Beloved – Third Book Review for Black History Month Series

beloved-by-toni-morrisonIt is 1873. The Civil War is over. Slaves are freed. Sethe, a former slave, lives as a free woman in rural Ohio. She had been a runaway slave, fleeing the South and finding freedom back when such actions were illegal by law. But all that is over now, she is no longer a wanted woman. Nothing left but the best of times…right? No. Not true.

Sethe raises her daughter Denver (age = 11? 12?) in a haunted house. Ghostly handprints appear in a cake. Mirrors shatter, a kettle of chickpeas is tossed on the floor. Sethe has other children besides Denver, but they are gone. Howard and Buglar, in particular, ran away at the young age of thirteen. Two young boys off on their own, never heard from again. They fled the ghost that haunted their home.

Sethe and Denver live a reclusive, dreary life. They are lonely. Along comes Paul D, a former slave from Sweet Home, the plantation to which both he and Sethe were enslaved. He too notices the ghost at Sethe’s place. It shines as a pool of red light.

“Good God. What kind of evil you got here?” Paul D asks.

“It’s not evil, just sad. Come on, Just step through.”

 

And Paul D listens. He steps through.

Paul D takes up residence at the house. He and Sethe begin a romantic relationship.  Whereas Denver has her misgivings about Paul D, Sethe seems happier than she has been in a long time. For you see, Paul D has chased the ghost away.  According to Sethe, the ghost = sadness. Has Paul D eradicated sadness from her life? Maybe temporarily.

The past haunts us all. Mostly in stories about the supernatural, the haunting past makes its presence known in the form of a ghost, as it does here in Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer  prize winning novel Beloved. But a past such as Sethe’s is so troubling that its haunting demands a far more substantive expression than that of an ethereal phantom.  The ghost is gone but the past returns again, this time in flesh and bones.  It comes back in the form of a young girl/woman with the brain of a child. This woman appears to Sethe, Denver and Paul D on the road, looking and smelling as if she had just risen from the swamp.

Sethe takes pity on her and invites her into her home and welcomes her into her family. This mystery girl/woman is name is Beloved. Soon Sethe will realize  who she is and…what she is. She is both the precious past and the putrid.  She is love. She is guilt. She is beautiful. She is the ugliest  of realities. She is whole, not minced.

Who is Beloved? I will not answer that question directly. From a very simple and literal perspective, the answer to that question is unveiled very early on in the novel. This “literal” answer might even be found in the book’s synopsis on Amazon or on any other platform that sells the book. Even so, these answers will not explain the depths of Beloved’s identity. Perhaps there is no one true explanation.  I will be presenting some of my thoughts about this. But as for the surface explanation  concerning her identity and why she comes packaged with a tragedy that eats away at Sethe’s soul, you will have to read the book to understand these things.

Beloved is much more than a ghost story. There are several back stories that serve as case studies for some very interesting characters. Following these characters back in time, the novel  transports us to the harsh days before  the Civil War came to an end. Toni Morrison gives readers a glimpse into plantation life and it isn’t pretty to say the least. The book details the lives of these characters as slaves and shows us the great lengths to which they go in their quests for freedom. Considering  such hardships, it is understandable  that authors such as Tiya Miles  believe  that Beloved represents  the physical embodiment of “the history of slavery”. (From her book “Tales of the Haunted South – Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era” This is up next for review!) There is merit to this view. Certainly the inhumane past Sethe and her family  endured continues to haunt her and disrupt their daily  living. The damage inflicted by slavery does not simply fade upon its cessation. Its takes generations to fully  eradicate.

To me, Beloved represents an extension of Sethe.  Let me explain. Much of the novel explores the  building and destruction of self boundaries.  One of the book’s characters, an elderly black woman that goes by the name “Baby Suggs,” preaches to congregants, telling them to “Look at your hands. They are yours. They are beautiful”.  Former slaves needed reminders that their bodies no longer belonged to some master or mistress. They needed to know that even when they were in captivity, their thoughts, their feelings, their very “selves” had been theirs all along. This sense of self is not so easily  apparent when one is shackled like an animal, sold like livestock, and forcibly separated from family.

At one point in the story, Sethe is violated, held down and robbed of the milk in her breasts by the nephews of the plantation owner. With experiences such as this, it can be difficult to not only feel a sense of self worth but to have a healthy understanding of the concept of “the self” at all.  Without this understanding, one’s sense of self can be projected onto others.

In another part of the book, we learn that Sethe herself had committed an unspeakable act. Unable to come to terms with what she had done, her guilt manifests into another person, into Beloved.  To quote from Beloved herself , “I am not separate from her. There is no place where I stop…her face is my own.”

Who is Beloved? She is so many things. When all is said and done, she is the genius that is Toni Morrison. Morrison’s book is a patchwork of keen psychological insights, layers upon layers of them. She writes dialogue in the vernacular of her subjects and composes her concepts with thoughtful depth. She uncovers the abstract and makes it real, painfully real.

Beloved may not make my top ten list of  favorite haunted house novels. This does not matter, for you see, Beloved has earned its rightful place on my list of top ten novels overall, regardless of genre. The haunted house is but one concept in a sea of themes that Morrison touches upon. Nevertheless, her novel features a haunted house and therefore, Beloved is a most welcomed addition to my collection of reviews.   It is a brilliant piece of literature.


 

About the Author

 

BelovedToniMorrisonToni Morrison is a professor emeritus from Princeton University. She is the author of several novels and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for her novel Beloved.

*** The information above was taken from Wikipedia.com

White is for Witching – Second Book Review for Black History Month Series

 

WhiteisForWitching2

I don’t even know how to begin. This book, White is for Witching, stumps  me. For sure this will be one of  the more challenging  reviews because I really don’t know what to say about it. I’m not certain  what the book us getting at it. I still haven’t  made my mind up on whether I like  this novel or not. So, I guess this  is it then. Buy it here if you wish. Good luck  with it. Peace out my friends!

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Fine, I’ll try to do better than that! Maybe a list of the multiple themes would be a good start. If this book is about anything, it’s about several things. It’s about a college-aged young woman named Miranda Silver. The very first chapter leaves readers with the impression that “Miri” (Miranda  for short) is either dead and buried, off on her own  somewhere, a runaway without  any shoes, or just hiding underneath some strands of symbolism that the author has spun.  Three competing entities are trying to assess her whereabouts; three different  perspectives; perspectives for which we the readers will come to know the story. (I’ll  explain  why I am using the term  “entities” momentarily ) First there is Ore, Miri’s  friend from college. She says that Miri is “in the ground underneath  her mother’s  house”. Eliot , Miri’s  brother, states that she just ran off somewhere  one dark and windy night. Finally, an entity known as 29 Barton Road insists that Miri is a home, inside its  confines  someplace. “29 Barton Road” is the haunted house. It’s also the Bed and Breakfast that Miri’s  family operates. It too shares is perspective with us. Since it is not human, I refer to the four that share their perspectives as entities. Four? Who is the fourth? That would be Miri herself. She too shares her side of things. A rather skewed  perspective it is! Or is it? We learn early on that Miri is not entirely mentally  stable. Is this a case  of an unreliable  narrator? More than that, the whole book is an unreliable  narrative – no matter what you think this story is about, it’s probably about something  else.

More topics, more things  this book is about (or isn’t – you know, that whole “unreliable  narrative” thing.)  It’s about grieving. The family at center  of the story, The Silver  family,  lost its Matriarch, Lily. She was a journalist who was murdered  on assignment in Haiti. Eliot blames his sister  Miri for this, for she wouldn’t  stay awake over there in England  while the murder was happening  in Haiti. How does this make sense? I don’t know, some kind of symbolism that’s lost on me  I guess. But after  the fact, Miri wears her mother’s watch that is always  set at Haitian  time. Speaking  of Miri, she suffers from pica, a psychological  disease that causes one to consume non-edible  objects. Chalk is her favorite snack. Readers also learn that Miri was institutionalized  sometime after her mother’s  death. So the book is about battling mental illness  as well.

The book is also about the politics  of group identity, nativism, and immigration. A group  of Kosovan girls have it in for Miri on account of something she said or did to one of the girl’s  boyfriends. Miri insists  it’s a case of mistaken identity. She never did such a thing!  Or did she? Who is “she” anyway? Who are any of us?

Move over Miri, Ore is taking over the story!  The novel dedicates several chapters to her perspective. She is of African  descent, adopted by a white British family. She is the butt of “good natured (really?)” ridicule from her white, conservative male cousins. She attends Cambridge  with Miri. She and Miri will become lovers. She will visit Miri over the holidays, at her home, at the haunted house. Weird things will happen.

Apparently, this haunted house is objectively  haunted  and not depended on Miri’s warped mind. Early on in the story, the domestic  help quits on account of the haunting. The children of the help have a frightful experience on the lift. The replacement maid, an African  woman partial to Voodoo, notices the spiritual nature of this house, but she’s not all that freaked out by it. It’s a voodoo thing, you know. Then there’s  Miri and her meetings with her deceased mother, grandmother, great grandmother, etc. in a special room of the house. This same house  has claimed to have trapped  one of these female ancestors  within the walls and has kept her hidden for untold years. It’s a weird house. It’s a weird book. There are allusions  to vampirism  in this book as well. And witchcraft. The Silver family is white. Hey, what do ya know, white is for witching!

White is for Witching is what I might label a postmodern haunted house novel. Others might be House of Leaves and The Grip of It,  both of which I have reviewed (click on them to read these reviews). I’ll assign some characteristics of what I perceive is postmodern: lacking  a center, non-linear, rich in symbolism, and experimental. Traits such as these can make for a highly intriguing book, but I  must say that White is for Witching  is too much of these things. Did I like the book? To a certain  extent. Helen Oyeyemi  is skilled  at prose and her sentences  flow artfully. In this way it is an interesting  read. But overall  this novel doesn’t  do a whole lot for me.

I include this book in the Black History  Month theme solely on account of the author being a black woman. While this book deals with issues that blacks as a race face  (social  prejudice), there’s not a whole lot of history  going on here. But include  it I did, and to that I say “Oh well.”


About the Author

 

HelenOyeyemiHelen Oyeyemi is a British novelist originally from Nigeria. She is the recipient of numerous literary awards. She has written several books, short stories, and plays.

(The above information is taken from the following sites:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Oyeyemi

https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/helen-oyeyemi )

The Good House – First Book Review for Black History Month Series

GoodHouseTo the house that belongs to the Vodou priestess the locals brought  the possessed girl. Hopefully Marie Toussaint would cleanse her.

To the house that once belonged to her grandmother, Angela Toussaint returns. It’s hers now. Here she will jump start her life ,  take care of her  teenaged son and perhaps rekindle her love for her ex-husband . All this falls apart. Things go very wrong.

At this legendary house, Fifteen year old Corey Toussaint, curious by nature, finds magical relics that once belonged to his great grandmother. He uncovers secrets that the house hides, deadly secrets

This is a story of a terror plaguing multiple  generations, a story about a  stretch of land with strong connections to the spirit world. On this land the “The Good House” stands, home to four recipient  generations of horror.

Hi there!  In honor of Black History Month, I welcome you to the first review in this series of haunted house novels written by black women. I begin with Tananarive  Due’s acclaimed novel The Good House.  “Good House” is haunted, but it is not the epicenter of the haunting. The trigger for the haunting lies within the lineage of the Toussaint family and on the spirit-laden lands upon which the house rests. It is the combination of a family sensitive to the magic of Vodou positioned in an environment that is receptive to other-worldly forces that stirs up the ghosts, or more appropriately, the demons. Or most appropriately – the “baka”.

The story unfolds from multiple perspectives.  At the heart of the story is Angela Toussaint. I suppose she would be the central character. If this were made into a movie, whoever played Angela would be the actress in a leading role.  The year is 2001 (approximately) and Angela, a successful lawyer from California, is temporarily residing in her second home in Sacajawea, Washington for the summer. This is “Good House”  (also “Goode House”), her childhood home, where she was raised by her grandmother, Marie Toussaint, now deceased. Angela ’ s own mother was unfit to raise her due to mental health issues (or perhaps  her soul was “infected”.)

The townsfolk  of Sacajawea warmly welcome Angela’s return. Her family, her house, it’s all part of the town’s history, all woven into the fabric of the community, though the weaving process , from a historical perspective, was quote contentious. She is one of the few black members of the community. Mostly, race is not an issue, although the town  has pockets of redneck racists. (Her son Corey will learn this) She is highly respected. But when her grandmother  was young woman living in Good House.it was a different  story.

Angela  is seeking  to  refresh  her life.  Having only partial custody of her teenaged  son, her experiences with him have been limited  as of late and she wishes to change that. Corey  seems to favor his father, and so she tries to rebond  with him one fateful summer at Good House. At the same time, her relationship  with her ex-husband is not lost. He visits  the house, and there is a rekindling.

So far I am describing a rebuilding of family and community. But this will not happen. Instead everything falls apart. Neighbors go insane. Some kill their loved ones. Others kill themselves. Her friends suffer horrific calamities   Her own family meets tragedy  head on. Something unspeakable  has been unleashed.

As previously mentioned, Angela’s story is the central  narrative. And yet, it is my least favorite of the various perspectives. At times, it gets too bogged down in mundane things such as the tasks involving  her career and the details  of her exercise routine. Even the attention focused on her love life was too much for me. For my tastes. But then again, I’m a guy and romance dramas don’t do a whole lot for me. However, Angela’s story ties together the stories from the perspectives of other characters, so her tale is an important  one. And it is these other perspectives that I  will now focus on. For me, they capture the intrigue of the book. These would be the perspectives  of Corey the teenager  and Marie the grandmother. WARNING: there will be spoilers  ahead. I don’t know how else to discuss the themes I’m   about to delve into without them.


 

Spoilers  Section

Marie Toussaint

 

Why is the house at the center of the story a “good house”? Because once upon a time, people  came to the house to be healed. Because the former owner, Elijah Goode, a pharmacist in the early 1900s, dispensed medicines, specially brewed with natural  herbs and a little bit of magic. The herbs grew on blessed grounds, on land populated with spirits. These special medicines were concocted by his maid Marie Toussaint, later to be his wife, a voodoo priestess. Marie will inherit the house upon Elijah ’ s death, marry an Indian man, be the recipient of much hatred and racism. Still, she will exorcise a demon from one of the daughters of the townsfolk. It is “a good house”. It was a “good”  thing for her to do, especially since she was the one to summons the demon  in the first place.

What if you were a black woman of Creole  descent in the 1920s,  and your life was turned  upside-down by murderous racists, and you had the power to extract revenge on them with an act that was as simple as snapping your fingers? Would you go in for the  kill? Marie Toussaint showed restraint when her first husband was murdered by racists in New Orleans. When she moved across  the country to Washington with her young daughter and married a white pharmacist, Elijah Goode (His house = Goode/Good House), racism would rear its ugly head again, even after she helped the nearby communities by using magic to extract the healing power within the herbs that grew on this enchanted land.   When she, a black woman, inherited the house of her husband, a white man, people in the nearby town of Sacajawea sought out lawyers to get her out. To further piss-off this community of racists, she took Red John as a common law  husband. He was formerly viewed as “the good Indian who knew his place”. Red John had been “the white man’s pet”, but this new arrangement might cause him to step “out of his place”.  Both Marie and Red John were stepping out of their places, so the people of the town  shot bullets through her windows and front door.

It was all Marie could stand. She gave into anger. A kind of momentary  anger that all  of us fall victim  to now and again. An anger that might elicit a curse word or two from ordinary people. Marie is not an ordinary person. She utters a curse. But the thing is, her words are packed with much more power than your average “God damn you!” Chances are, God won’t sent a person to Hell based upon one person’s idle request. Marie remembered  a word that was stolen from the gods. A powerful  word. She spoke it, unleashing a powerful baka. Her words, so simple to say, so deadly the consequences. Mudslides ravage  the down. A demon is summoned  and it does what demons do – it possesses the living.

This is the backstory – the history.  But as all of us amateur historians know, history repeats itself. Some eighty years later, the baka will once again be summoned and ravage the community. Who is it that calls upon the baka? Her great grandson Corey.

 

Corey Toussaint

 

Corey, fifteen, an aspiring poet and rap artist, is having trouble adjusting to his new environment in the rural northwest.  For a whole summer, he must live with his mother Angela at Good House in  Sacajawea, Washington.  He is used to his urban environment in Los Angeles, where he has many friends and lives under the lax supervision of his father. He had no friends in Sacajawea. His mother is naggy and strict. He is the only black kid in the community.

Eventually, he forms a friendship with a white kid named Sean. They share a love for rap music. However, not all of the kids in this community are friendly to him. Some are downright hostile, such as the town bully Bo Cryer , proud of his confederate flag t-shirts, ready to beat “sense” into this new “gangster kid”.   And beat him he does.

Corey is a bright and curious kid. He finds items of his great grandmother  hidden away in the house. He finds her diaries, reads her  journals. He learns Vodou  spells. At first, he uses these spells for innocent things, such as reclaiming lost items. But even this kind of tampering  has its costs. And when he speaks the forbidden word to get back at the bully ,  all hell breaks loose.

Here Ends the Spoilers Sections

 


 

So, are there any, shall we say, “Haunted  House  happenings” in the story?  There are some. A piano plays by itself, a presence or two are felt at times, a mysterious ”friend” of Corey’s defies physics by the way she sits on a tree branch and talks to him through his upstairs  window. Sometimes the plumbing churns out foul black slush through the faucets. Then there is the night that every  room in the house is blanketed with leaves, turning the floors of Good House into a forest’s  bed. As previously mentioned, the house is not necessarily the “ epicenter of the haunting.”  But the house itself is important to the story, so much so that author Tananarive  Due devotes attention to describing the rooms, the attic and cellar, the furnishings and portraits on the wall.  The modern day characters that populate the Sacajawea community (Sacajawea is a fictional town, BTW) have great respect for the Goode House. For them it is not only an historical landmark, but it’s a history that continues on.  The townsfolk cling to the stories of the past that that focus on the generosity of Angela’s grandmother, Marie Toussaint. She is spoken of as a town healer. When Angela returns to her property and hosts a Fourth of July party at Goode House, many prominent people of the town show up. They have warm affections for Angela and the house and its history of “goodness”.

The people of Sacajawea have either forgotten the darker history of Goode House or have chosen not to confront it. Some still remember, or at least know of the cruel accounts of racism directed toward Marie Toussaint and her house (details of this are in the spoiler section above), but they either don’t speak of these things or do so in a “hush-hush” tone. But such a darkness cannot be extinguished by modern lights. Maybe this is one of the many messages of the book?

Is there anything to say about this book concerning the subject of black history? Well, this is a work of fiction, for sure. Even when it comes to the subject of Vodou, Due admits that while she utilized real concepts associated within that religion (i.e. “lwas”, spirits  of Haitian  Vodou or “baka”, evil spirits), she creatively improvised when it came to creating the spells, prayers, and magic that take place in story. But Vodou is a real  religion and it was practiced by many African slaves

From Britannica.com 

“Vodou is a creolized religion forged by descendants of Dahomean, Kongo, Yoruba, and other African ethnic groups who had been enslaved and brought to colonial Saint-Domingue (as Haiti was known then) and Christianized by Roman Catholic missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries.”

While fictional and fanciful, Good House does point to many historical circumstances on the subject of black history. It teaches the importance of family and the value of heritage, especially for a people that were so cruelly uprooted. It reminds us of the prevalence of racism toward African Americans in the early part of the twentieth century, and lets us not forget the ongoing prejudice and discrimination that still occurs today. On this last note, maybe I should repeat a phrase I used earlier that gets to the heart of this…and more. I will do that. Here I go:

“ But such a darkness cannot be extinguished by modern lights.”

In other words, our country’s racist past cannot be erased. The ghosts of history will not allow for this. Nor should they.

 


 

About the Author

 

GoodHouseTananariveDueTananarive Due is a an educator, former journalist and author. She is the daughter of civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, who as a member of CORE, (Congress of Racial Equity) and participated in several marches and a jail-in. Tananarive is the author of several books on the subject of  black history/speculative fiction. Her novel “Black Rose” is based upon the research of Alex Haley.

***The above information was taken from Wikipedia.com

Ghosts of Christmas Past – A Review of a Collection of Christmas Haunted House Stories

Ghosts-of-Christmas-Past-1163062Stop the holiday press! (Is there such a thing?) Put those  ornaments  back on the tree right now. Return those vines of ivy to the banister. Rehang  those stockings  and regurgitate some of those “Ho Ho Ho”’s  you swallowed  on the 25th, cause I  got one more Christmas-themed  post for you!  It is a book of Christmas  ghost stories – Ghosts of Christmas Past – A chilling collection of modern and classic Christmas ghost stories.

Published in 2017 in Great Britain, the stories within are from various years. Some date  back to the 1800s. The book includes  a story from M.R. James,  whose name is synonymous with  “The Christmas ghost story.” His stories were published in the early part of the 20th Century.  Other stories in this collection are as recent as 2014. It is refreshing  to see that the traditional Christmas  ghost story lives on. I thought it was a thing of the past, as the book’s title  suggests. (Not really!)

Telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve – I didn’t know there was such a tradition until 2015 when I saw an article floating around on Facebook (floating like a ghost – Booooooo!) A year later I wrote my own article on the subject. Now in 2018, I see the subject  of “The Christmas  ghost story”  all over social media. Yay Internet! Still, I didn’t know there were  modern stories; I thought that “Christmas  ghosts” were phantoms of a bygone era.  I’m glad that I  was wrong.

In my 2016 article Christmas Ghosts and Haunted Houses I briefly  describe  the evolution of the Christmas  ghost story, then go on to make a case for “The Christmas Haunted  House”. A Christmas  haunted house is usually   haunted  on Christmas  Eve. It is the setting of festivities; friends and family gather there. The haunting  takes place after the feasting and frolicking, or in some cases, it interrupts these activities. The haunting is symbolic of the cold and dreary  winter that exists outside the window. If it is not symbolic of the cold and darkness, it is at least  a reminder of these conditions. End of the year holidays, with all the lights  and cheer, are there to counteract the harshness and darkness of  winter. This was most certainly true in the ancient  yuletide  tradition of winter solstice. Winters were harsher, darker, and more deadly.  When the lights go out, when the festivities come to an end, the darkness remains. Scary “winter’s tales” emerged from this, and the telling of such tales evolved into the telling  of ghost stories on Christmas  Eve. Safe inside a house, beside a warm and blazing fireplace, the ghost stories are fun….but…even today, darkness is right outside. So close….so….what if a real ghost joins the party, escaping from its prison inside these fanciful tales?

Much of the literature  revolving around Christmas  ghosts are stories within stories. A group  gathers in a house on Christmas  Eve to tell fanciful ghost stories to pass the time on such a cold winter night. Often one of the storytellers relays a “true” ghost story. Fantasy  becomes reality. And “reality” has always been there, lurking outside of their  protective indoor setting. Now it is inside.

For the record, not all Christmas ghost stories involve haunted  houses. But many do and I love it, because if you haven’t  noticed , I’m a haunted house kind of guy!  Are there any Christmas  haunted house stories in the book that is up for review, Ghosts  of  Christmas  Past? Answer: Of course! What a silly question, for this is a haunted house kinda blog! And it is these stories that I will single out , not that they are better than the “houseless” stories but because they fit the theme  of this blog. However , do they conform to my criteria of what makes a “Christmas  haunted house” story? Sometimes they do.

To my dismay, authors both past  and present  never said, “Hey, there is or will be this Daniel Cheely guy, and he says  Christmas  haunted houses have to be written such-and- such  a way, and I must write my story accordingly.” In other words, the specific details of my “Christmas  haunted  house”  criteria  will not always play  out in every story. I know, awww! But I will say  this; most of the haunted house stories in this book that I am about describe feature a noticeable  dichotomy: the happenings  inside the house vs. the happenings  outside the house. To go from one to another, from out to in or in to out, is to transcend into the supernatural  in someway. Things outside peer in, spirits in the home vanish when exiting  the house.  To some extent, these observations  reflect the themes of  1) warm/cozy inside – 2) cold, dark and scary outside, and the convergence of these two states. Don’t you agree? Maybe you will be able to answer this question when I go into more details about the stories. And I  will do that. Right now!

Warning! There will be spoilers!

 


 

Dinner for One – by Jenn Ashworth  – first published 2014

This story is told from the ghost’s perspective. The ghost haunts his/her wife/partner  on Christmas. The gender of the ghost is not revealed and the official status of the relationship  is unclear, although it is assumed these two were once lovers, back when the ghost inhabited  a living body.

The ghost rearranges things in the house, sets the table for dinner, and gets irate when the former lover fails to acknowledge  the ghost’s  efforts. The angry spirit throws the plates/glasses on the floor. See, the ghost doesn’t realize that it is dead.  The doings of the ghost – this troubles the lady of the house, understandably  so.

Meanwhile, the surviving lover spends much time outside the house. She stands over a bed of rocks.  It will be revealed  that the body of her former partner lies there. She had killed him. Poor ghost, it’s body thrown out of the house, buried under the earth. Poor former person – tossed out of the world  of the living. All it wants is to live, to spend Christmas with its  former lover. And so, it returns to the house and, unknowingly, haunts it.

The Shadow by E Nesbit – first published  in 1905

Ah, a classic Christmas  ghost story! It fits the classic is formula. A group of a young girls, on Christmas  Eve, gather in a sleeping chamber in a house  they occupy to share fanciful ghost stories. They invite one of the household  maids into the room and ask her to tell a ghost story. She is shy, somewhat reluctant to share her story. But she gives in.

The maid’s tale is a true one. She once visited the house of two friends, a married couple. The wife is sick in bed, so she spends most of her time in the company  of the male friend. All the while both are haunted by a presence, a shadow. This shadow is symbolic  of…something. Something that hides underneath. Underneath  what? Just underneath.

By the time the maid finishes the story, the presence is inside the chamber. A tragedy occurs, a tragedy that ties one of the girls to the accounts described by the maid.

In their protective  environment on Christmas  Eve, the girls had shared made-up stories. Then a horrid, truthful tale penetrates  their security. The safe house has been haunted.

This Beautiful House – by Louis De Bernieres – first published 2004

A man returns to his childhood home every Christmas  Eve. He always stands on the grounds, observing the outdoor setting, reflecting, taking in the serenity. He likes to remember  the past Christmases that took place inside the house and relive all the cherished memories he had with his family.  Often, the man can see them in the house, through the windows, he witnesses activity inside.

One by one, various family members come out to greet him. Mother and father, sisters or brothers, uncles. They plead with him, but whether their pleas  are for him to come inside or for him to just go away,  it is not clear. But the man never enters the house and he doesn’t  go away until he is ready.

A tragedy caused all these family members to perish  inside the  house many years ago on Christmas  Eve. Even so, the man knows where to find them, every year  on the anniversary of their deaths, he sees their ghosts. Is he a ghost as well? A ghost that is unwilling to join his family in death where he belongs? Is he reluctant to attend an eternal Christmas  party inside the house?

Inside. Outside. The meeting of these two sides and what happens or doesn’t happen on the crossroads. This is what this story  is about.

The Ghost in the Blue Chamber – by Jerome K. Jerome – first published  in 1891

Another classic story adhering to the classic formula. This is somewhat  of a humorous  tale. A man tells a ghost story to a group of people that are gathered at his house on Christmas  Eve night. It is a true story. He claims the blue chamber  of his house is haunted  by a murderer and his victims. When he was alive, the murderer  had a pastime of killing musicians (See, I told you this was humorous . Laugh! Ha ha ha!). He tells the group the details of all the murders.

After  the telling, the man’s nephew insists  in sleeping  in the blue chamber. That night, the ghost of the murderer visits the nephew. Both men, nephew and ghost, pass the night with chitchat  and pipe smoking. Soon it is time for the ghost  to leave. All ghosts must return  to the cosmos before  dawn, after all. The nephew walks the ghost out the door and down the sidewalk. Soon he confronts two truths: 1)the ghost is no longer by his side 2) The nephew  forgot to put on his pants before going outside.

There is not much more to this story. I can’t find any symbolism within. So, how about my whole “inside/outside” dynamic? Does it play out in this story? Well, the ghost is there  in the house. When he leaves the house ,  when he goes outside , he disappears. So there’s  that. And…that’s all I got.

The Lady and the Fox – by Kelly Link – First published in 2014

This is my favorite of the bunch. It is more a story of fantasy and wonder, though it is a little creepy  and somewhat ghostly. It is a modern fairy tale. Young Miranda, a little girl, enjoys spending Christmases with The Honeywell family. Elspeth  Honeywell  is her godmother. Her son Daniel is like a step-brother to Miranda. Over the years he will become more than that, off and on.

Miranda lives with an  aunt. Her mother is in prison and probably  will be for life. It seems  as though the Honeywells have custody of her only at Christmas  time. One Christmas Eve, while a large gathering of Honeywells party it up at the house, Miranda sees a strange man peering into the windows  from outside. She goes out to meet him. She discovers he is a Honeywell…from a different time period. He dresses in 17th century  outfits. No, he is not a ghost, he insists. His name is Fenny, an no, he can’t go inside the house. This isn’t allowed. He wishes the little girl would just go away and leave him alone.

Year after year, Miranda meets  Fenny  outside the house on Christmas  Eve. He eventually warms up to her. He comes  with the snow. She ages, he does not.  Never does he come inside.

Miranda is a young woman now. She grows to love him. To want him. And he her. She will literally hang on to him to prevent him from disappearing.

Who is Fenny if he’s not a ghost? He is, after all, solid. I failed to mention  that before. I am mentioning it now. Perhaps  Miranda craves that which is “solid”, a solid relationship , a solid understanding  of how she fits into the Honeywell family.  Her relationship  with her mother is  far from solid. The prison system  does not allow  her to see her. Her relationship with Daniel is confusing. She feels more at home with the Honeywells than she does at her aunt’s  place. Is Fenny the physical incarnation of Miranda ’ s desire to belong?  And will Fenny ever come inside? Will Miranda ever rid herself of the feeling that she is always on the outside,  looking in? Outside. Inside.

 


 

Outside the Christmas  house. Inside the Christmas  house. The places in between  the inside and outside, the places that fuel the supernatural. These are the themes I have noticed in these stories. These themes relate to my observations  concerning  Christmas  haunted houses in literature – fragile safety  zones that are in no way impermeable  to the dark forces  that lurk outside in the darkened night of winter.

As a reminder, these are not the only stories in the book. I have covered  less than half. But these are the Christmas  haunted house stories. I recommend buying the book and reading all the stories. Some are better than others, but this is always the case with anthologies.

Thank you for reading  this article about Ghosts  of Christmas  Past, especially  since Christmas  has passed (See what I did there?). I wish you a happy post-Christmas. May your home receive the leftovers of the  Christmas ghost. May they haunt your house – inside and out.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Who are the Ghosts that Haunt Shirley Jackson’s Novels?

CastleJackson2What is the most definitive haunted house of fictional literature? Many might say that it is “Hill House”, that mysterious mansion that haunts poor Eleanor Vance in Shirley Jackson’s novel “The Haunting of Hill House.”  Certainly, Hill House is worthy of such a title. After all, the novel that spawned it went on to influence many if not most of the haunted house novels of the later part of the twentieth century, including Stephen King’s “The Shining” and Robert Morasco’s “Burnt Offerings”.  Jackson has another story in her catalog of works that centers around a gothic style house. The story is dark and disturbing; the stuff of nightmarish fairy-tales in their original form before Disney waters them down with singing birds and colorful princesses. It is also charming (though there are no singing birds,  there is a very observant cat!),  funny, and quite absurd. It’s sort of a Poe-Meets-Kafka kind of piece.  This novella I refer to is We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

As I alluded to at the end of the preceding paragraph, We Have Always Lived in the Castle  is many things. But, is it a haunted house story?  Some say that it is. It makes the Goodreads list of Best Haunted House Fiction that Isn’t The Shining. At the time of publication, it sits at #5 on a list of 185 items. Impressive.

There isn’t anything supernatural going on in this tale. But I argue that this novella is indeed a story about a haunted house. Jackson herself was haunted; haunted by insecurities; haunted by a standard of lifestyle that was forced upon her, a lifestyle which she couldn’t, nor wouldn’t, abide by. Underneath the surface of her novels, Jackson writes about the things that haunt her. So when she writes about houses, the things that had haunted her infiltrate the houses and the characters that occupy them. The fusion of house and people, this whirlwind of forces, is what truly haunts her fictional manors. Let’s explore these matters in more detail. I’ll begin by a brief analysis of “the haunting” that afflicts “hill house” and then delve into the things that haunt the family that has “..always lived in the castle”. In the end, both houses, and the stories themselves, are haunted by Shirley Jackson herself. She haunts houses in ways no one else can.

What is Haunting “Hill House”?

It is the author’s writing style that elevates The Haunting of Hill House to such a high standard. Jackson’s description of scene blends well  with her poetic storytelling. She writes with a psychological pen that inscribes a disturbed persona into her characters; a persona that seems to evaporate into the house that surrounds them, thereby lending to the house a personality that is usually reserved only for sentient beings. In a similar manner, she transfers her own personality onto the page, allowing for the passage of her very own personal demons, from her soul to the story. An article from The New Yorker describes Jackson as “one of the twentieth century’s tortured writers”.  Her mother had admonished her for her lack of feminine qualities, for not being “pretty”. She even went so far as to tell her daughter that “she was the product of a failed abortion”.  Thus Jackson struggled with two competing identities. She saw herself as an ugly duckling, lacking grace and femininity, and when she married a man who constantly cheated on her, at least she “was married” and fulfilling her womanly duties. However, she rebelled against convention. “She grew fat…she ran a bohemian household…she dyed the mashed potatoes green..”   Shirley Jackson was an outsider, mistrustful of the larger world. The characters in her novels are very much the same way. They are insecure misanthropes on the one hand. But, in some ways, proud of their oddities.

The protagonist of The Haunting of Hill House is Eleanor Vance. Eleanor is a young woman who grew up in a very sheltered environment, confined to a life of caring for her ailing mother. She is insecure, lacking worldly experience, and it is not until she stays at Hill House, which is quite possibly haunted by supernatural entities, that she “comes to life”.  As the novel progresses, she becomes more attached to the house. In this odd house with its bizarre architecture and mysterious happenings, she forges a sense of belonging.

One of the pervasive  themes in The Haunting of Hill House is the notion that, perhaps, the supernatural  manifestations that are witnessed by several other occupants  actually  stem from Eleanor’s  own psychic mind. In many ways, Eleanor represents Jackson. Both women, haunted by a troubled  past, carry over these hauntings into worlds of their own, worlds of their making.

What Kind of Ghosts Have Always “Lived in the Castle”?

To me, there is meaning to the title We Have Always Lived in the Castle.  The story is about a family that is at odds with the rest of the world. It’s about a young girl affectionately known as “Merricat.” Merricat was always a weird one, suspicious of those that could not understand the inner-workings of her fanciful mind. Even after a horrific tragedy, there is something about the the characters of this novel that remain “untouched.” They go on living in their own world, sheltered reclusively inside a big old house. There is something about them, about Merricat, that seems to have been…well, it just seems that they have “always been.”

“The Castle” is a large manor owned by the Blackwood family. It stands in a wooded area that separates its surrounding  property from the paths that lead to the nearby village. In addition, there is a flimsy fence of sorts that marks the Blackwood  territory. But the most effective  barrier is a psychological one. The Blackwoods are one of several prominent  and historical  families in the area. Very secretive and seclusive, backed by historical legend, the villagers keep their distance.. They know them only through gossip and legend. They don’t dare tread on their turf. Especially in the aftermath of that horrifying tragedy that occurred only recently, a few years back.

Most of the Blackwoods have recently passed on. They were murdered!  Mother and Father, Aunt and Brother  died of arsenic poisoning. This poison  was mixed into the sugar. Survivors of this tragedy include  the ailing Uncle Julian, Older Sister  Constance , and young tween sister Mary Katherine (Merricat). Constance was accused of poisoning/murdering  her family, arrested, and tried in court.  Eventually she was  acquitted of all  charges. But in the court of public opinion, in the minds of the villagers, she is guilty as sin.

The truth about how  the family is poisoned remains a mystery until the near end of the story. Until then, readers get to know Constance, the seemingly  selfless caretaker of the house and what’s left of the family. She delights in cooking and gardening, waiting on old Uncle Julian. She keeps the place orderly and beautiful. But she is homebound, afraid to tread beyond a certain marker on their property. Uncle Julian is witty and entertaining. But he is slowly losing his mind to dementia. Finally  there is Merricat.  She is very imaginative and her mind churns out alternate places for her family to live, places such as the moon! She adores  her older sister , cherishes the house , but despises the people in the village. In fact, she pretty much has it in for everyone  outside her family. She keeps  her house safe by burying token items in special  places around her property. She seems to believe that by doing so, she is invoking some sort of charm.

So, I have stated that the Blackwood House is haunted. What haunts it? Answer – the survivors of the poisoning. The trio of occupants are ghosts clothed in flesh. Think about this. Ghosts linger inside a house after a deadly tragedy. Ghosts forever dwell in a momentary state of affairs, often repeating the same activities over and over. These ghostly attributes describe  the remaining Blackwoods to a tee. They exist in their own little world, often oblivious to the affairs outside their walls – outside the castle. Merricat is the only one that wanders into the village to fetch needed supplies. Her very presence inside a store disrupts the environment and puts the shoppers and merchants in a state of uneasiness. They would rather the ghost stay in the house where it belongs. Speaking of the house – it is also at the center of many conversations. Villagers fear it, tell stories about it. Sometimes out of morbid curiosity, they dare to approach it. A house that triggers such behavior has to be haunted.

Just as Shirley Jackson herself haunts Hill House, she also haunts the Blackwood House. I see her as Merricat, proud of her idiosyncrasies and distrusting of those who choose not to understand her personality. But she is also Constance, always trying to please, trying to be the dutiful woman. (It should be noted – While Jackson obviously possesses the soul of Eleanor in The Haunting of Hill House, her character can also be found in another of the book’s female characters. This would be Theodora, daring in her forwardness, given to bohemian ways, and challenging the definition of femininity.)

All in the Haunting

Goodreads reviewer Madeline  sums up the haunting elements of We Have Always Lived in the Castle this way:

Simply put, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the story of how a house becomes haunted. It’s a ghost story without ghosts – or, more accurately, a story of how a person becomes a ghost.

Her summary is spot on. Throughout the book,  characters fade from the world stage and become the stuff of legends, of ghosts.  Shirley Jackson has a knack for bringing out the ghosts from inside the living. She does this by creating  an ethereal environment that welcomes these ghosts, fosters them, and gives them a home.  In an eerie, odd house, these characters can be who they were meant to be. It’s a place for them to be themselves – it’s their own little world. Jackson, I believe, was in her own little world when she encapsulated herself in the writing process. I would venture to guess that  she seemed most happy inside this capsule.  And her ghost will forever remain inside her stories. Gleefully.

Jackson

The Graveyard Apartment – A Novel / Seventh and Final Review in The Haunted Apartment Series

THeGraveyardApartment by-mariko-koikeAs summer winds down, so does this season’s theme; this blog will no longer be “subletting” haunted apartments. For the time being, you’ll just have to go directly to the story creators in order to vicariously reside inside their suites of terror. But don’t be so down in the mouth; I still have one more apartment complex for you to check out! Are you feeling adventurous? I hope so, for we are going to the other side of the world. Off to Japan we go, into a suburb of Tokyo. (For those Blog readers already residing in Japan, look on the bright side – travel expenses will be minimal!) We will also travel through time back to the 1980s and visit an apartment building that is situated beside a cemetery. Get ready readers as I review Japanese author Mariko Koike’s book, The Graveyard Apartment: A Novel , which was first published in 1986 under the title Bochi o miorosu ie. Translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm in 2016, the book has been available in English for two years now. Please take advantage of this English translation, folks. It’s a delightfully creepy story and I am grateful that it is being shared with the larger world.

After a summer that was very much immersed in the psychological horror from Roman Polanski , we turn now to an apartment complex that is haunted by good ol’ fashioned sprints. Don’t get me wrong – I loved Polanski’s  Apartment Trilogy, (read about them herehere, and here), but it is time to move on to other things, malicious things! These malicious spirits that haunt Koike’s apartment complex are of mysterious origin and consistency. But these forces are very powerful; they have the ability to strike a person dead from afar!  I won’t compare these supernatural forces of to the demonic entities that roam about in the apartments  of Jeffery Konvitz’s novels. Apples and oranges, my friends. The Konvitz  novels (The Sentinel and The Guardian ) succeed as mystery thrillers, thick with plot and doused in conspiracy. Koike gives readers a more visceral THeGraveyardApartment by-mariko-koike Authorkind of scare. She writes about the things that make a trip down into a basement a terrifying experience. I refer to the shared basement in that exists in the story’s apartment complex – the storage center. . Down there the air currents are possessed. Down below there are hidden tunnels. From deep within their cavernous mouths, taunting voices call out to tenants that happen to be in the basement, beckoning them inside. Beware of the elevator that takes you down there! It often loses operational control to the things that haunt this complex! But the basement isn’t the only place in the facility plagued with supernatural terror. Sometimes ghostly hands press against the lobby windows. Oh my!

THeGraveyardApartment by-mariko-koikeAni


 

Here be the stuff of plot! We have the Kano family; Teppei the father, Misao the mother, and Tamao is their young daughter.  This family moves to the Central Plaza Mansion, an apartment complex in the suburbs of Tokyo. It also happens to be located beside a cemetery (that never a good thing in a horror novel!) The deceased family pet, a bird named Pyoko, visits young Tamao in the night and warns the little girl about the dangers lurking in the new place. She tells her parents about these nocturnal visits, but they attribute them to their daughter’s overactive imagination.

Throughout their stay at Central Plaza Mansion, they meet several neighbors. They all seem normal, but by the book’s end, they will all move away. These neighbors sense a certain “strangeness” about the apartment complex that that the Kano family is aware of but chooses to ignore. Misao does some research about the property and the surrounding land, only to discover the forestalled plans of an underground mall. Deep beneath them, the tunnels for this venture had already been carved. Why did the project stop? Did all this digging disturb the spirits in the cemetery on the adjoining land? If so, are these spirits still stirring and are they pissed at any modern developments that have encroached on their sacred land, developments such as The Central Plaza Mansion?

Finally, the Kano’s decide to leave. Teppei’s brother and his wife come to help them move. But is it too late? In the forward to Robert Morasco’s book Burnt Offerings ,  Author Stephen Graham Jones distinguishes between two types of haunted houses: those that want the living to stay away, and those that want to devour the living. The Amityville Horror house represents the first type, while the house in Burnt Offerings House represents the latter. The complex in The Graveyard Apartment seems to be somewhat of a hybrid. Yes it wants to devour its inhabitants, but it first gives them a chance to leave. As the old expression says, “you snooze, you lose.” The Kano’s are snoozers. Uh oh!

The Graveyard Apartment: A Novel rates at about 3.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com, which is the average from over fifty reviews. Some loved it, some hated it, and some thought it was just “so-so”. As for me, I would say I “near-loved” it. Some of the complaints have to do with the side-stories that don’t always seem to go anywhere. I admit, dialogue gets bogged down in places. There are too many exchanges that have little relevancy to the overall story. Back when I was summarizing the plot, I left out this detail – Teppei and Misao started their relationship via an extra-marital affair. Teppei’s first wife discovers the affair and kills herself. Thus, Teppei goes on to then marry his mistress (Misao) and the two give birth to Tamao in wedlock. This is all back-story. As such – does any of this have any relevancy to the supernatural activity at the apartment?  Maybe, but maybe not. Teppei’s brother Tatsuji is mixed up in the overall family dysfunction of the back-story, and he ends up with his brother and his family when the ghosts really get down to business. Since it’s these two families that receive the worst of the horror, could there by any symbolism at work here? I would say “no”. The book has an overall literal tone to it, and therefore, any allusions to such symbolism would seem over-analytical. If you want to read a story where the haunting of a house is symbolic of the destruction of a marriage/family, I recommend The Grip of It by Jac Jemc.

So from time to time, the story strays, but for some reason, these detours didn’t bother me. I was enjoying the side chats with neighbors and some of the back-stories, even if they didn’t amount to twists. Eventually the plot moves along toward an ending that really ruffled some feathers. Some reviewers say that there “really was no ending” or that the ending was “too abrupt”. For me I say that “yes the ending is abrupt” but it “is an ending”. It isn’t an ending that I expected, but in the end (see what I did there!) I realized that, maybe it’s not the best conclusion, but I understand how the turn of events could lead to such an outcome.

Overall, I would give the book around 4.3 out of 5 stars. The overall creepiness of the story prevents the rating from slipping below the 4-star realm.

I discovered this novel on one of those many “list articles” that are floating around on the Internet. The name of the article, from unboundworlds.com is 21 of the Best Horror Novels Written by Women. I am grateful that I found this article, for it turned me on to Mariko Koike and her very scary novel. I can’t comment on her writing style, since I read her story via a translation. Still, I can appreciate her imagination and general sense of storytelling. At least I can do that!

For trivia sake, I have read five out of the twenty-one books of this list and reviewed four. They are:

Reviewed:

The Graveyard Apartment – Mariko Koike

The Grip of It – Jac Jemc

The Haunting of Hill House  – Shirley Jackson

The Woman in Black -Susan Hill

Read/Not Reviewed:

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Surprisingly, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not on this list. I’ve read that one! Then again, it’s not really a horror novel. So maybe its omission is warranted.

 

Summer of Night – A Novel of Sweet Summer Nostalgia Doused in Terror – A Great Summer Read

Summer of Night - Dan Simmons - Warner Books - Mar 1992I’ve been writing about haunted apartments lately. I will continue  to do so, but for right now, it’s time to step out of those oppressive flats and enjoy  the summer – before it’s gone. (It’s already late July, folks! Yikes!) Yes I know, apartments are my theme for this summer, but doggone it, summer is a time to read and write about topics that directly relate to this fun and sunny season. Topics such as bike riding, movies in the park…and ghostly forces. Ghostly forces? Yes you read that right. Summer is no time to “give up the ghost” (I used the same expression in a wintertime ghost article. Hee hee! Here it is, for further reading: Wintertime Ghosts.)  There are plenty of summer horror novels out there. But in my opinion , Summer of Night  by Dan Simmons is the best of the bunch.

Last summer, I read two books about the summers of youth – Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury  and Summer of 42 by Herman Raucher. Then I wrote an article comparing these two books with later works  by these same authors that take place in the autumn and winter. They are, respectively, Something Wicked Comes This Way (Bradbury) and Maynard’s House (Raucher). The latter are horror novels. In the article, I argue that similar themes are found in both the summer books and the novels of fall and winter, but that the “flavor” of these themes vary with the season. The link to the article is posted below:

From Summer to Autumn: The Spirit Remains the Same (The Darker Sides of Ray Bradbury and Herman Raucher.)

I’d like to think of this article as a sequel to the one I wrote last summer. Only this time, I focus  only on one book and one author. What’s so unique about this book is that it unites two themes that are usually  allocated to separate stories. On the one hand, I’m talking about fun summers of boyhood pleasures, oh that precious  nostalgia! On the other hand, I’m referring to dead soldiers that walk the night, phantom trucks that will plow over its victims, farm machinery that acts on its own accord. For the record , the similarities  and differences stressed is last summer’s article  are more nuanced than Summer = longing /Autumn = foreboding. (There is fear and death in both last year’s summer novels and a bit of nostalgia  in Something Wicked…) Still this article ties into last year’s piece since its goal is to balance seemingly opposing themes on the thin edge of your screen. Plus it’s a season based book. Summer  = youthful joy. Night = many things scary. Put that together and we have Summer of Night, a book that forces its pre adolescent characters into a dawning of the full gamut of human emotions – joy, sorrow, fear and all the stuff in between.

If I were to do a theme involving haunted schools, Summer of Night would certainly make the list. What is more terrifying to a young boy than the sight/site (both words SummerOfNight6work in this context -I think!) of his school building after classes have been dismissed for the summer! But the boys of Elm Haven, Illinois have no choice. Living in a small town, they can’t escape its looming presence. But there is more to fear here than its symbol – an oppressive environment of rules and structure; the antithesis of summer vacation and everything those two and a half months of freedom represent. On the very last day of classes, a boy wanders down into the lowest floors of the building to a sequestered part of the school. Classrooms go unused here and the halls are empty. The boy goes to use the bathroom. Inside the bathroom, he witnesses something terrifying. And he’s never heard from again!  The teachers, the townsfolk search for him to no avail.

This episode of the boy gone missing is only the beginning of the horrors that with haunt a group of friends throughout the summer. It begins at the school. It continues throughout the town and its rural surroundings; in the cemetery, out in the woods, down the long country roads, and even in their own homes – in their basements, in their bedrooms, underneath their beds. That which haunts them will be traced back to the school in the end. It harbors something evil.

SummerOfNight4The events in this story take place in the summer of 1960. The boys of summer  are as follows: Dale Stewart, Lawrence Stewart (Dale’s younger brother), Mike O’Rourke, Duane McBride, Kevin Grumbacher, Jim Harlen. Included in this group is one girl – Cordie Cooke. Together they must solve this mystery that plagues them. If they fail, the consequences are deadly.

Much of the story takes place from the view point of Dale. With his brother Lawrence, they represent typical “All-American” boys of 1960 – good hearted, nice parents with a solid upbringing. Mike is the ambitious one of the bunch. He holds down part time jobs. He’s an early riser and he regularly performs duties as an altar boy at his parish. Duane is an odd one, often silent, but when he does speak, he outdoes his peers with his vocabulary. Though intelligent, this precocious farm boy is not “the nerd”.  He is self-assured and comfortable with his modest, simple attire. Cordie is the outcast, the “backwards” redneck. She is also tough and can probably take on any of these boys in a fist-fight.

The point of all this is – the kid characters are extremely well-developed. Aside for their relatable personalities, their daily summer activities are made up of the youthful rituals that many of us engaged in when we were young. Reading this book will create within you a longing for those innocent days when the world was fresh and new, and excitement was always minutes away. Sounds like I’m describing a carefree atmosphere, doesn’t it? A carefree environment in the midst of a horror novel, with death and suffering? Believe it or not, Author Simmons succeeds on both fronts. You just have to read it to believe it. When the kids are not scared out of their wits, they are playing baseball all day, losing track of the time. They are taking bike trips to far away places; down the country roads, into the woods, where they have “club spaces”, where they have good natured rivalry with other “kid clubs” (there are also some serious incidents of bullying in other parts of the book that is not good natured, but that is part of the horror). They watch movies in the park, they look for hidden “bootlegging chambers” that are supposedly hidden underneath some field.

My favorite part of the book – the introduction. Or maybe it’s called “Author’s note.”  It occurs before the story, was added in later editions of the book. It’s a commentary by the author about the social environment of today’s youth. Simmons mentions how many of the pastimes of the kids of yesterday, pastimes he himself took part in, are just not available to today’s youth anymore. At least not in the same kind of way the he and his storybook characters experienced them.  Today’s kids often grow up in overprotected, over structured environments. They are not allowed to be bored. Boredom can inspire kids to be creative, to create the kind of fun that lasts within memories forever. The kids in Summer of Night might say “Goodbye” to their parents in the morning, not see them again until dinner, then off they go again on another adventure. Many kids today the same age as these characters are barely allowed out of their yards. And often they don’t want to, since they can stay home with their tablets, video games, etc. etc.

I recommend reading this commentary AFTER finishing the story, for there are spoilers within its message. In many ways, I agree with what Simmons is getting at. Still, I just have to believe “that spirit” conjured by the summertime youth of a bygone era still exists in some form today. To appreciate this book, one does not need to have grown up in 1960.  There are elements of timelessness in it – celebration of youth, curiosity with the unknown, a freedom from supervision. Yes even today I believe (or at least hope) that kids have amble time away from the prying eyes of adults.

This book owes a lot to Stephen King’s IT.  However, it stands on its own. And it does something that IT does not – by describing so many minute but welcoming details concerning the daily activities of these child characters, it wraps readers warmly, strange enough, in a summer of bygone days. In sum, it succeeds as a nostalgic tale in a way that King’s novel does not (although this comparison is not entirely fair; King was not necessarily striving to invoke a longing for a past era.)


We All Have “That Favorite Summer”

 

I dream of one day writing the ultimate summer nostalgia novel. I am especially attracted to the title of Simmon’s book – Summer of Night. I remember the summer nights fondly back when I was fifteen years old. There was a song from the House music genre titled I Fear the Night.

I was mistakenly convinced that the singer was singing the words “I Feel the Night”. Under this false presumption, I had made this the theme song for the summer of 1986. See, I truly believed that there was this vibe, this “magic” if you will, that existed in some kind of objective state. It was there for the taking, and was most potent during the nighttime – the nighttime of the summer. All you had to do was “reach out with your feelings” (thank you, Star Wars, for that quote) and the night and all its magic was at your disposal. It was called “feeling the night”. Ironically, the song’s real title and subject are more appropriate for a horror movie, or a horror novel like – Summer of Night.

Back in 1986 I had a group of friends. We all navigated around our neighborhoods on our bikes.  Every late afternoon, I wondered where the night would take us. Sometimes it took us to Mikey’s backyard where he had the pool. Sometimes it took as to Tracey’s front porch. Sometimes it took us to Johnny’s alley. Often we would have beers, bought at a bar a mile away that sold to us minors. We pedaled our bikes with six-packs wrapped in our arms.  We snuck out late at night and hung out at park benches. We had bottle rocket wars. We smoked an occasional joint. We “felt the night.”

Now I know what you’re thinking. Earlier I was lamenting the loss of freedom for the children of today. Some of the things my friends and I did that summer fall into the delinquent category. So one might say, “See! When children are left unsupervised in an environment without structure, this is what happens. Kids do bad things.” Well, touche’. But we really weren’t bad kids.  And for the record, we were a bit older than the kids of the novel , and Simmons argues more for an adventure-filled summer for the pre-teenage kids, before things like drinking and drug use enter the picture.

For better or for worse, I love remembering the summers of my youth, adventures and misadventures alike;  I learned from both. Therefore, I just love books about summer nostalgia. Since I am a horror novel fan, Summer of Night is the perfect book for me. And it just might be the perfect book for you too! Read it and find out for yourself.


A Winter Haunting

Dan Simmons follows up with several sequel books. They catch up on the lives of the children characters after they become adults. I’ve reviewed one of these books.  It’s called A Winter Haunting. It’s also a great book. As with Summer of Night, it makes use of the season as a metaphor for the character/s current state of affairs. In this book, Dale Stewart returns to his childhood home town for the holidays (Pre-Thanksgiving – New Years Day). There, he tries to piece together what happened during the events of “that summer”. His memories haunt him. He is alone, isolated in a farmhouse. It’s cold and snowy. He has made several mistakes in his adult life. In this isolated environment, he is forced to confront his demons. Are they literal or metaphorical? Both. It’s a complex book. I recommend this book as well.  Here is the Amazon Link: A Winter Haunting

 

 

The Guardian by Jeffrey Konvitz -Third Review in The Haunted Apartment Series

TheGuardian2CoverHowdy folks! The last time I posted, I expressed my concern for all you apartment dwellers without air-conditioning that might be scorching  in the summer heat. My concern continues; I’m an empathetic kind of guy! This empathy extends to people that have to deal with other nuisances of apartment living, including rats and cockroaches, loud neighbors, and…the Forces of Hell! That’s right readers, I feel for Author Jeffrey Konvitz’s apartment-dwelling characters that have to contend with the hellish spirits that were unleashed from his mind and onto the pages of two of his books. (Warning: Spoilers from The Sentinel are up ahead!)  These are the same evil forces that were kept at bay by Father Halloran when he was The Sentinel. (A great book!) These forces are back again under the blind yet watchful eyes of Alison Parker, who has replaced Halloran as “The Guardian” (an equally great book!) of the gates of Hell. The last review focused on The Sentinel. This review will focus on The Guardian, a worthy sequel to Konvitz’s original masterpiece. Please stay with me, reader, as I welcome The Guardian into this summer’s theme: Haunted Apartments.

In my review of The Sentinel, I had linked to an upcoming podcast episode of Thorne and Cross’s weekly program  Haunted Nights Live. Every Thursday they interview a different horror author, and the guest in the episode that I had linked to was to be none other than Jeffrey Konvitz. Since then, the interview did happen and it went well. I’m hoping most of you followed the link and listened. If not, have no fear, for it is archived.

And…..here is the link – Thorne and Cross: Interview with Jeffrey Konvitz 

In the interview, Konvitz, an entertainment lawyer by trade, has several interesting  things to say about The Guardian. It is his favorite of the two books, but he does not express this favoritism in a boastful way. Quite the contrary! He is a down to earth kind of guy, and he had revisited his work after many years, having forgotten much of what he had written. Upon reading, he was saying to himself things like “Oh my God, did I TheGuardianKonvitzreally write this? How did I ever think up this part?” These aren’t exact quotes but the sentiments are accurate. While I agree that The Guardian is great, I like it just as much as The Sentinel. If only there was a third book to make this a trilogy. Well folks, Konvitz confirms in this interview that there is an outline for a third story. Hopefully one day this outline will blossom into a full-fledged novel. While I will not be dishing out the kind of spoilers as I did in my review of The Sentinel , I’ll say this about The Guardian – it ends with a major cliffhanger. When reading the last few paragraphs, I was like “Oh no he’d didn’t!” But Konvitz did it, and his “literary actions” left me wanting more!

So, let me say a thing or two about the story of The Guardian. Spoilers will be kept to a minimum (but there will be spoilers regarding The Sentinel). Also, unlike my review of the first novel, this article is not a juxtaposition between a book and movie. The Guardian has not been made into a film, unlike its predecessor.At least I don’t think it has. But if it were done right, I’m sure it would be a very good film.

The Guardian Synopsis (With spoilers from The Sentinel)

The setup is similar. There is an apartment complex in New York City. A strange blind nun sits at the window of the top floor apartment. The tenants all seem to be friendly with each other, and they gossip among themselves as to the nun’s situation. Those of us who have read The Sentinel understand her business. Us readers are one up on the tenants. Meanwhile, Monsignor Franchino is back, along with some priests that are new to the series. Through these characters, we discover that once again, it is time for a changing of the guard. There is to be a new sentinel. In the first book, readers didn’t know about any of this until the end. The mystery revolves around why the priest sits at the window, and why Alison’s neighbors are so strange.

In the beginning, readers don’t know that the neighbors are really hell bound souls and the don’t realize that, by the book’s end, Alison would assume the duties of the guard and prevent these souls from escaping the apartment and roaming free across the earth. But now, all this is old hat. The big question is – who among this fresh list of new characters will be the new sentinel? This question stokes the mystery; every character is suspect. Several characters are not what they seem. One is destined to be the new guardian. And, perhaps, there are other characters that just might be in league with the dark forces, willingly or unwillingly. Who are they? Read to find out.

Several characters from The Sentinel reprise their roles. When a detective investigates a shocking disturbance at this apartment, he calls on Detective Gatz, now retired, for help. In The Sentinel, Gatz tries his best to pin a murder on his nemesis Michael Farmer, former boyfriend of Alison Parker. As far as the outside world  is concerned, both Alison and Michael  had simply vanished after the events that take place in The Sentinel. They know not that Farmer has gone to Hell and that Alison assumed a new identity as a Holy Gaurdian. Gatz, however, suspects she that something else had gone down. Something unnatural. He’d rather not get mixed up in this case again. But he will find himself right back in the middle of it, to his misfortune.

As previously mentioned, Monsignor Franchino returns. As protector of The Guardian  and all the secrecy that surrounding that role, he has his work cut out for him. The stakes are higher this time. Things are more dangerous. In The Gaurdian , readers learn more about The Sentinel /Gaurdian  conspiracy. They learn of new players; for it takes many to protect it. Otherwise there will be hell to play. Literally. Can mere numbers counteract the forces of evil? One little slip and….


 

I think that’s all I’m going to say. Hopefully the info I provided is spoiler free. I had to reveal some details in order to keep things interesting. And interesting it is! My advice: Buy it tonight and discover just how interesting it is! You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sentinel – Book Vs. Movie – Second Review in The Haunted Apartment Series

How is it going my apartment dwelling friends? This summer has certainly shed its warmth upon us. Here in Chicago, we have already had days of severe heat. (Note: At the time I wrote the beginning of this article, it was hot. I assume no responsibility for any unusually cool weather that may have transpired since then). I hope all of you have functional air conditioning, especially you folks in the upper-floor apartments. If not, I feel for you.  But know this – matters could be worse.  Sure, an apartment that is at the mercy of the heat index makes for some uncomfortable living conditions, but imagine if your cozy little abode was at the mercy of the souls bound to Hell!  These souls could tell you a thing or two about bearing conditions in an overheated environment, believe me!  Heat or no heat, an apartment haunted by the souls of the damned just doesn’t cut it when it comes to creating that “homey” experience. It gives a new meaning to an event called “the house warming party.”  Just ask Alison Parker. She is the protagonist in Jeffrey Konitz’s novel The Sentinel,  as well as Director Michael Winner’s movie of the same name. She can tell you what it’s like to live with such “hellish” neighbors.

Welcome to the second review of this summer’s theme: Haunted Apartments. The introductory article can be found here. As mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the subject of this article is The Sentinel, both the book and the film. Back in 2016, I wrote a review for the movie only. The article can be found here: The Sentinel –A Film Review. At the time of press (Hee Hee, I am using newspaper terminology for my Blog. Hee hee!), I had not yet read the book. That has changed. I have since learned that the book is better (which is not always the case), and it has helped to shed light on some of the confusing parts of the film. The film isn’t bad, by the way, but it’s “not great”. How does “good” sound? Goodish? I’ll explain later. Anyway, this article couldn’t be more timely, for on Thursday, June 28, Thorne and Cross (a two-person author team whose books I’ve reviewed) will interview Jeffery Konvitz on their weekly podcast called Haunted Nights Live. I’m looking forward to this interview and I’ll present more details on this later.

Let me outline this article for you. I shall begin with a plot summary. WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS! When it comes to analyzing, which goes beyond reviewing, spoilers are almost unavoidable. And…I will be analyzing, as well as comparing and contrasting the two mediums (book vs. film). Therefore I must delve into the weeds of the plot, including it’s hidden treasures (to tell you the truth, I have already revealed a spoiler: the neighbors = Hellbound souls. This isn’t apparent and the beginning of the story. OOOPS!) After the plot summary, I will present what I call “A Review of My Review.”  In addition to reading the book, I have revisited the film again. In fact, I have watched it twice since I wrote the initial review. Have things changed?  A little bit. I’ll explain as I revisit that review. Then, I will detail some of the major differences between the film and the novel and explain why the book is better.  After this juxtaposition, I’ll say a thing or two about the real apartment building that was used in the film.  Finally, I’ll present more details on that Konvitz interview, and wind things down with a joke or two. Sound good? But of course it does! So let’s get down to business!


PLOT SUMMARY

Alison Parker is a successful model in New York City. However, she has a lot of emotional baggage, and her ability to take care of herself is questioned by her boyfriend the lawyer, whose name is Michael Farmer in the book, but goes by Michael Lerman in the film.  He pressures her to marry him and insists that it would be best to let him take care of her. However, Alison is an independent woman and insists that she must live alone, at least for a while. She finds an apartment building that is surprisingly affordable. She is curious about the old man that continuously sits by the window of his top-floor apartment, staring out onto the streets below. The realtor tells her to pay him no mind. The man is a retired priest named Father Halloran. He is blind. The realtor suggests that he is senile. The Archdiocese of New York looks after him. But there is nothing to worry about. He is harmless.

Alison is a survivor of two suicide attempts. The first attempt occurs when she is a teen, shortly after she accidentally witnesses her father participating in an orgy with two prostitutes. The second occurs after the mysterious death of Farmer/Lerman’s wife. See, Alison’s relationship with him began as an affair. Supposedly, the wife took her own life, heartbroken over her husband’s affair. Feeling guilty , Alison had tried to take her life as well. These suicide attempts are important plot points regarding the resolution of this story.

Alison’s neighbors are flamboyant to say the least. There is Charles Chazen, who prances around with a bird on his shoulder. There are the two women who are lovers. One of these women openly masturbates in front of Alison. At the apartment complex, Alison attends a party for a cat. Mostly she is amused by all this (but not so with the masturbating woman), but she will not tolerate the noisy neighbors that live directly above her. In the middle of the night, they shuffle about, shaking the lamp that hangs from the ceiling above her bed. She visits the realtor to complain, only to find out that she has no neighbors aside from the blind priest. All the apartments she had visited are vacant.

Alison confides with Michael about this. In response, he hires a private detective to watch her. Meanwhile, Alison continues to hear noise coming from the upstairs. Possessed with the keys to the apartment above her (I forget how she came upon these keys), she enters the place and sees her dead, naked father running toward her. She stabs him. There is blood.

In reality, Alison had stabbed the detective (the film barely makes this clear), prompting an investigation from Detective Gatz. It turns out, Gatz and Farmer/Lerman are arch enemies. Gatz had investigated the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Farmer/Lerman’s first wife (remember I had used the word “supposedly” when I wrote that she had taken her life). He was convinced that Farmer/Lerman had her killed by hiring that private investigator as a hitman, the PI that was stabbed by Alison. But he failed to provide the proof. Gatz now has a second chance to pin a murder on Farmer/Lerman; the murder of the detective.

Meanwhile, Farmer/Lerman investigates the apartment complex that Alison lives in. He discovers that the Archdiocese of New York owns it. More compelling, he discovers, is that the Father Halloran, the priest that sits by the window, is a “sentinel”. He was never a priest. He was a man that had attempted suicide. To atone for that sin, he is forced to guard the gates of hell and prevent the souls of the damned, including Satan himself, from entering into our realm.

At midnight on a certain date, there is to be a changing of the sentinel. Halloran is to retire and Alison is to take his place, atoning for her sins (the suicide attempts). By the story’s end, Alison is surrounded by the souls of the damned. Michael Farmer/Lerman is among them. He perished at the hands of another priest who was protecting Halloran from Farmer/Lerman, who was trying to kill him. Farmer/Lerman is now bound to Hell, not only for his attempt on the life of the sentinel, but for the killing of his wife.

Led by Satan, who is Charles Chazen, the evil souls of hell try to get Alison to take her life. For, if at the time of the changing of the guard, they can convince the “sentinel-elect” to take his/her life, then Hell wins and the evil spirits can roam free into this world. But Alison accepts her duty. God wins, Hell Loses. At the story’s end, it is now Alison, that sits at the window, dressed in a nun’s garb, looking old and frail. She too is now blind.  This legion of sentinels and the ritual of the changing of the guard have been going on since the days of The Garden of Eden. All sentinels are people who have attempted suicide. Sentinel duty is a way for them to atone for attempting this grave sin.

(As a side note: the book mentions the first sentinels were angels that guarded the gates of The Garden of Eden. I can’t help but wonder, were they put on guard duty before or after Adam and Eve were evicted. If before, they didn’t do a good job keeping the Devil out. But it’s understandable. Satan came in the form of a snake. He could have slithered between the legs of the angels and under the gate while the angel/s were having a cigarette or something)

A REVIEW OF MY REVIEW

abandon-hope-all-ye-who-enter-hereDone

Wait! Come back! It’s okay for you to tread into this section of this article. This line is from “Inferno”, the first canticle of Dante’s three-part poem The Divine Comedy. (I have the Divine Comedy in hard cover, classic bound style. I started reading it. I should finish in about, oh..twenty years or so. I’ll keep you posted!). According to this fourteenth century epic, this is a warning posted at the gates of Hell. Michael Farmer/Lerman uncovers this inscription on a wall within the apartment complex, which was previously hidden behind a wooden panel or some kind of covering. Does this mean the apartment hides the gates to Hell? Yes and “mostly yes.”

In my first review, I placed this story under a category I define as “houses that serve as a portal to some other dimension.” The inscription Farmer/Lerman finds seems to justify this claim. While I argue my claim remains true, this matter in a bit more complex. Upon further reading, it seems that “gates of hell” are not confined to this one location: an apartment building in New York City (although that would explain all the unsavory elements that populate the streets of New York!) The souls of the damned will gather at whatever location the sentinel happens to be stationed. See, throughout history, the sentinel did not need to sit before this one window at this one apartment complex in this one city.  Perhaps in the otherworldly dimension, there is a fixed guard station as well as a stationary entrance/exit to Hell. But here on earth, the locations of these places vary throughout time.  Who knows, maybe in the heyday of the Roman Empire, the sentinel stood guard at a building in Rome with the gates of Hell nearby. Likewise, while the sentinel’s living body sits or stands at a fixed location, his/her soul is free to roam.

Most of the info above comes from Konvitz’s sequel, The Guardian. I apologize for treading into areas that belong in a separate review, but I felt it necessary to explain, as it does impact my claims stated in my first review. While the apartment building does serve as portal to another location (i.e. Hell), this “portal” is transient based on the structural layout of civilizations at any given time.

******

In my first review, I criticize the performances of the two main actors; Christina Raines (Alison Parker) and Chris Sarandon (Michael Lerman,) For Sarandon (former husband of Susan Sarandon), I lay it on thick: From the original review:

“Unfortunately, this former husband of Susan Sarandon has a lot of screen time. Too much! Large chunks of the movie revolve around him as he confers with police and priests. See, he is using his skills as a lawyer to research the haunted apartment complex and discover more about the strange blind priest. Oh God, I wish he didn’t! I found myself shouting at the TV, “Just stay out of it Mr. Mustachio Douchebag! (he dons a cheesy mustache. I don’t know if he has “that other thing”) I want to see more of the neighbors and the haunted complex and less of you and your research!”

These seniments remain. However, “the stuff” of “Mr. Mustachio’s” research and his interactions with characters outside the apartment complex are actually important to the overall story. I learned this from reading the book. However, the way the film presents all this – Meh! This will be explained in more detail in the next section: Book Vs. Movie.

THE BOOK VS. THE MOVIE

As previously mentioned, I prefer the book to the movie. I have already alluded to the whys and wherefores. Are you ready for more details that will back up my preference? But of course you are! Simply stated, the book devotes more time to certain story details than the film. In past book vs. movie articles, I defend any given film’s omission of certain plot points by citing the “200 page/2 hour reel” ratio. I invented this ratio; maybe one day I’ll be inducted into the mathematical hall of fame, I don’t know. But what I mean is that by the very nature of each medium, there is more opportunity for story and character development in a book than a film.  Films cannot be expected to cover all the information that is in a book.  But gosh darn it; the details that the film omits are important! A large chuck of the film is hard to follow, due to the sparse attention to important points. For instance:

1) The Death of the Private Eye

In the book, Farmer has connections with a shady detective (his name escapes me). Quite possibly, Farmer had hired him to kill his first wife – this is back-story. In the main story, Farmer hires her to spy on Alison. He does so, occupying in the same abandoned apartment rooms that Alison investigates when she sees her the soul of her dead father attack her. Alison stabs the spirit, but in reality she stabs and kills the private eye.

The film barely touches upon this. The film shows the private eye on the street when Alison roams the apartment rooms. Later, it shows Detective Gatz, who has it in for Farmer, finding the body of the detective in a junkyard. Viewers are left to wonder how he died, and just what in the heck his murder has to do with the story.

2) Farmer/Lerman’s Nefarious Ways/Conflict with Detective Gatz

Sure the film touches on this, but it was a soft touch. A little nudge? The book explains how Gatz had tried to bring conspiracy of murder charges on Farmer for the suspicious death of his wife, and fails miserably, embarrassing himself and his department. Now there is a new unsolved murder – the death of the Private Eye, who was, mostly likely, hired by Farmer kill his wife. But he must tread cautiously, for he does not have the backing of his superiors due to his past failures on any cases involving Farmer.

Toward the film’s end, when the ghost of Farmer/Lerman is in league with the hell-bound souls, it is explained that he is there (in Hell) on account of his attempt on the blind priest’s life. Oh but his misdeeds go way beyond that! The attack on the priest was an act of sudden rage, temporary insanity if you will. And he fails to kill him. So when watching the film, it seems odd that his violent confrontation with the blind priest has earned him this spot in hell. According to the book, he also had his wife killed, and had done other nefarious deeds. A much better telling/explanation of Farmer/Lerman’s final fate.

With all these film plot holes surrounding Farmer/Lerman, and add to that Sarandon’s poor acting skills, the parts of the movie that poorly dwell on all this, are confusing and boring. The supporting actors save this film! John Carradine as Father Halloran  Ava Gardner as Miss Logan the realtor, Arthur Kennedy as Monsignor Franchino (More on him in the next paragraph), Eli Wallach as Detective Gatz, Burgess Meredith as Charles Chazen, a.k.a. The Devil (he is the best part of the film!), Sylvia Miles and Beverly D’Angelo as the lesbians – great, great great!  Here’s some irony for ya – in the film, the neighbors try to seal our heroine’s fate to an eternity in hell. Outside of the film, it is Sarandon (Lerman) and to some extent Raines (Alison Parker) that “try their best” to drag this film “down”. But the actors that play the hellish souls are the ones that save this film and bring it “up” when things go “low”

3) Monsignor Franchino and the Protection of the Conspiracy

Arthur Kennedy has a significant amount of screen time as Monsignor Franchino, protector and facilitator of the duties and rituals involving the protection of the sentinel and the changing of the guard. A welcome presence he is, for is acting is good. However, his duties in the book go beyond his duties in the film. He is a “fixer”. In the book, he is the one that removes the body of the Private Eye from the apartment and dumps it in a trash compound. After all, one cannot have a crime scene in an apartment where the sentinel stands guard. It would ruin everything.

 4) Real Estate Transactions

The realtor that leases the apartment to Alison secretly works for the Church. When Farmer/Lerman seeks her out to question her about the hapenings in the apartment complex, he can’t find her. The Church has hidden her. This is NOT made clear in the film.

*****

A lot of film bashing going on in this article. But the truth is, I like the film. It has major flaws but the supporting actors save it.

Do I have any criticisms over the book? Minor ones. The first has to do with the overall story, both in the film and book. And it’s not really a criticism per say, more of a disclaimer. Much of the story is based on “truths” as according to the Catholic Church.  In this story, homosexuality and suicide are treated as grave sins. Those that engage in such sins are portrayed either as evil or in need of some serious redemption. The two women lovers seem to be cast to Hell on account of their same-sex relationship. This runs counter to today’s standards, where the rights of LGBTQ are being fought on a daily basis, with many successes as of late. Also, “suicide” is now perceived as an unfortunate outcome of a mental illness. It is generally not considered as an act deserving of an eternity in Hell. Remember, the film and book came out in the 70s. Perceptions were different then. Leaving aside these anachronisms, the story is still a good one.

Now here comes a minor criticism of the book: It lacks section dividers. Three paragraphs might describe the events of certain characters in the apartment complex, and all of the sudden, the fourth paragraph takes us to a new character in a new setting. This is confusing. But as a reader, I got used to this. Mostly. In the end, this style is forgivable.

THE “REAL” SENTINEL BUILDING

This article would be remiss if it didn’t cover the set location – the real apartment building that was used in the film. That building, according to OnTheSetOfNewYork , would be a Brooklyn brownstone located at 10 Montague Terrace, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn. The apartment was used in both exterior and interior shots.

SentinelApartment

According to 6sqft.com, there is a co-op up for sale. It can be yours for the measly price of $1.15 million. Check out the rooms!


Well, this article is coming to a close. Please check out Thorne and Cross’s Haunted Nights Live on June 28 for their interview with Jeffery Konvitz. Every Thursday night, they interview a different author. Here is the link to this week’s show:

Thorne and Cross -Haunted Nights Live with Jeffrey Konvitz

Tune in at 7:00pm Central Time!

I would like to have had written a review of Konvitz’s sequel to The Sentinel – The Guardian – before this interview, but alas, it will to come after.

Now, I wonder if “The Sentinel” is roasting in the top-floor apartment on those hot summer days. Did Father Halloran have air conditioning? It gets awfully hot in a top floor apartment.  And since he guards the gates of hell, he has other heat to contend with.So to all you apartment dwellers w/out AC, it could be worse. Be thankful you are not the sentinel. If you were, things would really get hot, hot, hot!

 

 

 

 

 

The Jolly Corner – A Classic Ghost story by Henry James – A Review

Is your childhood home haunted? Chances are it is.  Imagine visiting it after many, many years.  Perhaps it’s empty, awaiting the next occupants, whoever they might be. While perambulating the confines, “ghostly sightings” are almost guaranteed.  In the den by the large picture window,  you decide to look out upon the spacious yard. You “see” yourself at the age of five running across the grass toward the swing set. The swing set is long gone, but it is here now.  You can even hear the creaking that accompanies the back and forth movements of the chains that attach to the seat of the swing. In the kitchen, you “hear” the whispers of that personal conversation you had with your mother over coffee. The stairs that lead down from the second floor bedroom still echo with the plodding of your younger brother, descending with excitement every Saturday morning. Cartoons were waiting for him on the large Zenith tube television. That monstrosity sat in the south corner of the living room.  Can you hear the crackling of its static when the programming ceased for the evening? Of course you can.  And I bet you can see your family, some still alive, others gone, but all are sitting around it, watching a program.

These are all figurative ghosts. But maybe there are literal ghosts lurking about. The ethereal remains of a lost grandmother? A deceased father?

Spencer Brydon finds himself in a similar situation to the above scenario. He is the main character in Henry James’s short story The Jolly Corner. He revisits his childhood home.  There, he is haunted by memories – and much more. See, Brydon takes the haunting a step further.  He is not merely haunted by the past. He is haunted by a life that could have been. He is haunted by the “ghosts” of  an alternative timeline. As a young man, he left this home in New York and traveled Europe, abandoning his family and his family fortunes. Upon returning to his childhood home at a more mature age, he contemplates what his life might have been life if he had stayed in this house and tended to the family business.  These contemplations manifest into “real” forms.  He meets the ghost of himself. The house is like a magic mirror that reflects an image of himself from an alternate past.  And the reflection he sees is ghastly!

Congratulations! If you were not familiar with the meat and bones of this story before, you are now. It is a short story, just under fifteen thousand words.  However, I’ve encountered analyses of this tale that are longer than the story itself. There’s analysis of themes such industrialization and social change. By 1908, the date The Jolly Corner was published, the effects of The Industrial Revolution were solidified in American culture, creating a thriving urban sprawl which yields rental profits for Spencer’s family.

This leads to analytical pieces on urban renewal – the competing values of land use in terms of economic value vs. personal value (Spencer has the opportunity to convert his childhood home into a profitable modern apartment complex. He refuses).  Of course, from a psychological perspective, writers and literary critics have contributed volumes of analysis. (Okay maybe “volumes” is a bit of an exaggeration.)  Henry James is the master of the psychological ghost story and literary analysts just love to dive into such themes as the “two selves” of Spencer and compare them to Freudian and Jungian constructs of the different parts of one’s personality.  They even go so far as dissecting Henry James’s psychological profile and comparing it to the inner struggles of  his character Spencer Brydon.

A ghost turned me onto this story. It is a ghost that helps narrate the story A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons. This narrator ghost is rather complex in nature, and here is not the time and place to describe him (in other words, I don’t now how to do so – ha!). But he reflects on his childhood home, particularly his basement, his “Jolly Corner”, the term borrowed from James.  Perhaps he still sees himself inhabiting that basement, even though he is long dead.  Or perhaps its more complex or even more simple than that. I’m forgetting, but the ghost explains the basic plot of The Jolly Corner. It sounded interesting HenryJamesBook to me.  I had in my possession the book The Turn of the Screw, The Aspern Papers and Two Stories by Henry James. I had read The Turn of the Screw and wrote up a review back when. Did one of “the two stories” include “The Jolly Corner?” I checked and yippie! It did!  (Later I found it that it could be read online for free – https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Jolly_Corner ) And so I picked up my book and read the story.

Did I enjoy the story? I enjoyed the concept but loathed the reading process.  James’s sentences are so long and over-populated with phrases and commas that by the time I would reach the end, I had forgotten the subject of the sentence.  I had to reread and reread again. Sometimes after rereading a sentence several times I still didn’t have any idea as to what was being conveyed so I just moved along. My plan was to trudge through the story, then read all the cliff notes and go back and read the story again. Well I did manage to trudge through the story. I went online for help with the plot development, and then I reread SOME of the story. Good lord, I just couldn’t start the whole thing again.

I found the Turn of the Screw to be an easier read. But that too is complex. Sometimes I am a fan of the writing style of the days of yore and sometimes I’m not. I guess that is where MY duality fits in. Nevertheless, I appreciate this story’s contribution to the Haunted House genre. It has depth and awesome symbolism. While prowling his old house, Spencer encounters open doors that should have been closed, and closed doors that should have been open. Who opens and closed these doors?  He does, in his mind. They are doors to different parts of his memory and psyche.  Such a fitting scenario for a psychological haunted house story!