ONE.
The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – Call this a cheat, but I’m not actually going to talk about The Prisoner of Heaven here, because it’s the third in a series of books I’ve never mentioned on Stacked. Instead, I want to talk about The Shadow of the Wind, the very first book in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s sumptuously written series, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
Set in post-war Barcelona (WWII and Spanish Civil War), The Shadow of the Wind is a magnificently gothic tale about many things, but at the heart of it is the love of books. Hidden in Barcelona is an old and sacred place called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, known only to the city’s rare book dealers and a select few people they invite over the years. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a home for books that the world has long forgotten. Each person brought to the library is invited to choose a book from its labyrinthine shelves. That book is then theirs to care for and, thus, no longer forgotten. We follow Daniel, the main character of this tale (and the series), as his father introduces him to the library on his eleventh birthday.
“This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens…In this place books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands. In the shop we buy and sell them, but in truth books have no owner. Every book you see here has been somebody’s best friend.”
Daniel selects a book, The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, which drives him to try to track down all the other books written by Carax. It’s an epic tale of books, secrets, murder, and madness and it’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read. Ruiz Zafón’s love of Barcelona is spelled out in every rich description of the city’s streets, buildings, and people. This is one of those books that envelops you in a thick, velvet blanket of language and feels, effortlessly removing you from real time and real space, where sometimes you can actually hear the rain striking the cobblestone streets.
Read this. Then read the second book, The Angel’s Game, and then we can talk about the The Prisoner of Heaven. In the meantime I’ll be reading the fourth and final book in the series, The Labyrinth of the Spirits.
My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies by Ed Brubaker (author) and Sean Phillips (artist) – And now for something completely different. My Hereos Have Always Been Junkies is the first standalone graphic novel by the creators of my favorite gritty crime comics (including the ongoing Criminal series, The Fade Out, recently concluded Kill or Be Killed, and Fatale (a fabulous combination of cosmic horror and and hard-boiled noir). Although this story stands alone, like all the other tales created by Brubaker and Phillips, this is not a place to look for a happy ending. BUT. You aren’t going to get the ending you might be expecting either. Quick, dirty, soulful, and completely satisfying. This book exemplifies why I make sure to read everything that this creative duo puts out.
Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant I read Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep earlier this spring before realizing it had a novelette prequel. Both are absolutely delightful and smart and chilling and contain a few of my favorite things: found footage (don’t @ me) and the sense that the author got really into some non-fiction subject, in this case marine biology. Because did I mention the books are about killer mermaids?
The Night Ocean: A Novel by Paul La Farge This is a weird book within a book, fiction about non-fiction about fiction, what is reality even little masterpiece. It’s sort of about H.P. Lovecraft but also about a man obsessed with a book he wrote about an obscure time in Lovecraft’s life and ultimately about the way our fixations bend — and perhaps even shape — truth.
Hell House by Richard Matheson I had this on an ancient reading list along with The Haunting of Hill House so I assumed it would be, I don’t know, good? Spooky? Instead it included the quote “Let his God cock sink into my mouth; let me drink his holy, burning jism” as well as several helpings of sexually repressed ladies and a dollop of spectral butt stuff. Our dear S. Elizabeth apparently read it at age 12, which actually explains a lot.
I also signed up for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and read a bunch of trash and a tiny bit of non-trash, the latter of which included Valentina: An absolutely gripping psychological thriller by S.E. Lynes, Hunted by Darcy Coates, What Have You Done by Matthew Farrell, and The Other Side Of The Wall: A Gripping Psychological Thriller by Andrea Mara.
feature image is “The Night Frankenstein Read Don Quixote” by Alejandro Colucci