Friday, October 23, 2009
Since July, I've contributed but two book columns to The Chronicle. The first covered new novels by Lev Grossman and Richard Kadrey, plus a graphic novel written by Ian Rankin, creator of the Inspector Rebus mysteries. I wholeheartedly recommend the first two and was less than impressed by Rankin's interpretation of one of my favorite comics characters, John Constantine.
Earlier this month the paper ran my round-up of recent kids'/YA books of note. I covered the latest from Kage Baker, John Connolly and Laurence Yep. All three are good, but Connolly's is the stand-out, I think.
I should have plenty to post in November. I'm doing full-length reviews of John Irving's "Last Night at Twisted River,"Michael Crichton's posthumous "Pirate Latitudes" and Stephen King's "Under the Dome," as well as another round-up featuring new releases from Iain M. Banks, Anne Rice and Peter Straub. Plus, I'll be doing some kind of version of my "holiday books/best of the year" column.
And still the books keep coming...
Saturday, October 17, 2009
So, here are five more horror novels – from the 1970s and early '80s -- that can make your Halloween that much creepier. They may, however, take a certain amount of effort to track down. I live in a place blessed with great bookstores and libraries, and few of these selections were readily available in the obvious outlets.
1. The Auctioneer by Joan Samson
Set in small-town rural New Hampshire, the novel focuses on John and Mim Moore, farmers struggling to look after their young daughter and John's elderly mother. When new auctioneer Purly Dunsmore comes to town, folks are happy to drag junk out from their cellars, attics and barns and donate them for a sale said to benefit the local police. But as the weeks drift by, Purly and his friends on the force become more demanding in their requests for donations, and soon John and Mim find themselves making sacrifices they truly can't afford.
"The Auctioneer" is Samson's only novel. She died of cancer before the book became a best-seller in paperback. But it's a very accomplished first effort – astute in its understanding of mob dynamics and the lure of conformity. If you've read Stephen King's "Needful Things," you can see Samson's clear influence on him.
I originally read "The Auctioneer" as a high school junior and didn't see anything scary in it at all. Then I re-read it near the end of George W. Bush's seemingly never-ending second term and thought, "Oh, yeah. Now I get it."
2. The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein
When I got out of college and was rummaging around for a career, I thought T.E.D. Klein had the coolest job in the universe as the editor of "Twilight Zone" magazine. I've since learned that years of reading slush pretty much extinguished his enthusiasm for horror fiction, but those are the breaks, I guess. "The Ceremonies" is his only novel, but it's a good one.
An expansion of his novella, "The Events at Poroth Farm" (recently reprinted in the very fine "American Fantastic Tales," edited by Peter Straub), "The Ceremonies" follows academic Jeremy Friers as he leaves
"The Ceremonies" isn't an easy read. It's overlong, repetitive and the characters are all rather chilly and unpleasant. But Klein nails the sense of dread that can be elicited in the face of raw nature, where human intelligence doesn't mean much of anything. (The book also includes one of the nastiest felines in the genre.) The more you're familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, the more you'll take away from "The Ceremonies."
3. All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris
I haven't recently re-read this gonzo Southern gothic by the author of "The Fury," but it certainly made an impression on me. Not very many novels open with a wedding scene in which a good portion of the participants either go insane or are decapitated with a military saber.
"All Heads…" is about the slave trade and a legacy of terror that extends from
As a bonus, the Tor paperback edition features one of my favorite covers, boasting an Ann-Margret lookalike as a bosomy snake-goddess!
4. The Other by Thomas Tryon
Along with ""The Exorcist," Thomas Tryon's "The Other" ranks as one of the most popular horror titles in the period between Ira Levin's "Rosemary's Baby" and Stephen King's "Carrie." It may be the best "freaky twins" novel ever published.
Tryon was an actor before turning his hand to fiction. (Apparently it was the tyrannical Otto Preminger who provided the last straw that made Tryon dump his
5. Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
Stephen King provided the essay about "Burnt Offerings" in the original "Horror: 100 Best Books," edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. He ranks Marasco's book just below Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" in the "haunted house novel" sweepstakes. That seems a fair assessment.
Eager to get out of the city, the Rolfe family – Ben,
The horror in "Burnt Offerings" is the quiet kind. As the house begins to mysteriously regenerate itself, the Rolfes always have the option of leaving. But even when the worst things happen, they fail to do so. If "The Auctioneer" is a fable about the dangers of letting go of what's valuable, "Burnt Offerings" is a cautionary tale about being imprisoned by what's not essential.