Wednesday, September 26, 2007

No Macabre Intentions

In keeping with yesterday's entry about horrifying disfigurements, here's the story of a guy whose amputated leg was found in a barbecue smoker purchased from a storage facility.

John Wood lost his leg in a plane crash in 2004, and since then the limb has been kept in a refrigerator, hung out to dry on a front porch and then packed off to the storage facility when Woods was homeless for a while.

Wood wants to have the leg buried with him when he passes on. He says he put it in the smoker because "I didn't have anything else to secure it in. There were no macabre intentions."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Blues for Charlie No Face

Jeff Kay, proprietor of the West Virginia Surf Report, linked to a newspaper report of a bizarre kidnapping plot that involves one Robert Wayne "No Nose" Gardner. Gardner does, indeed, have no nose, having lost it in some sort of firearms mishap.

In the comments, a loyal Surf Reporter mentioned a legendary figure from western Pennsylvania known as Charlie No Face, and someone else provided a link to story about the real person behind the legend. (Warning: The accompanying illustration is pretty damn disturbing.)

Raymond Robinson was eight years old when he touched a high-voltage trolley wire and burned off most of his facial features. That's the kind of tragedy that makes you wonder whether there's any order at all in this pitiless cosmos. But according to this account at least, Robinson found some way to maintain his sanity and even his good humor. His life wasn't easy by any means, but it had its pleasures, including long noctural walks alone along the road.

Those walks along the higway made him a local phenomenom, one that would draw crowds of teenage gawkers to see "Charlie No Face." Some who encountered him were kind, though many were not. Gradually, Robinson morphed into an urban legend, the Green Man, a mysterious figure with skin tinted green from some kind of industrial accident.

Robinson died in 1985. People still talk about the Green Man. So Robinson lives on as folklore. He paid a mighty high price for it, though.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Charlie Huston's "The Shotgun Rule"

I'm not quite sure how I discovered Charlie Huston. I think I was sent a copy of his second novel, "Six Bad Things," and noticed the blurb from Peter Straub on its cover. A recommendation from Straub holds weight with me, so I took the time to find Huston's first book, "Caught Stealing." It blew me away with its non-stop action, bitter humor and hapless protagonist, Hank Thompson.

In 2005, I reviewed "Already Dead," the first installment of his Joe Pitt vampire/detective series, in The Chronicle. It's pretty good, even though I don't believe that vampires and detectives are two great tastes that taste great together.

Now comes Huston's first stand-alone book, "The Shotgun Rule," and it's another winner. A stolen bicycle is the catalyst for a showdown between four disaffected East Bay teenagers and a family of crank manufacturers. Before they're through with each other, there will be bloodshed, torture and terrible revelations about themselves and their loved ones.

"The Shotgun Rule" guns its engine from page one. All you can do as a reader is hang on and trust that Huston will deliver you home in one piece.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


A few Stoppard-related links that have been hanging around for a while:

John Barry has written a very amusing piece for The Smart Set about the perils of reviewing community theater in general and a production of "Hapgood" in particular.

David Finkle reviews the Boomerang Theatre Company's production of "Stoppard Goes Electric," featuring three of the author's early television plays.

The International Herald Tribune picks up Ben Brantley's story from the New York Times about three Great Old Men of the Theater: Albee, Foote and Stoppard.

In the New Zealand Herald, Shannon Huse reviews the silo theatre's production of "The Real Thing."

A St. Louis production of "Dogg's Hamlet/Cahoot's Macbeth" fails to impress Dennis Brown of the Riverfront Times.

Friday, September 07, 2007

History Repeating

The semi-retired Lynn Johnston has pushed her strip halfway into its cryogenic chamber, freezing the cast at their current ages while allowing them to reminisce ad nauseum about their "best of" moments. And what's among the first things of which we're reminded?
That nobody in the Foobiverse knows anything about birth control!
I never knew that Michael Patterson was a "surprise." But his younger sister, late-in-life baby April, certainly wasn't planned. And Michael's spawn were both "whoops" events, even though his spouse is a pharmacist who has at least heard of barrier methods. (Liz Patterson may be the product of an early experiment in in vitro fertilization, but don't quote me on that.)
Johnston's depiction of reproduction in modern marriage strikes me as a tad creepy. The husbands are seed-slinging doofuses who don't have a clue that they might actually, well, mate with their mates. The women are either lazy/forgetful or downright manipulative. None of these couples seem to have sat down and actually discussed family planning.
Oh, wait, Granthony browbeat Therese into producing a daughter to bless their spite-filled union. And we all know how well that turned out.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The "Ghosts" of Joe Hill

Earlier this year, I reviewed Joe Hill's "Heart-Shaped Box" for The Chronicle. I thought it was a particularly strong first novel, a straight-ahead, old-fashioned horror tale with a couple of neat, contemporary twists.

Because six months haven't passed since my last article about Hill, I won't be covering his next release, the short story collection "20th Century Ghosts." Which is too bad, because it's in many ways more impressive than "Heart-Shaped Box." The novel delivers what the reader of popular entertainment craves: compelling characters, narrative drive, a couple of don't-look-now set pieces. "2oth Century Ghosts" offers a much more troubling bundle of goods.

"20th Century Ghosts" will be released in October by William Morrow, but it was originally published in England by PS Publishing. Some of the stories have been reprinted in various "Best of..." anthologies and have won various major awards. So I don't feel like I'm spilling any beans by talking about it before its U.S. laydown date.

The title story riffs on the old "haunted cinema" set-up, "Best New Horrors" explicitly plays with time-worn genre cliches and "Last Breath" evokes Bradbury or Beaumont in their darker moods. But some of the stories are completely unlike anything else you've ever read. What are you supposed to make of "Pop Art," the story of an inflatable boy, or "My Father's Mask," in which a kid is taken on one of the worst vacations imaginable? It's clear from almost the start where the novella "Voluntary Commital" is headed, and yet it still ends up being surprising and affecting.

Because I wasn't under deadline, I read this volume in leisurely fits and starts over the course of two months, and I was always glad to get back to it, always shocked and gratified by what it offers.

Hill doesn't like to play up his literary pedigree, but it has to be said that "20th Century Ghosts" is as strong a collection as Stephen King's "Night Shift." Individually, Hill's stories remind me more of the work of Peter Straub, though, and that's high praise from me.