In the waning weeks before school starts up again, each summer I get into an almost panicked reading mode. I have to read as many books as I can before school starts, as if I’ll never be able to read again!!! If I were to step back and be rational about the end-ish of summer (which I can’t, sorry; it looms heavy and large), I’d remember that I still actually read quite a bit during school as well. But let’s not quibble. To the books!
Shortish and weird version: I love this book. If I were a tattoo person (by which I mean a person who gets tattoos, not a literal tattoo person, imprisoned in someone else’s skin), I’d want this book tattooed on my body, but a 3D style tattoo, which would look weird (and would probably look like a growth or a goiter), I know, but I can’t help how I feel!
Longer version: This book is another lesson in there being no absolutes in “things I don’t like” statements, at least when it comes to art. A lesson I’m happy to continually learn (as I learned with The Last Werewolf). So, I usually don’t like circus stories, a trope used in many a bad horror story/novel. I have also uttered the phrase “I can’t stand steampunk” multiple times, out loud, even saying it once in front of Genevieve only hours after having met her. Foot in mouth and personal tastes notwithstanding, Mechanique is a brilliant novel.
The circus troup Tresulti (complete with strong man, aerialists, and more, including them once having a winged-man) travels a war-ravaged landscape, their shows equal parts beauty, wonder, menace, and unease. Most of the performers have been brutally rebuilt with copper bones and other metal parts (all of which become integral extensions of the characters and the story) by the mysterious circus ringleader Boss (she of the large griffin tattoos on her arms). The latest/greatest attempt at government wants to use Boss’s talents to create super soldiers, to help bring back the old world, a world that Boss was once a part of and secretly longs for. But that’s really only one of the many threads of the story. The interplay of all the characters, their motivations and desires, is brilliantly done. The short chapters from various points of view, tenses, and styles acts as an extension of the circus itself and all its myriad bits. Part of the magic of this gothic, dark, wildly imaginative book is that Genevieve has somehow managed to create an incredibly complex story that is still, I think, quite accessible. Certainly unforgettable. Go read it right now.
Revenants by Daniel Mills:
Like Mechanique, this another first novel.
I’m getting sick of talented authors and excellent first novels.
Revenants takes place in late 1600s New England, in a small, isolated town of Cold Marsh. Three women have disappeared and the minister and most residents fear the devil is loose in the surrounding woods. Old sins (individual and societal) return to haunt each of the inhabitants. Mills has the patience to slowly build the large cast of characters toward a climax that is both inevitable and still shocking. If not for some of the harsher, more violent details that emerge (that Mills wisely choose to not gloss over and show the reader), this read like a book that easily could’ve been written during Hawthorne’s time. An atmospheric, pensive, and impressive debut novel by Mills.
The Sundial by Shirley Jackson:
What a wonderfully weird, creepy, funny book, with such an oddball cast of characters. The plot is pretty simple: an aristocratic family believes the world is going to end on August 30th, and only people within the Halloran family homestead will survive the apocalypse and be reborn to paradise. Mrs. Halloran, the controlling, overbearing matriarch is the star of the novel. Her wit, cruelty, and vulnerability shines on every page. It’s a twisted novel of manners, really. And it’s not at the same time. I guess. Yeah. Can’t say I’ve ever read a book quite like The Sundial.
Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory
A collection of 40 flash fiction pieces. Similar to Etgar Keret’s work, though a bit more minimalistic in its approach, the best stories here start with a striking image or surrealistic premise and offers enough of a glimmer or hint at the bigger picture that the reader can fill in the blanks, the possibilities, her/himself. Some stories recall the urban legends of youth, with a delicious twist at the end. The stories that stick around with you longer, though, like “The Octopus” (an octopus living in the big city is visited by his newphews) speaks to the larger, sometimes darker, but still sweetly hopeful universe of the human heart. I’m making my soon to be 11-year-old son read the collection as we speak (we are speaking; don’t quibble with me).
The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock:
All right. Another brilliant first novel. Sigh.
Like his short story collection, Knockemstiff, this novel is set in and around down-and-out rural Ohio, and follows the lives of a compelling set of damaged, depraved, and desperate characters. One of the threads follow a husband and wife team of serial killers who travel the country on summer vacations, picking up hitchhikers. Another thread details Willard Russell, a WWII vet, and his struggle to save his dying wife by making blood sacrifices to the prayer log, and what that does to his only son Arvin. There are more characters and it all fits together, and everything is bleak and in it’s own way, grotesquely beautiful.
Cropsey is a documentary about the dovetailing of urban legends, a disgraced mental institution, and a handful of children who go missing on Staten Island in the 70s and 80s.
The filmmakers grew up on Staten Island and retell with a charming nostalgic whimsey the urban legends of a crazed killer stalking the woods in and around the Willowbrook State School (institution) that they’d heard as kids. Starting with this almost innocent framework of the urban legend of the local psycho, quickly descends into the very real madness and tragedy of the truly deplorable conditions of Willowbrook, an exploration of the deeply deranged suspect Andre Rand (who may or may not be guilty as there is a stunning lack of physical evidence), and the still unknown fates of many of the missing children, the desperate rumors (satanism?) and search for answers within a community. A deeply affecting movie.
So it was like my 40th time watching, but I got to see it on the big screen at the beautiful Somerville Theatre. I think I could write a book on the movie. Heck, I think I could write a book on the let’s-drink-compare-scars-and-let-Quint-tell-us-about-the-Indianapolis scene by itself. And I’ll do it at any reputable publisher’s request!
Anyway, sharky fun was had. I saw the movie at 11am, so it wasn’t as crowded as say a midnight viewing would’ve (next year, for sure). But there was one older dude who sat left, front row. He clapped at the appearance of Chief Brody and Quint. He hissed at Dryfuss’s Hooper. Hooper! Why? Then he fell asleep for most of the movie, and woke up in time to see the shark get all blown up (sorry for the spoiler). He hissed that too.
Who hisses at movies anymore? I’m thinking it might be worth bringing back.
And I still can’t watch Quint get bit in half. I closed my eyes. Next time, I’ll close my eyes and hiss.