A category that covers all types of literary reviews including books, poetry and short stories.
This is an update of the post originally published on October 31, 2013.
What makes the good scary story? I always thought that ghost tales told around a fire or in a dark room pretty much covered the genre. That it would be the suspense and mind-boggling monsters that gave people nightmares.
‘The Blacksmith’ by Susan Shultz is about love, heartbreak, blood, and murder in graveyards. Spoiler: It was a great read, even for a grown up, scaredy cat like me.
Tales from the Graveyard
It wasn’t until I read “The Blacksmith“, that I thought about a different type of “scary story.” This one is more of a Dark or Gothic Romance. It relies on legitimate fears of loss and the flaws in human nature to make you feel uncomfortable. Don’t misunderstand — if you like blood, ghosts and sociopaths, “The Blacksmith” has that for you.
Honestly, I have never read a ‘horror’ story willingly. I only read this book because Susan is my friend and an excellent writer. If you’re willing to read something different (and quite good), I promise you’ll survive!
Suspense and Heartbreak in Suburbia
The main character, Ainsley is a librarian in a “sleepy New England town” by day and a friend to the dead in her backyard at night. Her favorite companion is the Blacksmith, despite his attempts to pull her away from her one real friend: Sam. Ainsley tells us that Blacksmith is a strong presence and reminds her that she belongs in the graveyard with him.
She acknowledges who she appears to be early on: a monster. Susan Shultz has a way of making something terrible sound so eloquent through a lonely woman’s eyes.
“My heart is dead. It does not beat. It died some time ago. It is dead, but it feels hunger, like a zombie. It lurches on, seeking heat, blood. Sometimes, it feels pain. The pain in my heart is the spot where a healed-over broken bone aches when it rains.”
In about 50 e-pages, the story reveals a character who feels love and heartache the way a person might describe feeling a ghost limb. She ignores it and tries to suppresses it with a deranged hobby — murdering men and eating their hearts.
What makes Ainsley such a great character are her flaws, but the question is whether it’s the blood on her hands or her loneliness that destroys her. With a character so extreme and seemingly disturbed, I could almost understand the reasons for her actions than another who is more introspective or talkative. What Ainsley does is almost an animal instinct due to her pain and a visceral reaction to something she is missing in life.
Susan is also able to write in other stories within Ainsley’s — those of the people in her graveyard. We learn about those who once inhabited her isolated house and who are now a part of her life.
In an interview with a local newspaper editor, Susan explains that the duality we see in Ainsley (between her terrifying deeds and her loving nature) are inspired from her own life. It’s worthwhile to read the whole story by David DesRoches here.
“Obviously I’m not a murderer, but there’s the one version of myself during the day that fits in, then there’s the one who is me that doesn’t really fit in.”
“It’s between what we struggle with and what we share with the outside world and who we really are,” [Susan] said.The e-book is available here and won’t take you more than an hour or so to read. The whole story is written well, but the ending will leave you wondering about Ainsley’s true nature, if not the motivations of all people.If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think.Follow Susan Shultz‘s author page on Facebook for updates. Order the second book from ‘Tales from the Graveyard‘, and third book ‘Dirt‘ on Amazon.If you’re looking for something classic and that will only disturb you slightly try “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, or pick up Susan’s inspiration — “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson.
Today would have been Zora Neale Hurston’s birthday. If you haven’t read anything by Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a good place to start.
I read this novel in high school and still remember the main character, “Janie Crawford”. She is born and lives in Eastonville, Florida. It’s where Hurston herself grew up and “the first incorporated African American settlement community in the United States,” according to its website.
Janie is a woman whose voice is stifled by her husband and her community. Only when she finds love does she feel that she can become herself. Hurston uses the metaphor of reaching toward the ocean’s horizon to represent what her character feels, but even that is used against her. It’s a story with a tragic ending, but you’ll enjoy the writing. Here’s the full quote from the image above:
It was all according to the way you see things. Some people could look at a mud puddle and see an ocean with ships. But Nanny belonged to the kind that loved to deal in scraps. Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon— for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you —and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter’s neck tight enough to choke her.
I’d recommend reading this book with some background information about Hurston’s life and community in the early 20th century. Let me know if you do!
On this day in 1960, the French-Algerian writer Albert Camus died in a car accident at age 46. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature only three years before “for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times”.
Camus is well known for his essay collections, such as “The Myth of Sisyphus”, and his novels “The Fall” and “The Stranger”. His work reflected his belief in the philosophical concept of “the absurd.” As an extension of existentialism, it maintained that human beings innately search for meaning in the universe but will never find any (hence, their search is “absurd”).
Don’t let that idea turn you away from Camus’ work. He believed that if we accept this fact, we are free to live our lives to the fullest and can find happiness.
- If I were to ever choose a favorite book, this one would be among the top contenders. The prose is eloquent and raw. It can be simple and complicated at the same time. (It’s extremely quotable.) Much of the story is told through twins — children trying to understand the way the world works, and later adults dealing with the repercussions of their earlier actions. “The God of Small Things” is set in Kerala, India in 1969. You’ll learn some things about the social culture at the time, with what Roy describes as the Love Laws: “That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.”
Here’s an extended quote from “The God of Small Things”:
“It didn’t matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secrets of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones that you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.
That is their mystery and their magic.”
This book has everything on from heartbreaking romance to philosophy on life. You won’t regret reading it.
There’s no doubt that life can be strange, difficult and confusing but Kurt Vonnegut —a veteran, writer and political dissident — knew that art has the potential to alleviate some of the burden. I’ve read interviews where he claimed that artists have little effect in the wider scope of the world but in his writing there are pearls of wisdom that can’t be written off.
It is fiction, Vonnegut wrote in one essay, that revealed the true nature of the world and current events. It is art, he wrote, that grows your soul. “So do it,” he urged in “A Man Without a Country.”
In an isolated moment from “Slaughterhouse-Five” an alien tells a human what life is really about. Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran, is transported in time and space to put his world into perspective. It’s a strange premise, but sometimes you need an extraterrestrial to tell you what’s what.
If you haven’t read anything by Kurt Vonnegut, I’d suggest reading this and “Cat’s Cradle.”
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I dropped Elsewhere by Richard Russo into the “return here” slot at my library the other day with some hesitation.
My shabby bookmark sat more than halfway to the end of Russo’s memoir but I really could not go on. It’s rare that I stop reading a book, even if I’m bored. I anticipate that it will get better, or that the end will be the redemption.
Perhaps it’s important that I rarely read memoirs. Russo’s life was plenty interesting — he detailed the struggle he faced with a mother who believed that they were one person and thus should always be together. It seemed that he was slow to realize, or unwilling, that his mother had dealt with real mental illness her entire life.
What drew me to the book initially, though I had only seen Russo’s name attached to the excellently edited “Best American Short Stories 2010”, was a NPR interview. It was exciting to wait for Russo’s book to become available at my local library. I like finding books that have familiar topics and might inspire me to write about my feelings on them. In this case, I thought I could empathize with having a close family member affected Alzheimer’s.
Perhaps if it was fiction. Perhaps if the writing style was different. I appreciated the push-and-pull of Russo’s relationship with his needy mother in a literary way. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to stick around until the end — I let go of the painful read before it was due back.
If anyone else takes a swing at this book, let me know. I’m curious about your take on Elsewhere. Share your experience in the comments section below.
Photo taken in the late 19th century by Matthew Brady // via Wikimedia.
Come, said my Soul
Such verses for my Body let us write, (for we are one,)
That should I after death invisibly return,
Or, long, long hence, in other spheres,
There to some group of mates the chants resuming,(Tallying Earth’s soil, trees, winds, tumultuous waves,)
Ever with pleas’d smiles I may keep on,
Ever and ever yet the verses owning – as, first, I here and now,Singing for Soul and Body, set to them my name,
On May 31, 1819, Walt Whitman — the American poet, Civil War nurse, and eyes of New York City — was born. Whitman’s goal was to write an American epic, to unite people in one vision at a time when the country was fragmented. Still, his quirkiness shines through, even by today’s standards.
When he first published “Leaves of Grass” in 1855, Whitman made no attribution to his name, but he had a portrait of himself on the front. He is an “American” poet not just for his place of birth, but for the sense of democracy that his poems create. His poems embrace conversation — with his readers, with strangers, with himself. He uses apostrophe, a literary technique, to speak to his own soul at times. He uses a capital S, like in the poem above. There’s something about the confidence in his words, and his need to reach out and touch. I’ve loved Whitman in all of his strangeness for a long time, because his poems make you feel that we’re all strange and in it together.
- Cancionilla del primer deseo
En la mañana verde,quería ser corazón.Corazón.Y en la tarde maduraquería ser ruiseñor.Ruiseñor.Alma,ponte color de naranja.Alma,ponte color de amorEn la mañana viva,yo quería ser yo.Corazón.Y en la tarde caídaquería ser mi voz.Ruiseñor.¡Alma,ponte color naranja!¡Alma,ponte color de amor!———————————-
Ditty of the First Wish
(translated by The Line Break blog)In the green morning,I want to be a heart.A heart.And in the mature afternoon,I want to be a nightingale.A nightingale.(Soul,transform to orange.Soul,become the color of love.)In the ripe morningI want to be me.A heart.And in the late night,I want to be my voice.A nightingale.Soul,[transform] to orange!Soul,become the color of love!Federico García Lorca