Ghost House/Ghost House Revenge – Two Books from that Horror Fiction Paperback Boom of the ’80s.

GhostHouse2One dark and not so stormy night (most nights it doesn’t storm), I found two books on the Internet for which I had been searching for some time.  I owned this two-part series when I was a kid.  Two paperbacks; both were about haunted houses (what a surprise!). The problem was – I couldn’t remember the titles of these novels nor the name of the author who wrote them .  It took many searches before I finally hit the jackpot. Not only did I find the books I was looking for, but I uncovered a phenomenon I didn’t know about. It might be called “the horror paperback boom of the 70s/80s.”

I participated in the later days of this horror paperback boom, and I didn’t even know  it!  Back then, I only knew it as “reading”. At the age of fourteen, in 1985, I sat at my school desk and read one of the two of these paperbacks that I owned , unaware that I was making history.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a wee bit here with my “making history” comments. I  encourage you to blame the Internet for this. This “Internet” thing forced upon me such articles as Vintage Chillers: ‘80s Horror Novels You Need to Read  and ordered me to look into books such Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror, all because I  innocently typed the words “80s horror novels” into a search engine. From the list of articles and book synopses that the search engine returned,    I learned of this horror paperback  phenomenon.

After skimming through some of these articles, I learned that there were many successful   horror paperback writers in the 70s and 80s. For some reason, horror novels flooded the bookstores, and mainstream  publishers were more than happy  to churn them out by the millions. The more the merrier. Perhaps  it had something to do with the success of the novels by Stephen  King, who rose  to fame in the early  70s? Were  publishers looking for the next King, hoping to find this needle in a haystack  by creating the pile of hay? I’d have to read the sources more thoroughly to get these answers. Another takeaway is that many of these books did not withstand the test of time. Best sellers one day, forgotten the next. Expired copyrights, not available  for print anymore, never converted  to digital format. Sadness.

Somehow, by combing through the various articles and lists, I was able to discover the identities of the two books I sought after.  They are, respectively, Ghost House (1980) and Ghost House Revenge (1981) by Clare McNally.  These two books seem to fall into the category of “books that history has forgotten”. Thankfully, they were both available in Kindle format on Amazon, both selling for $2.99. Needless to say, I bought and read them. Stripping away my nostalgia-based bias, these might not be the best haunted house books out there, but they are decent enough reads, especially  for that low price. I do believe that all print copies are used books

At this time, I would like to share what I remembered about the overall reading experience of these books. I will be going back thirty-four years or so.  Here I go!!

I don’t know how I acquired my paperback of Ghost House Revenge. But there it was GhostHouseRevenge2inside my lift-top desk, my one desk for the entire  school year (same teacher/classroom all year round too). In between lessons, there was free time, where a student could do homework ,  draw, or read. Do middle schools still offer this kind of free time? Well that’s besides the point. Anyway it was during this free time that I did most of my Ghost House Revenge reading.

I had remembered bits of the story. I mostly recalled a physical therapist guy named Derek and his socially awkward pre-teen daughter, who’s name had escaped me. (Her name is Alicen). Father and daughter lived temporarily  in the house of one of his clients who needed therapy on a daily basis. The client had fallen out of a window and needed help learning how to walk again. The client  had a family; a spouse and several children. I couldn’t remember whether  it was the father or mother that needed therapy  (It was the father  – Gary). I couldn’t  remember  his wife’s name (Melanie) or the names and number of children they had (Three – Gina , age 13, Kyle 9 or 10, Nancy 5?).

I remembered that the house was haunted but I didn’t remember the details (the spirit of a vengeful woman terrorizes them). I recalled that Derek wasn’t always nice to Alicen, and I remembered there was something  a bit off about her.  And then, I remember Steven U. No, he’s not a character from the book, he was my best friend in the 8th Grade. I had put the book aside for awhile and he borrowed it from me. He read faster than I did. In a matter of days,  he got further into the book than I did, and he had to go and tell me “So and So got ripped to shreds!”  This is what I remembered most! I remembered who it was that got “torn to shreds” (I’m not telling ya!) and I used these words in my searches (*name* torn to shreds). And….nothing came of these searches. Sadness! This is because, I learned, that the book never describes the fate of this character in those exact terms. These were Steven’s word’s, not McNally’s. But it’s obvious that is what had happened to the character.

The book was (and is) a relatively simple read. It served as a welcoming  pastime for such a young and blossoming mind, not to mention some blossoming hormones. For instance, the other night, when I got to a part in the book where the ghost woman grabs Derek’s crotch, I suddenly remembered stumbling upon this scene way back when. Another brick in the puberty Wall!  Um..let’s move on to another paragraph.

The thing about my initial reading of this book, either I didn’t realize that Ghost House Revenge was a sequel or I simply didn’t care. As an inexperienced reader, I guess it didn’t click that one is supposed to read the original novel first. Throughout the book, there is backstory that pertains to the first novel Ghost House. This happens when Gary tells Derek how he fell out the window (his fall occurs in the first novel), or when both Melanie and Gary explain to Derek about how the house had once been haunted, but isn’t anymore (They are wrong, it still is haunted, but by a different ghost). Once I got into the meat and guts of the story, I must have then known that this was the second of two books. I certainly knew after I acquired  Ghost House at a garage sale. This acquisition came months after reading its successor.

Excited, I opened the book and read how the family was moving into a big house. I remembered that Gary was giving Melanie the cold shoulder. She had recently been having an affair, but she broke off the fling. The couple was trying to reconcile. I remember how Gary kept imagining his wife’s legs wrapped around another man’s legs, and this thought bothered him. It didn’t bother the young me, though. This description excited me. That puberty thing again.

So what happens next? I didn’t find out. I put the book down. Summer vacation was at hand and what person brand new to his teenage years wants to spend the summer reading a book? I put it down after the first few pages and never went back….until a few weeks ago. It wasn’t until then that I learned that the ghost of some 1792 dude dwelled in the house and that he would go onto to develop a thing for Melanie. Very powerful this ghost. He had his way with Melanie many times both sexually and mentally.

After all these years bits and pieces of these books stuck with me. I wanted to finally read the first book and then revisit the second. But this task was difficult, since I couldn’t even remember the names of these books or the name of the author. “Torn to shreds” was not a viable query, oh what was I to do?  And so, after stumbling onto articles pertaining to the yesteryears phenomenon of  “all these horror paperbacks everywhere; good ones, bad ones, ugly ones,” I somehow found these two books once again. I read them and enjoyed them. They aren’t the greatest; there’s some very literal storytelling going on (no symbolism, etc.,). But the books are page turners.

So, this whole post turned out to be more of a piece on the history of my early days of reading and on the horror-themed paperback boom. Not much of a review, is this? Should I describe the “Ghost House” some more? It’s a colonial bay house in New England, built in the 18th century. Should I go into more detail about the ghostly encounters? Both books feature powerful, malicious ghosts. They wreak havoc on this peaceful family. Children are locked up on the roof, locked down in the cellar, tied to posts on the connecting beach.  Gary is injured multiple times when going toe-to-toe with these spirits. Certain characters become possessed. Some characters die.

Still not enough details for you? If this is the case, then you should just go ahead and read the books for yourselves. Below are the buy links. Enjoy!

Ghost House

Ghost House Revenge

 

 

Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era – Fourth Book Review for Black History Month Series

TAlesHauntedSouthWhen I tell people about this blog and my love for the haunted houses of  film and literature, quite often they say something like, “Cool. So I take it you’re a fan of  * Insert – the name of the trendiest cable show that boasts of “real” encounters with  the paranormal – here *.  When I tell them, “No I don’t find value in those kind of shows” and that for me, ghosts are fictional entities , I get blank stares. I might go on to explain that I view haunted house stories through the same analytical lens that a student might use when assessing feminist themes in classic and modern literature , or that I embark upon a similar path that a historian of cinema might follow when studying the evolution of a certain  film technique. And STILL they might reply, “You know, there are several houses here in the U.S. that are supposed to be haunted. Have you ever gone on a ghost tour?” Sigh! These folks just don’t get it.

To answer that last question, no, I’ve never been on a ghost tour, though I’ve been to places where they are offered (Galena, Illinois for instance). I’d like to go on one, just to see what they’re all about. Thankfully, someone has given me a glimpse into what has been coined as “dark tourism”. Her name is Tiya Miles. She has written a book about some of the most popular  ghost tours in The American  south. And wouldn’t  you know it, this book Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era  is the subject  of this review. Imagine that! And it is the fourth and final review of my Black History Month Series.

In her book, Miles seeks  out ghosts. Despite  what I said above about my skepticism concerning translucent specters that go bump in the night, I believe in the ghosts Miles seeks. Please, read on.

Tiya Miles went on several ghost tours. She toured many “haunted houses” across the south, from former plantation mansions to carriage houses that once served as slaves quarters. But she is not writing as a “survivor” who lived to tell about her frightful experiences. She is not billing herself as an eyewitness to  floating specters or poltergeist activity (although one the photos she took at a cemetery picked up a mysterious orb!). But, as I mentioned in the last paragraph ,  she was indeed searching for “ghosts”. Alas, for the most part, they did not come – and I’m not referring to translucent figures that moan and groan. These kinds of ghosts she was not expecting (though they did “appear”, at the very least, inside the tales that were told by the tour guides, taking the form of “Right where you are standing now, the ghost of such-and-such appeared to one visitor). What kind of ghosts was she hoping to find?

Paraphrasing, Miles defines “ghosts” as a vehicle to the past. In order to come to terms with the past, in order to “see” the events that have transpired long ago, we must have an honest confrontation with the ghosts that history has conjured. Quite the figurative definition, huh?  But think – if there is any entity that is made up of figurative elements, it would be “the ghost.”

In particular, Miles took in these ghost tours to see if they would relay the authentic tragedies of real people that experienced the horrors of slavery. True, “dark tourists” want to hear the tales of spirits of former slaves or slave owners haunting the premise on ghost tours. They go in with the expectations of learning about the lives of the deceased, of the tragic circumstances that surrounded their deaths, tragedies that caused their souls to remain here on the earth, searching for some kind of peace before being able to pass on to the other side. Miles expected these kind of tales as well. And she got them. But before embarking upon these ghost tours, she wanted to see if the sponsors of these tours exploited the lives of the deceased in anyway, either with misinformation or exaggerated distortions. And exploit they did.  They presented slave ghosts to the customers as caricatures; ghostly voodoo priestesses, promiscuous phantoms, etc. etc. Only now and then did they allow for the true “ghosts” to take form: tales of the true cruelty and oppression that the black enslaved Americans experienced.

Tiya Miles toured several cities in the American South, where dark tourism flourishes.  Why does this industry flourish in the American South? Well, to quote from the book:

The US South, with its history  of Indian removal, slavery, and bloody Civil War battles, together with its regional particularity, and atmospheric  setting  of simmering heat and shroud like Spanish  moss, is a place easily  associated  with a dark past and haunted present.

She went on  ghost tours in Savannah, Georgia, a city that boasts of being the “ghost tour capital” of the United States, beating out both New Orleans, known for all its Voodoo and other paranormal attraction, and Salem, with its notorious history of burning innocent women on stakes to “eradicate witchcraft”.  But Miles also visited “haunted places” in New Orleans and at preserved plantations that stand on the southern end of the Mississippi River, which were known for their “even more horrid conditions” for the enslaved, giving rise to the term “sold down the river.”  The eerie tales surrounding these visited sites, Miles argues, sugarcoat the real tragedies and injustices of slavery with romantic stories filled with ghostly hyperbole.

The Sorrel-Weed House in Savannah, Georgia

Miles begins her quest at the  Sorrel-Weed House  in Savannah, Georgia. Francis Sorrel, original owner, was allegedly  having an affair with his slave “Molly”, who lived in the carriage  house that is adjoined to the main residence. This carriage  house is said to be haunted by Molly’s ghost. Allegedly, she was murdered in this house, probably  by Francis Sorrel  himself, who needed to terminate any evidence  of the affair. His wife, Matilda, does find out about the affair, so the story goes that she committed suicide, throwing herself out the window. It is said that her ghost  haunts the Sorrel-Weed  House as well.

SorrelWeedHouse

(Above photo: The Sorrel-Weed House)

Miles does some  checking. While she uncovers documents that state that Matilda died “in an accident,” there is no historical record of Molly, at least none pertaining  to the property  holdings of one Francis Sorrel. Neither are there any documents listing slave names similar to Molly.

Is Molly a “figment  of human imagination?” (quote from book as a possible  explanation  of Molly). If so, she exists as the fabricated ghost, the packaged legend,  indeed  a ghostly “figment” of some not-so-creative imaginations, (the lack of creativity attributed to her story’s reliance on the typical  tropes of found in “real” southern  slave ghost stories.) Whether real or not, Molly sets Miles off on a journey  to find “her ghost”. Her ghost will represent the untold stories of an enslaved  people, their perspectives  within the context  of an the inhumane institution of slavery.

There were several things wrong with the telling of Molly’s story, Miles believed. These wrongs, these fabrications would materialize again and again  throughout  her tours of haunted houses. Oh where are the ghosts? And what are these fabrications that stand in place of the ghost and its  hauntings?  Let’s move on.

The Myrtles Plantation – Louisiana – Ghosts of Chloe and Cleo

Tiya Miles visits the Myrtles Plantation, located off the River Road (this would be the Mississippi River, folks!) in  rural Louisiana. The plantation house is supposedly a legendary  haunted house.  It also serves as a bed and breakfast for your average “dark tourist”, or your simple Southern  history  enthusiast. Miles stays in a room that was formerly  a nursery. Her room, she is told, is the most haunted room in the place. It is haunted by the ghost of Cleo, a former slave that once turned  the nursery into a Voodoo  sanctuary. Cleo, a Voodoo priestess, tried her best to heal her master’s  sick child using her “skills of the craft”. Her master allowed this, so long as the child would heal. All night Cleo worked her magic. In the morning, she proclaimed the child to be healed. Sadly the child died soon after, and Cleo ’ s Master had her hanged for her lies regarding the health of the child.

MyrtlesPlantation

(Above Photo: The Myrtles Plantation House)

Myrtles is also supposedly haunted by Chloé, a young slave girl in her early teens who was involved in a sexual relationship  with her master. Although the master liked having Chloe around for sexual company , he didn’t like it when she listened  in on his private affairs. When he found her with her ear to his office door, he cut off  that ear. Still, Chloe was devoted to him and she cherished  their sexual relationship. But she was jealous of her master’s  family so one night she poisoned the kids, killing them. For this crime, her master  hanged her from a tree. Tourists who stay overnight are warned to lock up any earrings they might remove from their lobes before going to bed, although only one of the pair is in danger of being stolen. Stolen by whom? That would be the ghost of Chloé. She only needs one earring  because  she only has one ear.

So, what’s going on with these “phantoms?” A whole lot of stereotyping. Chloé  is portrayed  as a “Jezebel”, a biblical feminine persona that is  amoral, has an insatiable  sex drive, and is seen as an evil temptress toward men. Although some sympathy is granted to Chloe, as the story admits that she was treated cruelly (losing her ear, being a slave in general), she plays a key role in her own demise. She is the one in the story that bears the most evil (killing innocent  little children!)

The story of Cleo with its imagery of “ primitive  rituals” invokes another stereotype – the wild witch woman. Imagine – inside the wholesome confines of a white man’s nursery a black woman is performing ancient witchcraft from the jungle, only to result in the death of an innocent child. Such horrors!

It should be noted that Voodoo was a real religion among various  slaves. However as Miles notes, “Voodoo lends an exotic quality to these stories, calling to mind the notion of the African primitive. Voodoo also portends spiritual danger for non-adherents who see the religion as strange and dangerous, thereby enhancing the taboo-breaking, fear-inspiring elements of dark tourism”.

Within the tales of Chloe and Cleo arises what I again call the “figments” of treacherous, exotic, sex-starved, and witchy women that are responsible for deaths of white children. Then there is Chloe as a thief, a prankster that has nothing better to do with her afterlife  than to steal earrings. To the author’s  dismay, the “ghosts” of Chloé and Cleo do not appear in these tales. These would be the ghosts of two suffering women, suffering through no fault of their own. Victims of horrendous  abuse at the hands of controlling men. In all these tales of sexual  relationships between black slave women and their white masters, are we do believe that the women had an equal status in the relationship? There were no power dynamics  perpetuated  by the men? Could many if not all of these “relationships” really be cases of non-consensual sex and  perpetual  rape? If “ghosts” were conjured from these tales instead of “figments”, then perhaps we might see a clearer  image of the truth. Ghosts don’t lie.

Better Uses of the Supernatural in African American Experience

Returning now to Molly, the slave ghost from the Savannah Sorrel-Weed House, we see again a slave complicit in an adulterous act, not the victim of power play and subjugation. Figments abound in this tale. Ghosts do not. What Miles came to realize during her quest to find “Molly’s ghost” was, in her own words:

I also came away with an alarming sense that the representation of slaves as ghosts reproduces intersectional racial and gender norms from the antebellum era, often without context, caution, or critique. As a result, the narratives on these tours reinforce retrograde interpretations of power, race, gender, sexuality, and identity. These stories turn on the abuse of the socially weak, often African American women, but do nothing to contextualize the experiences of black women or hold accountable the perpetrators of violence against them. In short, ghost tours featuring spectral slaves often uphold the ideas of an antebellum social order by replaying antebellum plots that repopularize antiquated race and gender hierarchies.

The goal of Miles’s work is not to discredit the supernatural (She did see that orb on her photo). Rather, it is to allow for ghost stories to capture the true cruelty of slavery while providing dignity to the black slave ghosts. She says:

Black slaves do not fare well in the genre of the southern ghost tour. But we need not rely on ghost tours and haunted sites to gain historical understanding about the supernatural in African American experience.

As an example, Miles refers to a project conducted by the Georgia WPA. In the 1930s, The WPA conducted a series of interviews with former slaves and ancestors of slaves. One woman relayed a story her mother had told her. Her mother, a former slave, saw and heard a phantom machine made up of chains and wheels. It was as big as a house, very loud and extremely terrifying.  At this spot, back in history, a slave master would whip his slaves to death. Here in this tale, the evil of slavery is pronounced and takes form, representing the “ugly machinery” of slavery.

Also, Miles mentions Toni Morrison’s book Beloved, where a slave child returns from the dead. She, according to Miles, represents the history of slavery (I mention this in my review of Beloved. )

Beloved is a work of fiction. As for the story about the massive conglomeration of chains, well, supposedly the storyteller  believed it to be true. But this doesn’t matter. What matters is that the “ghosts” in both of these tales “speak of truth”. They do their job of communicating with the living as to the reality of our nation’s yesteryears. Often times this truth is ugly. But ghosts do not exist as contestants in a beauty contest. They exist as messengers of the past and don whatever appearance is necessary to relay the spirit of its time.

Madame  Lalaurie – Remember “Coven” in American Horror Story?

Are you a fan of the TV series American Horror Story? I can’t say that I have a love affair with this show, but I found some episodes enjoyable. Anyway, there was one season, the third season I believe, which was titled “Coven”. It was a story about modern day witches in New Orleans. However there were several flashback scenes set in the antebellum south, at the house of a cruel mistress named Madame  Lalaurie, played by Kathy Bates. She kept slaves in chains in the attic. She branded them, dissected them. Well did you know that Madame Lalaurie was a real person? Tiya Miles visits her “haunted house” in New Orleans (where she really did keep slaves locked in an attic), which is purportedly haunted by the cruel Madame herself.

Miles places the story of Lalaurie within the context of her theories. The stories conveyed by tour guides once again contain figments rather than ghosts.  But I won’t get into all that here. For details, buy the book!

And so….

I thank Tiya Miles for writing this book. It taught  me a lot about slavery and black history, much of which I did not detail in this review. I believe that I now have the necessary mental tools to prepare myself for a ghost tour, if I should ever decide to go on one. Yes, the romantic in me will hope to see an actual specter (though I won’t expect such a thing). But the analytic side of my personality will now be looking for the “unseen” ghosts. Depending on the historical context, I might never come to now the true nature of the “once-was-a living-person” that is presented to me as a ghost in these tales, but I can step back, think independently, and ask myself questions such as, “Do these tales seem antiquated in nature? Does the business (i.e. the ones hosting the tour) have anything to gain by preserving some kind of preconceived notion of the past? Are these tales haunted by obvious clichés and caricatures? I must go back to Galena ,Illinois, a town where the once many antique shops have been converted to cafes and other trendy kinds of storefronts . Ah but the historical town, home of Ulysses Grant, still has “antiques” to sell, only now, they come in the form of ghosts. This small down boasts several ghost tours and a few haunted houses. I must return and see whether they are peddling figments or trying to tell true “ghost” stories.

Peace Out!

About the Author

TiyaMilesTiya Miles is a professor of history at Harvard University. She is the author of five books. One of her research specialties is African and Native American comparative histories.  She is the winner of several awards including the Frederick Douglass Prize.

 

 

 

*** information above was gathered from the following links:

https://history.fas.harvard.edu/people/tiya-miles

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

 

 

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.