File under: if you can’t beat them, join them. I’m joining the snow. There’s no sense fighting it anymore. With that in mind, here’s a small list of lesser-known or less-obvious snowy tales well worth checking out.
In no particular order:
DARK MATTER, Michelle Paver. I’m a sucker for creepy stories, or any stories really, set in the arctic or antarctic. Snow and ice? Check. Beautiful and desolate isolation? Check. Spooky quiet and shadows on the ice? Check! I liked the epistolary approach and there are plenty of genuinely goose-bumpy moments. Mild complaints: the diary approach was ditched at the climax (cheating!) and the end was a bit rushed. But minor quibbles really. An excellent arctic ghost story.
PYM, Mat Johnson: Chris Jaynes is a professor of African American studies at a small white college, but is denied tenure because he won’t be the token black on the Diversity Committe and he wants to teach Edgar Allen Poe in an attempt to find the root of Whiteness. He finds a slave narrative that seems to prove Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is a fictionalized account of true events. Jaynes then takes a small, all African American crew down to Antartica to search for the lost island of Tsalal (a lost island of black people desrcibed by Poe in PYM). They get waylaid by Poe’s white Yeti-monsters instead! Part biting social and racial commentary, part satire/comedy, part adventure/horror story, part academic treatise, PYM is an utterly original novel. One so original, it shows there might just be some hope for big publishing. PYM is brilliant, brazen, fearless, angry, funny, weird, and totally unlike anything else you’ve read.
THE CREEP, John Arcudi, Jonathan Case: Poignant and haunting comic about a detective who suffers from a physical deformity that appears in mid-life.
YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE, YOUR CHILDREN ALL GONE, Stefan Kiesbye: Gashlycrumb tinies crossed with Chuck Palahniuk/Craig Davidson. A novel of interconnected tales of monstrousness, depravity, desperation in a small, incestuous German town. Clinical though oddly beautiful narrative style. The best stories within the larger story were truly unsettling and creepy. While the shock end of each chapter grew a tad bit repetitious and the lack of distinction between the first person narrators was an issue, for a book about the non-supernatural gruesome/shock (of which there are plenty), the novel was impressively restrained with what it didn’t show and let linger in the imagination. One of the more disturbing books I’ve read in recent memory. This one has stuck with me.
AVAILABLE DARK, Elizabeth Hand: Punk photographer Cass Neary of the brilliant Generation Loss (which you should go read now, right this second, if you haven’t done so already) is back. Neary dives headlong into the violent underground world of Norwegian black metal when she’s hired to authenticate macabre photos that a famous fashion photographer is selling to a mysterious bidder. Hand’s prose is impeccable, as always. The story is tight and fast. And for you horror types, with all the talk of gruesome murders, old gods, and the near-apocalyptic landscape of Iceland, you can all but forget the cover calls it a “crime” novel.
ESSEX COUNTY, Jeff Lemire: Essex County is a tiny community in Ontario, Canada (and it’s where The Nobody was set as well). Three main stories deal with family issues that span decades and generations. The first story is about a super-hero obsessed little boy (who wears a mask and cape, and is bullied) raised by a distant and gruff uncle, finds secret companionship with a “slow” local. The second is about an older man reliving his estranged relationship with his brother while being forced into a nursing home. The third focuses on the nurse who cares for the old man, how she copes with the secrets of the town’s past and present. Again, like The Nobody, desperation mixes with a quiet dignity, and the stories filled with genuine emotion. Impressive stuff.
ONE DAY THE ICE WILL REVEAL ALL ITS DEAD, Clare Dudman: Haunting account of a doomed Greenland exploration by German scientist Alfred Wegener. I love this book.