The horror, the horror

What is going on with the world? England leaving the EU? Colombia’s peace talks successful (this is obviously a good, amazing thing, but will it work)? Orlando attacks? This Saturday I sat in on some free community writing workshops taught by two wonderful PhD colleagues, at the library where I work, and one of them told me that there was a man at the library entrance patting people on the shoulder congratulating them on England’s liberation. This poem I read on twitter by Audre Lorde has been really getting to me:

IF YOUR NAME IS ON THE LIST

If your name is on the list of judges
you’re one of them
though you fought their hardening
assumptions went and stood
alone by the window while they
concurred
It wasn’t enough to hold your singular
minority opinion
You had to face the three bridges
down the river
your old ambitions
flamboyant in bloodstained mist
You had to carry off under arm
and write up in perfect loneliness
your soul-splitting dissent
Yes, I know a soul can be partitioned like a country
In all the new inhere old judgments
loyalties crumbling send up sparks and smoke
We want to be part of the future dragging in
what pure futurity can’t use
Suddenly a narrow street a little beach a little century
screams Don’t let me go
     Don’t let me die Do you forget
     what we were to each other

O, what to do… I’ve been telling myself that losing myself in horror novels is not only helping me with my dissertation, but with coping with the world in general.

Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin)

Great suspenseful story. I would definitely teach this to undergrads as an example of a tightly plotted book that fills you with well-planned dread. I wish the guy with missing fingers (who shows them the apartment) had been in the movie. It was the kind of unsettling detail that made this book such a pleasure to read (Rosemary’s craving for raw, red meat was my other favorite).

It was interesting to notice how closely the film and book were related (even in terms of the characters’ wardrobe). It was also interesting to consider how so much of the story depends on Rosemary’s perspective: on her naivitie and essential goodness as a character, and how that becomes a kind of downfall at the end as she decides that instead of throwing herself out the window with her child, she is going to be a “good” mother. So much of the book is people telling Rosemary what to think and what to do. Is this final gesture at the end the closest thing she expresses as agency? Her point of view is also crucial to the story as it’s also what generates suspense in the narrative: we know more than she does, and are with her every step of the way as she figures it out. A valuable writing lesson.

The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty)

I wasn’t crazy about this book but it was hard to tell if that was simply because I’d seen the movie first (like most people) and found the visual way it represents horror a lot more nightmarish and impacting. The main thing I have to say about this book/film is that I will never forgive my middle school religion teacher for screening this for us–what the HECK were you thinking??

There were a few bits of this book that I didn’t find compelling to read (the looooong dialogue scenes at the beginning between the mother and the director; wise choice of the movie to cut these out. I guess in the book they were meant to set up his character more). There was also that weird subplot about the Swiss butler’s drug addicted club-footed daughter that was like… ok, I can see why the movie cut that too. I did like reading the priest’s research into all the different black masses and satanic rituals throughout history (how much of it is historically based? Crazy that most of the rituals basically sound like insane orgies).

It’s interesting that so much of this book + movie is about people doing things to Regan’s body, particularly in the medical diagnosis scenes. A classic horror motif, I suppose: obsession with the abjection of young women + girl’s bodies. I also found an interesting parallel between The Exorcist and 2666’s desecration scenes. In The Exorcist the question about who is committing the desecration is clearly linked to the other mysteries at the heart of the novel (who is possessing Regan? Who killed Burke Dennings?)–the answer to these questions are all the same: the demon is the one responsible. In 2666, though, the desecration of the church serves as a distraction to the main mystery of the novel.

All in all, this was a fun read. The crucifix scene is WAY more graphic than in the movie (thank goodness they didn’t film THAT…).

The Loney (Andrew Michael Hurley)

This was an extremely atmospheric, moody horror (gothic…?) novel that I enjoyed reading very much–definitely my kind of “fun” summer read. It’s full of deeply creepy moments, like when an ancient jar shatters, only to reveal it’s full of fingernail clippings and matted wads of hair. The North of England setting is brilliantly described (and coming from someone who tends to skim over descriptive passages, that really means something). Creepy details constantly make us nervous throughout: a girl’s face glimpsed through a window, words scratched in the wall, trees blooming before their time, stories of the Devil’s long ago visit, beheaded effigies found in the wood.

The plot is also brilliantly set up: a withdrawn young boy travels with his family and other congregation members to visit a Catholic shrine, in the hope that it will cure his brother’s muteness. A well-done epilogue lets us know that in the future, the brother will be an infamous Christian orator. And so that becomes the main question that drives the reading experience, the thing that makes us keep wanting to turn the pages: how does his brother regain his speech? And what are the consequences?

Books like this help because they’re not just a fun distraction, they also make me feel like I’ve learned something. So do live PJ Harvey concerts. In the meantime… I’m going to keep reading, keep writing, keep planning.

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