Monday, May 23, 2011

5 - Stephen Graham Jones' The Ones The Got Away

Remember that feeling you got when you first read Ray Bradbury's The October Country or maybe Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, thinking, 'Oh man, I need to tell someone about this  right now!'?   That want-to-shout-it-from-the-mountaintops feeling and wanting to find someone else who's read the same thing so you can talk about how great it is, be part of some club of people who just know?  I've had that experience with a handful of things - being 11 and seeing The Thing with my brother, Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, the Hill collection mentioned above.  If I'm lucky I get this feeling every couple of years, but usually it's longer than that.  But then the last couple of days?  Oh man.  Stephen Graham Jones' The Ones That Got Away has just slaughtered me, giving me that 'holy shit' feeling that resulted in  calls to old friends to say, 'Seriously, go buy this, now'.  I was pulled between wanting to rush through the stories fast because they're that damn good, and wanting to slow down because when I was finished, that was it.  Still, three days.  And I'm going to reread it in a couple of weeks.  I missed stuff, I know, rushing through and all, but it couldn't be helped.

I'm bad at reviewing and whatnot, so I'll put it this way - every one of these stories surprised me in a way I didn't think I could be surprised anymore.  I remember reading John Langan's (great) collection Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters and physically feeling fear in a couple of the stories, and thinking it had been so long since writing had done that for me.  But it was all back again in TOTGA, "Raphael" and "Crawlspace", definitely - the last two pages of those stories are a part of my DNA now, for better or for worse.  I finished "Crawlspace" at eleven last night in a quiet house and was in no state of mind to go downstairs to let the dog out.  And the contained storytelling mastery in "Father, Son, Holy Rabbit", "Wolf Island", and the title story...you just know you're dealing with something special here.

I'm so hyped about this collection that I'll give you something to roll your eyes at - this might be the best collection of short stories I've ever read.  It'll take some time - always needed to declare something an A1 Favorite, right? - but I'm excited as hell to return to and see how these stories are for me on second reading.  Because if it's anything like the first time - and my gut tells me it'll be close - man, oh man.  Go buy it here.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

4 - A Story Sale and Some Book Reviews

First, a quick thing about me - I wrote "Plink" two (maybe three) years ago.  It's always been my favorite of my short stories.  I sent it off to  Cemetery Dance where it proceeded to sit waiting for a thumbs up or thumbs down for two years.  Finally, my iritation and impatience got to me and I entered it in the short story contest run by the World Horror Convention in Austin last month.  And I lost.  And I was pissed.  But then Nick Kaufmann, one of the judges, pulled me aside and said how much he enjoyed the story and to get it back out there.  When I got home, I pulled some favors and got the okay to send it off to Pete Crowther at Postscripts.  He bought it the next day.  Can't beat that.  It'll either be published in the winter of this year or spring of next year.  Can't wait.

And now, what I've been reading:

Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism by David Nickle
Chizine Publication's parade of excellent books continues with Nickle's Eutopia.  Unsettling, original, and surprising, Eutopia is...hell, I'm terrible at explaining books in a way that makes them sound interesting.  Here, I'll cheat - this is from Chizine: "The year is 1911.  In Cold Spring Harbour, New York, the newly formed Eugenics Records Office is sending its agents to catalogue the infirm, the insane, and the criminal—with an eye to a cull, for the betterment of all."  And that's all I knew when I started reading, thinking, "eugenics, cool topic", then Nickle comes out of left field with this thing (maybe not the best word for it, but you understand my point), Mister Juke and I realized the novel I had in my hands sure as hell wasn't what I expected.  Love when that happens.  Nickle's a damn fine writer and Eutopia is a damn fine novel.

The Samaritan by Fred Venturini
I met Fred in Austin a few weeks ago at the World Horror Convention.  Gotta tell you, the guy is nuts.  In a good way, but nuts.  He was talking with Paul Tremblay and Stephen Graham Jones at the time, and he handed me a free copy of his book.  I dragged him up to a party on the fourth floor where he talked about being stabbed and set on fire, then made a bunch of "your mom" jokes.  My friend John Mantooth pulled me aside and said, "Who is this guy?"  I said, "Fred."  So when I started The Samaritan, I had no idea what to expect, was even a bit hesitant.  But man, oh man, this guy can write.  What starts off as "outcast in high school falls in with a cool guy who takes him under his wing" turns into a bizarre novel of organ regeneration and the drive to do good by people.  Venturini is obviously influenced by Chuck Palahniuk a good bit, but I have to tell you, this book has more heart and rings truer than Palahniuk's stuff.  Looking forward to more from Venturini.

Last Days by Brian Evenson
Guess I'm a little late to the party on this one since it came out last year and was all the rage.  Still, am glad I found out about Last Days now.  Amputees, detective noir, and a great quantity of dark humor.  Loved it.

In the Woods by Tana French
Well-written, interesting, funny, and ultimately a massive letdown.  How in the world did an editor allow French to end this novel the way she did?  The book has two mysteries in it - one from the main characters past when he was a child and a current one from when he is a police detective - and only one of them is solved.  Ridiculous.  I think it was Mickey Spillane who said the first chapter sells the book, the last chapter sells the next book.  In this case, I won't be buying another of French's novels.  I just can't trust her to deliver.  Too bad, too.

Good People by Marcus Sakey
My friend Michael Cook had been telling me for a year now to read Sakey's stuff.  I finally relented and picked up Good People.  Truth be told, I was dubious.  I've read a handful of "good people finding bad money" novels before.  What could Sakey do that others hadn't?  Fortunately, the answer is 'a lot'.  Sakey's novel is filled with dread.  I really wanted these people to get away with their lives in tact, probably the best compliment I can give it.  I'll definitely be hunting down other Sakey novels.