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

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

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

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

What is Haunting “Hill House”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in the Haunting

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

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

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

Jackson

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

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

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

THeGraveyardApartment by-mariko-koikeAni


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed:

The Graveyard Apartment – Mariko Koike

The Grip of It – Jac Jemc

The Haunting of Hill House  – Shirley Jackson

The Woman in Black -Susan Hill

Read/Not Reviewed:

Beloved – Toni Morrison

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


We All Have “That Favorite Summer”

 

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

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

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

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

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


A Winter Haunting

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian Synopsis (With spoilers from The Sentinel)

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

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

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

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


 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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


PLOT SUMMARY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A REVIEW OF MY REVIEW

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

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

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

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

******

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

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

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

THE BOOK VS. THE MOVIE

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

1) The Death of the Private Eye

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Monsignor Franchino and the Protection of the Conspiracy

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

 4) Real Estate Transactions

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

*****

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

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

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

THE “REAL” SENTINEL BUILDING

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

SentinelApartment

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


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

Thorne and Cross -Haunted Nights Live with Jeffrey Konvitz

Tune in at 7:00pm Central Time!

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Review of Five Nights in a Haunted Cabin – 6th and Final Post in my Haunted Cabin Series

FiveNightsCabinThe cabin season is about to come to a close, at least here on this blog. Sorry, but it has to be this way. After all, one cannot be forever “cabinated.”  Unless, perhaps, that “one” happens to be a ghost that haunts the cabin.  But even in that case, I think the ghost will eventually evaporate, dissipate, and therefore, no longer “cabinate.”  But what of a cabin beset with residuals hauntings; echoes of the past in motion, or “repeated playbacks of auditory, visual, olfactory, and other sensory phenomena that are attributed to a traumatic event…” (from http://parapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Residual_Haunting)

Do such hauntings endure forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and…

Authors Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross claim to have witnessed several residual hauntings while staying at a cabin located in Gold Country in California. They document this experience in their book Five Nights in a Haunted Cabin . It is a short but highly fascinating read.

Unlike all the other stories that make up my haunted cabin series, this account is real. It is a real cabin, in a real place, visited by two very real people. At least I hope Thorne and Cross are real. I have reviewed several of their books,  I have heard real voices when I tuned into their Internet radio show Haunted Nights Live and I have had real exchanges with them on Facebook. It would be a shame if, after all that, they turned out to be bots! But I’m betting this is not the case.  And I believe that their experiences inside that cabin are real…allowing for subjective interpretation.

Thorne and Cross have collaborated on many novels. They write as a team, and as far as I can tell, they are what the kids call BFFs. They are like brother and sister.  While their acquaintanceship began virtually, they first met in person at this cabin that is the subject of this book. Knowing that the cabin had a reputation for being haunted, Thorne and Cross decided that it would be a great place for two authors of the paranormal to finally meet. After securing permission from the cabin’s owner to stay for several nights and conduct an investigation, these two went forth with their plan. Stayed five nights they did!  And things got creepy , creepy, creepy.

thronecross

Now, I bet you’re wondering – what makes this particular telling creepy? Let me answer this by stating what this story is not, especially when compared to the other tales of haunted cabins that I have reviewed. Spirits of natives are not descending upon the cabin (Rough Draft – Oops, I forgot to put the part about “Native American spirits” in the review), there is no witch in the woods (Maynard’s House and Revisiting Maynard’s House), Thorne and Cross are not succumbing to demonic possession (The Evil Dead), the cabin is free of scurrying, severed hands (The Evil Dead 2), and finally, there is no underground organization manufacturing zombies (Cabin in the Woods.)

What Five Nights in a Haunted Cabin offers is far more subtle and therefore, possibly, creepier.  It’s a “things that go bump in the night” type of scary.  It has cuckoo clocks that cry out at strange times, scratching noises on walls and doors. Then there is an unnerving silence, as if the wind is afraid to breath.  There are other disturbances as well; doors opening and closing, objects are found in certain places when the authors are sure they set them down some place else.

These incidences that take place in the cabin can be explained in two different ways: 1) The cabin is really haunted. 2) There is a logical explanation to all these occurrences. Being the “septic” that I am (That’s “skeptic” in Archie Bunker language), I tend to go with option #2.  But even if there is no haunting, the accounts documented in this book continue to be creepy because they realistically mimic “the stuff” of a haunting.  Because these disturbances are subtle, they are believable and therefore – creepy, creepy, creepy!  And perhaps this cabin is haunted! Don’t let my “septicism” ruin you, embrace the haunting if you must.

In my article Beyond the House: An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures – Part 1 – Cabins , I say this about haunted cabins:

Maybe it’s not the cabin that is haunted. Maybe it’s the surrounding environment that reeks of terror

HOWEVER

They (the cabins) are susceptible to the surrounding elements and therefore very permeable to the stuff of the supernatural

In sum, the haunting begins outside and then makes its way into the cabin. But that’s NOT what happens in Thorne and Cross’s book. Instead the inverse is true: the haunting begins in the cabin and then goes on to infect the surrounding environment, as testified by the birds. What birds? Exactly!  The tree-filled perimeter is absence of bird-song.  The environment is too disturbing for these feathered creatures! Thorne and Cross did their research and discovered that murders and suicides occurred inside the cabin many years ago. Perhaps the emotional trauma of these events remains (a residual!), discouraging even birds from coming to close to the cabin.  Hmm, maybe there really is a haunting going on!  (Or maybe birds are just sometimes absent or silent.)

There is something that I wish the book had touched upon. Thorne is meeting Cross for the very first time. I would have liked to learn about their first impressions of each other. It would have been interesting to read about how they warmed up to one another. Was there a single moment that broke the ice? Was there a relationship-defining event? Somewhere in Facebook land, I learned that Tamara shaved Alistair’s back hair during this stay. That should have been in the book!  That must have been a truly “haunting” experience for Tamara!  But seriously, I do think a dual story about two people meeting for the first time in the midst of a haunting would have gone a long way.  And it would have fit in so well with the format of the book.  Thorne writes a paragraph, and then Cross follows with his paragraph or two, commenting on what Thorne had just written.  It’s like listening to two people at a campfire taking turns telling a story while helping each other with the telling along the way. It definitely made for some cozy reading.  It would have been even cozier had they shared more details of their meeting.

All in all, this is a good book. I say buy it. Read it.

 


 

And with that, here ends my series about haunted cabins. I hope you have enjoyed it. Too-da-loo! (for now)

Revisiting Maynard’s House – Second Posting in My Haunted Cabin Series

mhOnce. Twice. Three times is the charm. This is the third time I am posting about the book Maynard’s House by Herman Raucher. The first was for an article I wrote called From Summer to Autumn: The Spirit Remains the Same (The Darker Sides of Ray Bradbury and Herman Raucher.) In the article I compare the season in which the stories take place to the central themes of the books. I compare an earlier work of Raucher (Summer of 42) to Maynard’s House:

The first book is about the building of a man. This man is constructed on a warm sandy beach in the wake of a wartime tragedy. The second book is about taking apart a man. He is deconstructed in the cold winter snow

Maynard’s House is the story that takes place in the snowy mountains, the story that deconstructs a man – inside a cabin! (Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Cabin time!)

The second time I wrote A Review or Maynard’s House , a fitting review since I write about haunted houses and the house that is central to this story, out there on a snowy terrain, is most certainly haunted. But it’s not really a house per se, it’s more of a – haunted cabin! (Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Cabin time!)

It should be obvious where I’m headed. This third time I am posting about Maynard’s House in order to place it in the context of this month’s theme – haunted cabins. If you haven’t already done so, please read my article Beyond the House: An Examination of Hauntings Within Alternate Structures. Part 1 – Cabins In one section, I write about cabins from a “solitary confinement” perspective. What the heck is that? To be honest, I had this book – Maynard’s House – in mind when I wrote that bit. Oh hell, I’ll just copy/paste that section into this article. It’s only two paragraphs:

The cabin sometimes becomes the mirror-for-the-disturbed-mind for the sole cabin dweller. Quite often, this solitary character, when confined to a cabin and cut off from civilization, will develop a psychosis that is caused by a lack of human contact. In this scenario, the character is an unreliable narrator and readers often discover that the things that haunt the cabin manifest from his/her own broken mind. But that doesn’t make these things less scary, or even less real.

Trapped spirits are a major staple in a haunted house story. The walls and roof confine them. An old large house has the time and space to trap many spirits from different eras. In a similar manner, the thoughts and temperament of the sole cabin dweller, the “vibes” if I may, have nowhere to go. They coagulate in the corners and add a disturbing stuffiness to an already cramped space. Eventually they boomerang upon the solitary dweller that has conjured them. They morph into ghosts and demons.

The main character of Maynard’s House is all alone in a cabin in the wintry mountains of Maine.  What does he do there? He reflects. Reflect reflect reflect. On his life. On his experiences serving in the Vietnam War. Does he create the spirits he sees or do they exist independently of his mind? Are the children that visit him real?

This lone man, in a cabin that acts like a mirror for his disturbed mind – does this scenario occur in other works? To a smaller extent it occurs in the film I am going to review next (I’m not telling!). But how about to a larger extent in other books or folk tales? It seems as if it does, or that it “should”.  But I tell ya’, this theme is very much at home in Maynard’s House.  If it exists out there in the “wilds of literary motifs”, then Raucher has found it ,harnessed it, and clothed it well with the pages of his book. Raucher develops the theme so well  that the events that occur in his book seem as though they have been prewritten inside our collective unconscious. What happens has always happened. (This time paradox also occurs in the book.) Dog gone it, Raucher, you just had to brand things in my brain before I had even met your work!

It should be obvious that I really, really, really enjoy this novel. With that, nuff said! For more details read the other two articles I have written. Or better yet, read the book!

(Stay tuned – Films about haunted cabins are coming next!)

Review of Rough Draft – First of the Haunted Cabin Series

Rough DraftSometimes Facebook ads really do work. Every once in a while (sometimes its more like twice or thrice in a while),  a post will appear in the Facebook newsfeeds; not a friend’s post, not a post from a liked paged or a group to which one belongs, but from a seemingly foreign source.  In small letters under the post’s heading, the word “sponsored” appears.  This is how I discovered Michael Robertson Jr.’s 2014 novel Rough Draft. Had it not been for the cool looking picture of a log cabin against a gray sky and murky background, I might have passed it on by. The picture caught my attention because, see, I already had this month’s theme in mind – haunted cabins – when this ad appeared in my newsfeeds. So I clicked on the post, and I believe it led me to it’s Amazon page, where I discovered….Yes! This IS a book about a haunted cabin, just what the doctor ordered! (Does anyone still you that expression? Well I did just now, and I am someone!)

Thankfully, this was not some “rough draft” that an author was furtively trying sell as a finished work. (In these days of Amazon scams, you just never know). I confess I don’t like the title. But it does make sense in the context of the story. I do, however, like the taglines that describe the skin of the story:

Three strangers. An abandoned cabin in the woods. And a chilling one hundred year-old mystery that doesn’t want to be solved.

A mysterious blackmailer forces three authors to meet at cabin and write a “rough draft” for a prospective horror novel about the cabin, the surrounding woods and a nearby town. They HAVE to complete this assignment – in one weekend – or face the consequences.

And so, the authors travel across the country and arrive at…gee, I forgot the state, Colorado perhaps? Anyway, two meet at the airport and ride together, where they then have to journey across dangerous terrain to find this isolated cabin in the snowy mountains. They pass over a flimsy bridge, hoping the car can make the crossing. Once they arrive at the cabin they find the third author waiting for them. Now they are three – Robert, a good-looking, smart-alecky kind of guy, Vic, a woman who fools her fans into thinking she is a male, and Finn, a geeky Zombie apocalypse story writer. What happens next? Lots of stuff. Some good stuff. Some disappointing stuff.

The overall atmosphere of the story is delightfully chilling. The build-up to the mystery is done very well. Some scary shit goes down. As it turns out, the authors don’t need to develop a fictitious account of a haunting; the place is already haunted. During the night, their cars are stolen or damaged. They are truly abandoned. But who could have done such a thing, there is absolutely no one around…not another living soul for miles and miles . Things begin to go bump in the night. Hell, the whole cabin shakes at one point. Could this have anything to do with the strange story that they had heard before making their way into the mountains? (One hundred years ago, all the residents of the nearby and former coalmining town. At one point Robert leaves the cabin to go exploring, only to discover mysterious figures weaving in and out of a trail of trees. He then makes a startling discovery in a nearby cave!

 

Kudos to atmosphere and tension-building drama, the laying out of the mystery, the casual influx of ghostly happenings. But alas, the mystery doesn’t go to a place worthy of the compelling setup. In sum, it falls into a “good guys vs. bad guys” trapping that, IMHO, is a quite lame. Also, there is this other flaw; or maybe its “three flaws”. At least two. Two very noticeable and damning flaws. I refer to the characters, especially Robert and Vic.  Robert is shallow and somewhat smug and yet he is presented as this likable hero. Likewise, “Vic” is an annoying “damsel-in-distress.” At one point, Robert and Finn are very careful not to accuse her of being over-emotional so as not to come off as sexist. The way I read this, it’s really the author, Michael Robertson Jr, that fears that he has written his character much too stereotypically (and he has,) so he adds this part only as if to say, “See, I am wary of stereotypes. I don’t do them.” Oh but he has.

So, what happens to these three characters? Do they become friends? Lovers? Enemies? Dead? That is for you the prospective reader to learn. I cringed at the outcome but who knows, maybe you will find the resolution quite enjoyable.

In sum, good start, great tension-building, atmospherically frightening. But it digresses into the land of the banal, dragging along some very weak  characters.

 


** Haunted Cabin Analysis Time ! Woo hoo! Haunted Cabin Analysis Time ! Woo Hoo!**


 

In the article Beyond the House – An Examination of Hauntings within Alternate Structures, I discuss various themes that may or may not occur in haunted cabin stories.

I name the first theme “Outposts on the Edge of the Unknown.” By this I mean that the haunted cabins of stories are surrounded by all kinds of spookiness. Sooner or later, that spookiness will find its way to the cabin. This theme certainly plays out in Rough Draft. Quite often the haunting begins outside. Arrows are found pierced into the front door, as if a phantom archer was taking aim at the cabin.  There are spirits in the surrounding environment and at one point in the story….ah nevermind, I don’t want to give anything away

The second theme I call “Isolation”. Simply stated, cabin horror stories frequently feature dwellers that are trapped in their location with little to no communication with the civilized world. In Rough Draft, their cars are damaged or stolen. Their generator often fails to work. They have laptops that are connected to a private network – the network that is set up by the mastermind of their unfortunate situation. They do not have general Internet access. The third theme, “Micro-Haunting,” states that the haunting is symbolically simple and that haunted cabin stories usually only feature a few characters. This is certainly true in Rough Draft. The fourth and final theme, “Solitary Confinement”, does not apply since this theme pertains to the solitary cabin dweller.

Stay tuned for the next haunted cabin feature. I know which films and books I will be reviewing but I haven’t decided on the order yet, so sorry, I can’t say that the next post will be a review of Blah Blah Blah. But the educated horror fan should be able to guess at the movies I have coming down the pike. Either way, you won’t be disappointed!

Bundle Up for “A Winter Haunting” – By Dan Simmons

A Winter Haunting 3

Have I got a haunted house book for you! It’s a very decent read,; a brilliant piece. And, it is seasonally appropriate. Published in 2002, it is called A Winter Haunting by author Dan Simmons. The action of the story begins at Halloween and ends post New Years Day. Yes I know, we already finished those holiday celebrations. To reengage in the them would require us to look back instead of moving forward. Well golly gee, isn’t that what hauntings are about, looking back?  Don’t you want to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with the slightly unbalanced professor Dale Stewart in a haunted farm house from his boyhood town?  But of course you do. Besides, it’s got the wintery stuff that targets us Midwesterners right now, including, but not limited to, snow, chilling breezes, and a house to escape the elements of the cold season (although this house must be shared with…certain things. Scary things).  Well, enough of all that, come along now.  Come on!

First a disclaimer. A Winter Haunting is the second book of a series. Technically, it’s full title is A Winter Haunting (Seasons of Horror Book 2). To date, the only other “seasons” based book by Simmons is Summer of Night (Seasons of Horror Book 1), published in 1991. Summer of Night has spawned several successive works. It is a story about the memorable summer of 1960 and the group of pre-adolescent boys (and one girl) that participated in it. Filled with the stuff of nostalgia, it successfully makes the reader yearn for those summer days of our youths. But that is not what makes the summer memorable; not for The Bike Patrol (the name of the club the boys of 1960 had formed) anyway. For those characters inside the book, it is a memorable summer because they were put in a situation where they had to spend a good deal of their time  combatting evil, supernatural forces.

Simmons follows Summer of Night with several books that contain some of these children characters as adults.  These include Fires of Eden and Children of the Night. As far as I know, these two books do not belong in the “Seasons of Horror” series. A Winter Haunting also deals with one of the Bike Patrol boys all grown up.  While I do think the book stands well on its own,  it’s probably wise to read Summer of Night first, if anything than to avoid a major spoiler that unfolds about “that summer.”

So, why am I reviewing A Winter’s Haunting before Summer of NightTwo reasons.

  1.  As previously mentioned, A Winter Haunting is seasonally appropriate at this time. For those of us who live in a wintery climate, we are more apt to relate to Dale’s walks across snowy fields when we ourselves are blanketed in a frosty climate. The holidays mentioned in this book are fresh in our memories.
  2. Technically, Summer of Night is not much of a haunted house novel. True, the school building is facilitator of the things that haunt the town of Elm Haven, so technically it is about a haunted structure (a certain part of it is any. Oh but I can’t tell you about it. Spoiler!)  But the book is more about the supernatural manifestations that spread throughout the town of Elm Haven.  The most frightening elements of the book occur in cemeteries, children’s bedrooms, nearby forests, and down country roads.

But since the school is a respected historical structure, and since some of the book’s supernatural activity does occur inside its walls, I will review the book. But I will do this at the beginning of summer 2018. Mark your calendars!

Back to A Winter Haunting, which is in some ways very different from its predecessor. Different in time, different in tone. Summer of Night, while horrific, contains elements of timeless joys and youthful freedom. It is a story of young boys. A Winter Haunting closes those chapters of our lives many years later. It is about settling rather than striving. It is about coming to terms with what you’ve become and living with the sins of the past. Professor Dale Stewart (a Bike Patrol member) in not happy with the way things in his adult life are going. He leaves his wife and children to start a relationship with one of his students. The student, in turn, leaves him. He attempts suicide. He turns a pistol on himself.  When he fails to kill himself, he seeks therapy.

Dale decides to rent a farm house in his childhood town of Elm Haven for a winter.  A Winter HauntingThere he will write a book about that memorable summer – the summer of 1960. He seems to want to revisit the past, perhaps to see how far back things had gone horribly wrong. Maybe the answers to his current problems are here in Elm Haven; here in the house. If the bullet had discharged from the gun he turned on himself, the wound he would have suffered would have been considered self-inflicted. In a way, what he experiences at the farmhouse is a self-inflicted haunting. If you dig for ghosts you just might find them. And Dale does.  The places in and around the farm house, the people he meets from his past, all of this is part of this self-inflicted haunting. Dale is romanticizing his past while at the same time – it scares the shit out of him.

It’s very difficult to describe this story without encountering spoilers.  There is some very interesting backstory surrounding this farm house, but I can’t get into that for fear of ruining parts of Summer of Night. It has an upstairs that is mostly sealed off from the rest of the house. Weird things occur beyond that plastic sealing! There is a basement with interesting books and devices.  There is something about one of these devices that comes as a shocker to Dale near the end of the story. Then there is the ghost that is most important to the story, but I cannot delve into it’s nature. This ghost is with Dale at the beginning, becomes more intertwined with his current state of affairs while he is at the house, and remains with him at the story’s end.

There is a lot of psychology at play in the book, although it is not always obvious. The overall scenario is a common one: a writer is alone with his or her thoughts trying to write a book, struggling with both fantasy and reality. We see this play out in The Shining.  This plays out in my book The Housesitter as well. But as the story unfolds, we the readers discover things that are uniquely Dan Simmons, such as his knowledge of ancient epics and religious myths.  This knowledge fits in remarkably well in what is otherwise a folksy down-to-earth tale.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is one of the bests of its genre.  You may want to give Summer of Night a read first, which is, admittedly, a long book.  But is you choose to pass on Summer of Night (And I don’t recommend skipping this book), please read A Winter Haunting. The story can be well understood without reading any previous books. Whatever you do, don’t miss it!