Ration by Cody T Luff Full disclosure: Ration was sent to me as a review copy. I don’t regularly receive review copies of things, but I love that someone came across a story or an author that I might be into and was keen to send it my way. That level of thoughtfulness in these kinds of sometimes rote feeling PR endeavors means a great deal to me, and so one might be forgiven for being under the impression that because of this I was predisposed to think highly of the book, but truly–I had no expectations! Expectations or no, I was incredibly impressed. Described as a “women-led Dystopian piece about surviving in a hunger-regulated society” Ration was a tense, gut-twistingly visceral tale that was heavy and harrowing, and emotionally difficult to read (in the way that The Handmaid’s Tale is heavy and hard to read) but at the same time, thoroughly compelling. I could imagine Ration as a gripping miniseries–the characters and their interactions really were that wonderfully, and terribly, vivid–and I could have spent a great deal more time in their bleak, ravaged world. I look forward to reading more by Cody T. Luff and I expect that Ration is going to be on several “best of” lists for the year. It certainly will be on mine.
Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland Sonya suggested this one to me and Sonya recommendations are best recommendations! A thriller set in the art world and a “love letter to the labour of artmaking,” Fake Like Me was a fantastic read that I tore through in one day and a story that hit so many of my sweet spots. I am a super boring person with a 9-5(ish) job because I crave security and stability and routine–but I am intensely fascinated with artistic creatives who live bohemian, unconventional, vagabond lifestyles. I would like to do this! But I am shy and squirrelly and don’t want to have crazy artist parties and I also like a steady income! Fake Like Me combines a thrillingly immersive examination of the lives and deaths of a handful of intertwined fictional artists, along with something that Sonya has mentioned before here in Stacked at Haute Macabre–their preferred genre of books is “non-fictiony fiction,” where the author “went down some kind of research hole that utterly fascinated them but, because they are a fiction writer and not, say, a journalist, turned their up-all-night discoveries into a story.” If any of this sounds like a good time to you, I think you’re going to love the arty insights and perspectives found in Fake Like Me. Also, don’t be put off by the name, which makes it sounds like it’s going to be a really fluffy read. It’s not.
Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer was a fractured, fragmented, timeshifting story of dissolving, surreal, decidedly-non-linear layers that I hesitate to even call a “story”. If you are familiar with VanderMeer’s writing, up the strangeness and beauty and WTF factors by ten or twenty or one hundred, and that’s Dead Astronauts for you. It was brutal and heart-rending and utterly confounding, and it eluded me at every turn. At no point did I get a clear sense of what was happening to whom or how or where or why, But. I also left every page that I turned damp with my tears. Something inside me understood something about these allies and their journey and their pain, and when it ended I wept quietly for a few minutes, thinking “but…I didn’t want this to end.”
Stephen King Project update: I have read The Dead Zone by Stephen King, which, if I am being honest, I had actually thought it was a collection of short stories before I checked it out of the library. A guy gets a few head injuries, goes into a four-year coma, and wakes up with premonitory psychic abilities. This book felt like old-school Stephen King to me, because I guess it is super old Stephen King thoughts and insights and stories. When I contrast it against something like The Outsider, which is much more recent, well…The Outsider feels like it was written for television. Some sort of essential Stephen King weirdness just…isn’t there. I am almost tempted to say there’s something simplistic and Dean Koontzian about it (sorry Dean Koontz fans, I am not amongst your ranks.) I don’t want to say it feels “dumbed down” because I don’t know that I’d ever considered Stephen King’s writing particularly nuanced! I mean…nuance and complexity… that’s not why we all fell in love with him when we were eleven years old, right? I don’t know if it’s the stories themselves, or the way the stories are told, but there was something missing for me. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this, my fellow Stephen King fan-friends. If you haven’t read The Outsider, maybe take a pass and watch the series instead, which is moodier, gloomier, more beguiling and much better than it has any right to be. Oh, and I also read Gwendy’s Button Box which I think was kind of fun and probably way more appropriate eleven-year-old-us, even though we wouldn’t have appreciated why until we became the old farts we are now.
Featured image: Joseph Simpson, design for a bookplate, c. 1879-1900
Keepsakes by G. A. Alexander is a comic my husband wrote and lettered! After a successful Kickstarter campaign last fall, it’s now available on Etsy as well as at a few shops in Seattle (Gargoyles Statuary, Comics Dungeon, and Phoenix Comics & Games). A collaboration with several talented artists, Keepsakes tells the story of two siblings tasked with sorting through their late father’s possessions. In the basement, they discover a collection of mysterious and horrifying artefacts… It’s a fun and spooky read reminiscent of old horror anthology shows and I’m not just saying that because I’m married to the author. (OR AM I? Read it to find out for yourself!)
Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand is the second Elizabeth Hand book I’ve read, the first being Wylding Hall — a classic English countryside horror tale infused with prog rock and the structure of a documentary. Curious Toys, on the other hand, is a murder mystery set in an amusement park during a sweltering 1915 Chicago summer. The detectives? A 14-year-old daughter of a fortune teller and the (then in his 20s) outsider artist HENRY DARGER. It’s hard to separate the book from the artist, in this case meaning Darger. An afterword discusses Hand’s multi-decade obsession with him and how her mother suggested one day that she thought he would be a good detective. I’m fairly sure I’d have enjoyed the book with no knowledge of Darger but it’s so clearly a love-letter to him, and such a poignant and tender one. In real life, Darger’s headstone is inscribed “Protector of children.” This beautiful story, set in a painstakingly recreated 1910s Chicago, will tell you why.
Imaginary Friend by Steven Chbosky was quite possibly… the worst thing I have ever read? A game I enjoy playing is figuring out how I ended up reading something in the first place. I’ll often add books to my to-read list and then buy ten at a time, resulting in a literary hodgepodge of friend recommendations, Top 10 lists, optimistic “if you like x you’ll like y” clicking and, well, all I can say is I hope a demon algorithm birthed this book and spat it onto my radar and not one of you. It’s the second book by the guy who wrote Perks of Being a Wallflower, a book I never read because it sounded like something a faux-earnest boy would make you read in high-school. But Imaginary Friend was a horror novel and I believe in second chances. Or first chances? My mistake, at any rate. It starts out ok-ish — there’s a kid who lives in a town where 50 years ago another kid disappeared, and this kid wanders into the forest and finds an imaginary friend who might be evil, and it’s chugging right along like a midweight creepypasta. Then suddenly you realize there are like 500 more pages? And then you start getting the feeling that maybe you’re a frog in a boiling pot of water and the water is Jesus and everything is actually super religious and you didn’t realize it at first because lots of horror has a little Jesus but this has A LOT of Jesus and also it’s doing some sort of last-100-pages-of-Ulysses incoherent ramble? So basically a guy who wrote a book lots of people loved waited two decades and shat this turd out straight onto the NYT bestseller list. 2020, everyone.
I know exactly why I purchased The Anomaly by Michael Rutger, and it’s because of a Reddit thread about subterranean horror books. The Anomaly is great. It’s a book about a video crew, which I always enjoy, and this particular video crew has a Youtube channel dedicated to conspiracy theories. After getting a nibble from a major network, the crew goes to investigate a secret cave in the walls of the Grand Canyon. The leader of the crew, Nolan, is a classic Mulder — out to prove to the world that the truth is out there, and eagerly jumping on the suspiciously-timed opportunity to do so. Against all odds, he finds the cave. And it’s not empty. Good fun, heartily recommend.