Saturday, June 14, 2014

Horror? Not so much

I can't even begin to apologize for neglecting the blog for so long. What can I say? I've been busily working on some stories I've mentioned before, so that, hopefully, I can release them soon for your (again, hopeful) reading pleasure.

Which leads me to the point of this post. I've recently read two popular or well-known horror stories that I wanted to discuss. The first is probably not so well celebrated as it is known, among literary types anyway. It's Henry James's Turn of the Screw. This is a novella published in 1898. My wife (an English professor whose focus is on Victorian literature) recommended I read it. She said it was a good ghost story. I value my wife's opinion because I seldom disagree with her. However, I must disagree this time.

This story centers around a governess who is charged with overseeing the care of two young children, a brother named Miles and his sister, Flora. During the months spent together, the governess begins seeing a male and female apparition. She suspects these are former employees of her employer who were suspected of disreputable actions and that they have shown up to negatively influence the children. In addition, the governess must deal with Miles's expulsion from school for an action she does not know. This leads to the tension between her and the children as she tries to keep away the nefarious spirits.

To me, it sounded okay, like it might be a good creepy read. Boy, was I wrong! First, I learned that James's writing style was not to my liking. Evidently, he enjoys long, complex sentences, full of commas to break up whatever he is attempting to convey, and cram in as much information as possible, leaving me forgetting the concept the sentence was trying to deliver by the time I reached the end. (See what I did there? Did you follow what I was saying?) Imagine that same type of sentence repeated again and again with more difficult vocabulary interspersed and you'll get a sense for how Henry James writes. When I turned to my wife and remarked about the cumbersome sentences, she mentioned that later in his career, this trait worsened! Really? Worse?

Writing style aside, the story itself fell horribly short of being scary. Instead, nothing scary happened. I think this was more a psychological study of the governess's mental state than it was a horror tale. I won't go into much detail about what I think the author was trying to convey because I don't want to ruin it for anyone who still wants to read it. I will say, however, that you shouldn't go into this story expecting legitimate scares or creepiness. I found it rather boring and tedious to wade through the prose.

The second book I read is well known and quite popular among fans of horror. It is Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. If you visit any popular forum where people routinely discuss books and ask for a recommendation for the scariest book to read, you will be hard-pressed NOT to see this book mentioned; this was my experience anyway. I'd seen it mentioned so many times on various book forums. Eventually, I thought, Why haven't I read this yet? So, I pulled it off the shelf at Barnes & Noble and read the blurb from The New York Times Book Review, which stated, "Makes your blood chill and your scalp prickle...Shirley Jackson is the master of the haunted tale". How could I turn down such a recommendation?

First, I'd like to recommend to the NYT Book Review to drug test their employees more frequently. Whoever wrote that blurb doesn't know their ass from their elbow because this book is not scary in the least. It had two ho-hum moments, but nothing we haven't seen done bigger and better since this book was written (which was 1959). While Jackson's writing was easy to digest the story was devoid of anything horrific (unless you consider Dr. Montague's wife scary, which would be rightfully so). The characters seemed unrealistic and were very narcissistic and/or juvenile; I couldn't care less for any of them. I think this story deals with social interaction more than it does supernatural. Again, a big let down!

If I were to recommend two books from similar time periods that I think are superior to these, I would encourage you to read Robert Chambers The King in Yellow from 1895, which is a collection of short stories; the first few center around a forbidden two-act play that is supposed to drive its readers insane.

The second book I'd recommend is A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson, written in 1958. This is a much better rendition of the creepy psychological/supernatural thriller, in my opinion.

If you're into creepy, psychological horror, then may I humbly recommend my own books too? Soon, I will be releasing a couple of books heavy on these themes. Stay tuned to this blog or my Facebook page for details. If you'd like to recommend a book you feel is worthy of attention, please leave it in the comment section as I'm always eager to hear from readers. As always, thanks for dropping by!