After recently loving C.J. Tudor’s new short story collection A Sliver of Darkness, I decided to listen to her debut book The Chalk Man on audio. She has now vaulted to my top 5 horror writers!
Eddie and his four friends are typical young teens in an English village in 1986 when a day at the fair changes all their lives forever. A piece of ride equipment falls off and maims a young woman standing nearby Eddie, so a new teacher and Eddie provide first aid until the paramedics arrive. His connection with the albino teacher (cruelly nicknamed the Chalk Man by his students) sets off a chain reaction of events that is still reverberating thirty years later.
The book alternates between the modern day when Eddie is a bachelor teacher, still living in his childhood home and teaching at the school he had attended years ago. Still friends with two of his chums, two had moved away, when one of these friends comes back to meet up with Eddie for dinner. When this friend turns up dead afterward, and strange chalk man drawings are found, Eddie reminisces about that pivotal summer thirty years earlier when other deaths occured.
As the book progresses you learn more about that summer after the fair, as the friendship between the five begins to splinter, and how one of them is involved in a scandal concerning their father who is vicar of the local church. Eddie’s parents tie into that as do others in their small town. Some details aren’t fully connected until 2016, as their lives have braided together in unhealthy and complicit ways. What you might assume is a supernatural story, becomes more realistic as you see everyone was somehow involved, without anyone person knowing the full truth of what was going on with the others.
A nasty little twist is revealed in the concluding pages, not truly changing the secrets revealed earlier, but putting a gruesome bow on Eddie’s story. This story, plus the short story collection I read earlier this month, make me want to seek out even more books by Tudor!
I have joined for the fifth year with some other amazing bloggers to celebrate women under the auspicious blogging series titled: Fiction’s Fearless Females! For the next few weeks, two other bloggers and I will share who they believe is a fictional woman to be admired, and I will share each entry of the series on this blog. Today’s post comes from Kalie of Just Dread-Full, a superb blog that gives insightful critiques of the horror genre.
Dear readers, gather around the campfire—okay, or the computer screen—as I regale you with a story. Throughout time, we’ve been entertained with tales of heroes—the Mighty Achilles, Sir Gawain, Beowulf…Spiderman, Superman, Antman, Xena the Warrior Princess…and the list goes on. I’m here today, however, to discuss a different hero—a single woman who, at a young age, was relegated to a cold, imprisoning underground lair not by any evil villain, but by her own image, staring back at her in a funhouse mirror. For years, the subterranean woman lived among her subterranean people, a group of have-nots who were tethered to those in the world above, who “lived the lives” of those above ground, albeit without all the artifacts and accouterments associated with living. Angry at her fate, this young woman grew up and devised a plan, inspired by the image on a t-shirt, that could be executed with a mere lighter and a few pairs of scissors. The woman planned not just to take over a city, a state, or a nation, but, with the help of the others who lived with her underground, to take over the world, to re-populate the world above ground with her enslaved, tethered people. She did not want fame, power, or fortune—merely justice and the warm light of the sun, for herself and those she lived among. Thus, with nothing but cunning brilliance, a few dull sheers, an eccentric family, and some kickass dance moves, a young woman and her family entered the “ordinary world,” intent on inhabiting it by dominating it.
Okay, clearly I wasn’t suited to write heroic epics, but I think you get the gist of the story I just told. If you’re a horror fan—more generally—and a Jordan Peele fan—more specifically—the story probably sounds familiar to you, because it’s the plot of the movie Us, albeit told a different way, in a different context. Us immediately captivated me when I saw it because of the way it blurs the boundaries between the seemingly binary concepts of “good” and “evil,” along with the concepts of “self” and “other.” I have written about Us before on this blog, however, and I suppose I risk, with this post, the chance of repeating myself. Luckily, I’m not just writing about the film Us, but about a specific woman in the film for this year’s installment of Fiction’s Fearless Females. Every year I join a few other bloggers for International Women’s Month, and we take turns writing about women in fiction who somehow—and often in a variety of unusual or unexpected ways—exemplify the word “fearless” – women who show extraordinary bravery in a variety of dire circumstances. Other contributors to this series include Michael from My Comic Relief and Nancy from Graphic Novelty², all of whom have written/will write about other fearless females and who I have featured and/or will feature on Just Dread-full.
For now, however, let us go back to the movie Us and focus on the woman I chose for this series (and I’ll note here that I have to include spoilers to highlight why I find this woman extraordinary—if my reasoning wasn’t evident in my opening story). Anyone who’s seen Us knows that the fantastic Lupita Nyong’o plays two parts in the story: she is both Adelaide Wilson, a perfectly normal wife and mother living above ground with her family, and she is Red, her disheveled doppelganger who appears, one day, with a slightly altered version of Adelaide’s family. After all, everyone in this story has a doppelganger.
We learn, eventually, that the miles upon miles of empty underground space around the world holds these hidden doppelgangers—replicas of human beings who live a weird sort of jittery life in which they emulate the gestures and mannerisms of their human match above ground, but they do so in what looks like a mixture of a classroom and a science lab—a space with no sign of stimulation or comfort, where the doppelgangers interact as best they can, appearing, as it were, to be slightly “monstrous” versions of their corresponding humans (if, that is, monstrosity is defined by a disheveled appearance and affective idiosyncrasies).
But that’s the trick of this film; at the beginning of her movie, Red and her family are clearly threatening to the Wilsons. They appear, by all means, to be the “scary antagonists” of this incredibly unique horror film. Only as we learn Red’s true story, and the corresponding story of Adelaide, do we realize that perhaps the lines between hero and villain—even between hero and anti-hero—aren’t that clearly drawn. Perhaps the real bad guys are absent in the diegetic narrative, and in the entire debacle that unfolds in the film. Ultimately, the film Us seems to assert what Jack Halberstam so wisely observed—that there is not a distinct binary relationship between “human” and “monster,” and that monsters should not be read as the binary antithesis of humanity. After all, in some ways, both Adelaide and Red are monstrous, but both women—and I argue, especially Red—ultimately emerge as brilliant and heroic in their efforts to gain a normal, free, untethered life.
One of the key things to know to appreciate the movie (this is, also, by far the biggest spoiler) is that Adelaide and Red, who look like twins because they’re both played by Nyong’o and are, in fact, doubles, are also each other; Adelaide is actually Red and Red is actually Adelaide. We are led to believe, at first, that when young Adelaide (later Red) enters a funhouse at a boardwalk amusement park in California and sees her double—a twin, but not an exact reflection, staring back at her in the mirror—the double takes her underground, but the original Adelaide manages to escape, albeit with the trauma of the experience haunting her. For some time upon “returning” above ground, Adelaide does not talk. A scene of a therapist speaking to Adelaide’s parents implies that as a child, after the event, she received therapy for her trauma and loss of speech, and eventually the therapeutic nature of dancing allowed her to regain that speech, deal with the trauma (to an extent), and live a normal life as an adult, with a husband and two children. That is, initially, the story that the narrative provides us.
However, at the end of the film, the audience gets let in on exactly what transpired below ground, and we realize that it was never Adelaide who emerged. Rather, her “double” (doppelganger, “tethered,” etc.) kidnapped “the original Adelaide” as a child, trapped her in the underground world and emerged above ground to take her place. Red (the “replacement Adelaide,” the simulacrum) must become Adelaide, and Adelaide acts differently and stops speaking because it isn’t Adelaide who comes back. Perhaps, then, to an extent, that is the horror of the doppelganger, who is, in this film, quite literally a “body-snatcher.” You can be the parents of the doppelganger, the children of the doppelganger, or the doppelganger’s lover, and there’s no way to know that the person you think you know on a deep, personal level is or isn’t really who they say they are. And yet, in this film, the catch for me was that there was nothing particularly horrific about the beautiful wife and mother, Adelaide Wilson, secretly hailing from an underground lair. Why be afraid if we cannot tell the difference anyway? Clearly Adelaide served her role well as a wife and mother. The observation raises the question, then, if the “doppelgangers” are the scary “others” in the film, what, really, is the difference between self and other? As a sidenote, if it’s not been made obvious already, when I say “Adelaide,” I try to refer to the child who originally lived underground but emerged in Adelaide’s place and grew up to be Adelaide Wilson. Red is the woman who originally lived above ground, gets kidnapped, and starts a bloody revolution to free herself and the others who live underground.
And it is a revolution, if we take up the dictionary definition that a revolution as a “forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.” That’s the thing with Red—whose name, interestingly, bears what was historically the symbolic color of the communist party: She and her family are presented as formidable weirdos at the start of the story, but her dismal life underground bespeaks to her obvious oppression, and an oppression, no less, brought on by humans. We don’t really know how the “tethered” doubles came to be or why they’re relegated to underground lairs, but the mis en scene gives us some pretty good clues. First, there are walls of rabbits in cages. Though it appears that that the tethered are being fed raw rabbits, the image of rows full of cages with animals brings to mind animal-based scientific laboratory testing, which may not always be insidious but which generally has a negative connotation, especially when not the animals but the presence of the encumbering cages are foregrounded. To that extent the rabbit in the film is both means for understanding and metaphor—we understand because of these carefully constructed rabbit cages that the “habitat” for the tethered was probably created by humans, but the rabbits in bare cages seem like metaphors for the tethered themselves, who live in spaces that look like bare hallways and classrooms—another clue that this is a very human-made situation. Indeed, if rabbits are metaphors, and rabbits are often tested on, then it seems possible that the tethered were re-created in the name of “science”—perhaps, specifically, scientific testing that couldn’t be done on “humans.” We never know, but part of the fun and fascination of the film is the speculation it allows and the sparse but careful clues it provides. I am starting to think that a hallmark of films I love is that they give you enough to fill in the gaps, but not enough to fill in the gaps with any degree of certainty. Myriad “backstories,” “prequels,” or other explanatory narratives could be made to explain the tethered, but we can’t know which one, for sure, although we can probably eliminate some guesses.
There is, then, little question that at least the habitat for these “doubles” was made by humans. Are the tethered captured at birth and forced to live underground, or are they more like clones, somehow created from the of DNA every human being at birth and then relegated to the subterranean? Do the details even matter? The point is, the “tethered” seem to be the creepy doubles of unknowing humans and, possibly, the byproduct of a cruel science experiment. One cannot help but argue, then, that Adelaide (“Adelaide”) who originally lived underground but devised a method of escape through a portal in a theme park funhouse is a “fearless female” who saw the hopelessness of her fate and made concrete actions by changing it, by imprisoning a look-alike and blending herself into the above-ground world. (This trope is weirdly little mermaid-y, but without the presence of sparkling undersea kingdoms. And on the mermaid note, Adelaide and Ariel share one commonality: both, when the emerge above ground, cannot speak comprehensibly to other humans. Hmmm…hmmm…hmmm…). It may seem “selfish” from a banal reading, but Adelaide’s act is an act of desperation, an act of brilliance, and an act of bravery. Who, after all, would dare to spend their whole lives practically enslaved and then “sneak in” to the world of the “free,” nonchalantly blend themselves in, learn the language, and live a life that they had little concept of when they were below ground (in this case, surrounded by bare classrooms and animal cages).
And despite how fascinated I am by Adelaide Wilson, the oppressed who was presumably born into the underground fate and managed to escape it through a mixture of careful maneuvering and pure aggression, “Red,” who is presented as the monstrous other, who’s been living underground for years when the film opens, is the one who fascinates me more. For Adelaide makes a difficult decision (perhaps) and takes serious risks when she frees herself and becomes “part of that world,” but Red is the character that the film would have us think is the “monster” and yet—yet, yet, she’s fighting to get some different version of her original life back, and in doing so, she joins all the doubles together, executes a complex plan, and leads what is commensurate to an underground worldwide revolution in which those—doppelgangers, doubles, clones (?)—can escape their enslaved fate and live out the free—or “free”—lives that we all prize so highly, especially in this country. To that end, Janis Joplin is wrong, and freedom’s not just another word for “nothing left to lose” (take that, my Bobby McGee). Adelaide Wilson, now free and vacationing in a summer home with her family, has everything to lose because she’s free, and “Red,” who was kidnapped and forced to live underground by Adelaide so many years ago, is willing to come back and take it.
The implication of the film is that every human on earth has an underground double, or a tethered, because there’s a lot more space underground than we think (and the tethered, it appears, live in more crowded confines than those in the ordinary world do). To that extent, the tethered people are Red’s world, and Red is leading not just the equivalent of a worldwide revolution, but, insofar as these two groups of people have been separated their entire lives with, in the case of the above-grounds, little to no knowledge of the other, she’s leading a revolution that is not like a takeover from outer-space, albeit one that comes from the other direction (which is, I suppose, another parallel worth considering, especially in the wake of Peele’s most recent film, Nope). And she successfully orchestrates this complete takeover—for, by the end of the film, we see the tethered holding hands and forming a line above ground, like the “hands across America” image that we’re shown earlier in the movie—a lot of people above ground have died, and it appears the tethered, all over the world, are winning or have won. And yet, we can’t call them evil. It is not malice, or killing for the sake of killing, that they do. It is a retaliation for a sort of colonization, for the tethered, to some extent, are subjugated the way a colonized person might be. They are not just assimilated but are, instead, simulations, but they are (perhaps) assimilated simulations whose actions are extremely controlled and who are denied practically any external phenomenon, let alone useful resources.
But in her powerful retaliation Red, in a sense, ignites the apocalypse, which is bloody and traumatic and scary for many humans who probably had no direct knowledge of the oppression of those underground, but is, still, a revolution—a complete takeover to escape a life of horrific oppression and to have the chance to live a decent existence, with buildings and plants and sidewalks and sun, above ground. It is even more important to consider, I think, that Red was born above ground and has planned all this while living below it for years upon years, being somehow, peculiarly, tethered to Adelaide above ground so that she enacts a lot of the gestures Adelaide enacts, but without the external world to interact with. (This movie could also be interesting, I think, from a phenomenological perspective). She has virtually nothing except the other tethered and some scissors that were left below ground as if they were classroom tools. And yet, she successfully organizes the entire takeover of humanity—but not out of some act of malice or evil. Because the only way the tethered can escape the bondage (at least, we infer) –the bondage of the underground, the bondage of being tethered to those above and being forced to imitate their gestures and interactions—is to kill their doppelgangers.
I always hated when people would say, of my friends who died of alcoholism or addiction, “they must die so that others can live,” but it would appear to be the sad paradox of recovery that seeing enough people die of addiction or alcoholism convinces the recovering alcoholic to stay away from that stuff, and there’s a similar sad paradox of existence in this movie, insofar as that paradox is implied by the word “tethered” which means to tie with a rope or chain and restrict movement. These underground beings are restricted by the invisible ropes that tie them to their comparatively privileged doubles above ground. For killing the “above-ground” beings seems to break the rope, the chain, and then (not wholly unlike the proletariat taking over the bourgeoisie and forming a new world order in communist theory) the tethered, who have been tethered their whole lives, are set free. Red and her family only seem like monsters through the myopic view of the diegetic humans in the narrative. The situational irony of the film is that we know more than the human characters, so we understand that, no matter how fundamentally “bad” violence is, it’s tenuous and inconsistent to consider the tethered “monsters,” when the real monsters are probably the people who created and/or trapped them to begin with, and who aren’t featured in the diegetic narrative but are part of the above-ground beings, the normate humans.
When Michael and I discussed what we would write about for “Fiction’s Fearless Females” this year, I originally considered a few other females, and Michael’s point provoked some thought within me: “Fearless” does not necessarily mean “heroic.” The word hero, after all, as the introduction to this piece implies about fictional heroes, is deceptive, contested, and can as easily be applied, by dominant cultural ideology, to colonizing imperialists as it can to actual revolutionaries. To that end, I guess I make two claims, here: If Red’s bloodshed negates her heroism, she is still about as fearless as a female can be with her decision to take over a (still male-dominated, normate-dominated, resourceful) world with a group of oppressed people and a pair of scissors. But, we could argue that she is heroic in addition to being fearless. In Homerian Greek myth the “heroes” went to war over the kidnapping of a single woman, Helen of Troy, because of that woman’s status and beauty. War and its corresponding notion of “heroism” has been used for the acquisition of power, possession, and status, practically since agrarian culture sprung up and “war” so-called, became a thing. A woman who is kidnapped, forced to a tethered non-existent existence underground, and leads a revolution to gain her freedom and the freedom of others is, in this case, still a killer, but we might categorize her motivations as “just,” and beyond that, clearly she’s not just fighting for her own freedom. She is the one being down there, the only one, who has lived above ground at all, and she’ll use what she knows and risk her life to free them all. Whether or not she is a “hero”—a word that is unimportant, anyway, in noun form—there is certainly something heroic about her.
There’s so much you can do, conceptually, with this movie, and I can’t try to do it all right now, but I’m interested in two concepts, predominantly: the first is the doppelganger, which is often considered an evil twin or a harbinger of doom in fictional literature, and which indeed appears to be so in this film. The doppelganger is also a metaphor for “self-seeing”—as worded by one website—and to this end, of course, the whole film could be read and has been read as a metaphor of seeing our more malevolent natures and emerging from them. It’s a good reading—one, I think, that Peele even hinted toward—but it’s one of many ways, only, to read the film.
The other thing I keep thinking of is Baudrillard’s simulacrum, which I know little to nothing about (I’ve never read Baudrillard) but which I googled when I was writing this piece. What is interesting about the world of the tethered people is that, in many ways, it’s the antithesis of a simulacrum. If a simulacrum is a near-exact or completely exact representation of an original, but one that, to Baudrillard, represents the truth or the hyperreal, than the world of the tethered is nothing like the world above. Perhaps, then, it is the opposite of the real or the hyperreal because it’s a sort of non-simulacrum or an antithetical simulacrum. The beginning of the film, for example, shows people riding carnival rides above grounds, and beings moving awkwardly in abandoned hallways below ground, somewhat imitating the practice of riding rides, but without the excitement and pleasure of an amusement park ride to experience. The subterranean is nothing like the world above; it lacks almost every type of phenomenon that the world above has. So the world below cannot really be considered a simulacrum, but to some extent, the doubles can be. What happens when you replicate a human but deny them the things that nurture humanity? What happens to the simulacrum when it breaks, when only a part of the set-up is an exact replica, or when you put the replica into and environment that is antithetical to its needs? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and perhaps they are more philosophical than they are practical, but we could say this much: if the simulacrum represents the hyperreal, then the doppelgangers in Us are certainly about as alive, as real, as hyperreal as one could imagine. And through cunning and courage, they release themselves from their horrendous fate, led by Red, this week’s fictional fearless female.
Skottie Young and Jorge Corona, the creative team of Middlewest, conceived a Gothic romance about an artist who retreats to an old house to devote time to painting and discovers an otherworldly muse in the haunted house.
Ro is an acclaimed artist, who is taking a break to create new paintings for an upcoming art show. She rents a large Victorian home, although it is rumored to be haunted. She actually hopes it is, thinking it might be an inspiration for her paintings. And soon enough a spirit appears, but we see before she does, that it is malevolent. At first, the spirit seems shapeless, but after time is able to take on a tall dark form, eventually becoming corporeal, as he becomes intimate with Ro in a disturbing moment. While Ro is captivated by the spirit, this spirit becomes obsessed with her, preventing her from leaving the house. Her art agent becomes concerned as Ro has secluded herself away for too long and visits her home to check in. The spirit does not take kindly to the friend’s intrusion, and chaos and horror erupt.
As Young and Corona did with Middlewest, a dark theme is juxtaposed against a cartoony art style, but soon enough the story transcends the art. A moody Gothic vibe is established in the rambling old home with gloomy hues and exaggerated features. As Ro struggles with artist’s block, the evil spirit is able to manipulate her into trusting him and says everything she wants to hear, as he slowly tightens his hold on her life. An evocative scene with the spirit showing her hundreds of old paintings, many of them depicting women, made me wonder how many other women he had seduced in the years prior. Ro clues in late to her lover’s intentions, and another chapter would have been helpful in fleshing out the tale.
After Ro battles for her life, an ambiguous ending concludes the narrative, effectively making you wonder if the spirit lives on, ready to wreak havoc in someone else’s life. This story was an interesting mash-up of toxic relationships and horror, and I found it to be an enjoyably creepy read.
I loved this horror short story collection by C.J. Tudor! Several of the stories are set in a post-apocalyptic world, and the author pulls you into each story with realistic details but then capably takes you in a new direction.
End of the Liner
In an apocalyptical future, most of humanity has survived on cruise ships, for those who had been rich enough to afford to do so. Fifty years have passed on a Disney-esque ship, and Leila reminisces about her rebel daughter Addison who abandoned the ship and tried to make it to shore, not knowing what awaited her there. Leila and the other survivors are forced to conform and are always watched, but are given an unrealistic but safe environment. When Addison reappears to whisk Laila away to land, Laila realizes perhaps the artificiality of the ship is better than the hard reality of life on shore.
A group of foolish British teens break into an abandoned apartment building and discover an otherworldly horror.
A widowed man reminisces about his courtship years in the 1970s and how he and his girlfriend (later wife) would frequent a blues bar for the music. An unlikely musician befriends them, and the couple later suspects the singer of killing his girlfriend when she cheats on him. There is a twist at the end, but wait, there is yet another nasty surprise in the last paragraph!
A narcissistic realtor thinks he has the deal of a century when he believes an old man will sell his property to him to be redeveloped. There is an odd reveal at the end, and I was unsatisfied with how this young man seemed to escape justice.
The Lion at the Gate
A group of teens see a lion mural and discover it comes to life. Not all the friends survive.
Gloria is a character found in the book The Hiding Place written earlier by the author. She is a hit-woman who retains a bit of morality, although the ending is ambiguous as to what decision she will make regarding her newest assignment. This story makes me want to check out the novel!
I’m Not Ted
This story has a Twilight Zone vibe, as a man is given chance after chance to make the right decision.
A widowed father is invited to a country estate by an old college friend and he and his blind daughter join his friends in this murder mystery story. The father and daughter duo are hiding a very dark secret.
The Copy Shop
An unsatisfied wife discovers a special shop that makes copies that are even better than the original. I was pleased that this story was on the lighthearted side, instead of giving the reader an ugly conclusion.
A seaside vacation for a jilted woman turns out to be quite hellish, as a dark reason for her being there is revealed.
In a post-apocalyptic world, some survivors think a nearby island might be the sanctuary they need. Two boatloads of adventurers head out, but of course, the island is not what they expected. The survivors are faced with a no-win situation and grapple with the few choices left to them. The author indicated that she plans to turn this unfinished short story into a novella. I was intrigued- so I hope she does asap.
I love discovering new (to me) authors, so I will certainly be checking out other books by her!
I am a big fan of Joe Hill, first becoming aware of him through his graphic novel series Locke & Key. Afterward, I read other graphic novels by him, plus his horror-themed short story collections. I read this book years ago and found it uneven, for it was his first published book. While it did include some gems, he has honed his writing since then.
Best New Horror (4/5): An editor on the lookout for a promising author finds him in a home reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Did he escape?
20th Century Ghost (3.5/5): A theatre is haunted. Alec buys it anyway.
Pop Art (4/5): I almost gave up on this magical realism tale, but it grew on me. An inflatable boy is real- just go with it.
You Will Hear the Locust Sing (2/5): Radiation turns Francis into an insect. Chaos ensues.
Abraham’s Boys (4/5): Atmospheric rural gothic horror.
Better Than Home (2/5): Skipped most of this baseball-themed story.
The Black Phone (5/5): First of my two favorites. A boy is kidnapped and the disconnected black phone in his prison will help save him. Recently it was tuned into an excellent movie with Ethan Hawke.
In the Rundown (4/5): Kensington is a punk who gets drawn into a domestic tragedy. Who will be believed?
The Cape (4.5/5): This story is the reason I picked up the collection. I read the graphic novel that is based on this story, hoping for more insight. Turns out the graphic novel story is more fleshed out than this story. A solid and disturbing story. Read my review of the illustrated version, plus its prequel.
Last Breath (3/5): Saw the ending coming a mile away.
Dead-Wood (3/5): Super short story about trees.
The Widow’s Breakfast (4/5): Historical fiction set during the Depression with a slightly creepy end.
Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead (3.5/5): Not scary at all, and the a$$ in the story might steal away his ex.
My Father’s Mask (2/5): Weird, weird story with a 70s vibe.
Voluntary Committal (5/5): Second fav, and the longest of the stories. A cool and creepy story about brothers and other dimensions.
Even if this collection didn’t knock my socks off, I adore his work as a whole, and will always seek his books out.
Strange Weather is a collection of four novellas by a favored horror novelist of mine, Joe Hill. I listened to it on audio, and was pleased by the four different narrators, two of them Star Trek alum!
Set in California in 1988, awkward and friendless Michael helps his elderly former babysitter back home when she is found wandering the neighborhood. Shelly, suffering from dementia, tells Micahel of a strange man who has taken pictures of her using a Polaroid-type camera to steal her memories. Micahel agrees to be her occasional caretaker and learns that her ramblings were actually correct when this evil man comes after her again. After the deadly struggle, there is a surprisingly long conclusion where teen Micahel grows up and takes steps to help Shelly escape her mortal life from her ignoble life in a nursing home. This was a sad and poignant story about the loss of identity and family ties. Voiced well by Wil Wheaton.
This story was rough. An unhinged mall security guard seemingly saves the lives of others when a shooting between a jewelry store owner and his jilted mistress results in collateral damage at the mall. The readers know how he illegally gained his gun and how the shooting truly unfolded, but to those in his community, he is hailed as a hero. But a single mother journalist, who has her own story of an unjustified shooting in the past, begins to find holes in the guard’s story. The conclusion was deadly and heartbreaking and proves the quote: “Guns don’t kill people, people do”.
A young man’s first parachute jump goes haywire when as the last to jump of his friends, he lands on a strange cloud that had looked like a UFO…and is. Stranded there this ship senses him and taps into his mind giving him a cloud woman based on his unrequited love, but he knows it is but a fantasy and stumbles upon the remains of three people from the 1800s who had perished there after crashing their hot air balloon on the UFO. He discovers the alien (the description reminded me of the tentacled alien found on the animated The Simpsons) and then makes the decision to jump using the old hot balloon silks. I wondered how he would explain that he landed two states away from his jump point.
On an ordinary day in Boulder, Colorado, a deadly rainstorm suddenly appears- raining down crystal spikes that kill anyone unlucky enough to be outside. A woman who had been excited that her girlfriend was moving in that day, instead sees her beloved die. She then takes off on a post-apocalyptic road trip to tell her lover’s father what happened and, of course, is besieged. There are a few political digs towards Trump/Pence that will amuse you (me) or make you mad. Voiced by the indomitable Kate Mulgrew aka Captain Janeway.
All four stories had different feels, from very dark to almost light-hearted. In his afterward Hill said, “Short novels are all killer, no filler” and I agree. I love short stories (that’s why I love the LeVar Burton Reads podcast so much) because they get straight to the point, for there is an economy to the writing that is stronger than some authors who write 500+ page books that are overflowing with unneeded details. This is yet another book of Hill’s that I would recommend to others!
DC Black Label gave author Joe Hill his own comic label- Hill House Comics, and the first book in his line was Basketful of Heads, which was full of dark humor and was ridiculous fun. This sequel, led by a new creative team and authored by Rio Youers, builds off the first but amps up the gore and ludicrousness by 100%!
The year is 1984, and a year has passed since June survived a massacre on Brody Island and threw the magical Norse axe into the bay. Two undercover Department of Defense agents arrive on the island to find the axe, but a biker gang is also on the trail. June, who has tried to put to distance herself from last summer’s tragedy is pulled into it again, as the biker gang has located more Norse weapons that are deadly and magical and want her to reveal where the axe is to complete their collection. When the axe is discovered by the DoD agents, it comes in very handy when a great white shark attacks them. The story leans into the absurd with this shark and soon the vacation rental’s refrigerator starts to fill up with the heads of bikers and corrupt cops. While I liked June and the DoD agents, Calvin (loved his shirt!) and Arlene, the bikers were simply created to be evil with no redeeming characteristics. You must have a huge suspension of disbelief throughout, especially for a certain rolling head that points to yet another sequel in the future.
Artists Tom Fowler and Craig A Taillefer gave the characters a Mad magazine type of caricature treatment, which was the aesthetic established in the first book, but further supported in that Fowler has worked for Mad in the past. I loved the chapter breaks, as different authors gave their interpretations of the story. The action scenes, especially with the shark, could get to be a bit much with too many panels. There were times in a two-page spread I wasn’t sure if I should read top to bottom and start at the top of the second page again, or if it spread over the entire two pages.
While I wouldn’t recommend this book to a newbie, it builds off the first story well, so if you liked Basketful of Heads you should definitely check out this over-the-top story as well!
“What do you get when you crossbreed Silence of the Lambs with All Dogs Go To Heaven? Well, you get Stray Dogs” (Forbes). Yes, what a perfect description of this dark tail (tale)!
Sophie is a new dog in a house full of dogs but she senses something is off. Where is her beloved female owner? Unfortunately, dogs have faulty, short-term memories so she can’t quite remember what happened, but she knows something bad occurred. The man who brought her to the home wraps her in a scarf with the scent of her previous owner, and suddenly Sophie remembers this man is a killer. She frantically tells the other dogs but they dismiss her allegations, as they too have forgotten their previous owners and the tragedy that brought them to this new remote house in the country. But eventually, it becomes evident that each dog is a trophy of a killing, and the other dogs help her search for answers. You will gasp and have to contain your tears when you later witness a certain trophy case. Despite all this, most of the killing is implied and off-page, so the story is remarkably bloodless.
The art style is based on the Don Bluth style of animation, showcased in classic children’s movies like the aforementioned All Dogs Go To Heaven, plus An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and The Secret of NIMH. You will fall in love with each heroic dog, but then because of that, be devastated when some dogs don’t survive. Make sure you check out the cover art from the back of the book and look at the covers from each issue. They are inspired- leaning into the horror genre- by paying homage to famous movie posters.
While some people, especially dog lovers, might not enjoy this wicked thriller, I believe the juxtaposition of cutesy art and a deadly storyline make it a graphic novel not to be missed!
I loved this retelling of Stephen King’s classic horror story Carrie! Updated by Tiffany D. Jackson to reflect the modern day, this novel also adds in the insidious effects of racism, making this a layered and timely narrative. I listened to this book on audio, and its full voice cast kept me mesmerized.
Set in a small town in Georgia in 2014, Maddy is a bi-racial girl raised by her single white father, who has forced her to hide her racial identity her entire life. Homeschooled as a child, she has been bullied and ostracized since starting public school in seventh grade. An incident at school with her hair during her senior year, reveals her secret and she is mocked for it, but of course, the bullies claim they are not racists, they were just joking. The bullying intensifies, and the students decide to have their first integrated prom to diffuse the bad press their school is receiving. Wendy, a white popular student who feels guilty, convinces her football star Black boyfriend Kenny to ask Maddy to the prom as penance. Due to the trauma she has endured, Maddy begins to discover she has telekinetic powers that come into deadly play when what you know will happen, happens at prom.
The framework of the story is set up as a podcast as a true-crime enthusiast and a skeptic research and discuss the horrific day. This switching between the past and the present day is effective and lets these podcasters muse about how the long-reaching legacy of racism led to Maddy’s breakdown. This chilling book was excellent and expertly braided in dark themes, making this more than your typical horror story. A few threads were left unexplored in the conclusion, so I would love a sequel!