On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Kelly Link’s, The Specialist’s Hat, a work that earned Link the World Fantasy Award in 1999. It is a literary mash-up of horror, fantasy and fairy-tale. Disturbing, strange and brilliant, The Specialist’s Hat is almost as fun to discuss as it is to read-and it calls to be read over and over and…
I checked out
six years ago. Long before my mother
had checked out too.
For me (I cannot speak for her) it was like standing in line at the register,
the one with a slow cashier.
There was a moment
-a moment , the importance of which I did not understand.
What’s a moment
after all? I made the choice and chose
the wrong line.
The slow line.
The line where the person behind me spurned
the notion of personal space
and had a cold
and was coughing
and didn’t know,
to cover her mouth
nor turn her head.
And she wanted me to move
ahead, out of her way.
So she pressed and pressed against the barrier I thought I built
around myself but dropped the day I was born
to my mother who checked out long before anyone, other than me,
So I stood in her-
not my mother’s but the woman’s standing behind me
Small liquid droplets
shot forth from her red,
pushing me forward into a direction
I thought I had no choice but to go.
What I should have done was leave:
the cart in the aisle,
the million silly things I thought I needed to do.
I should have left it all
and walked away.
But I did as I should.
I did as mother would
and checked out
six years ago.
On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk, I discuss one of Shirley Jackson’s lesser-known works, The Summer People. This story is classic Jackson, complete with angry villagers, outsiders and a house that just may be a couple’s undoing.
Of course, it’s impossible discuss Shirley Jackson’s work without talking about the author herself. Her relationship with her mother, her troubled marriage, her insecurities and addictions, her internal conflict over her dual roles as both homemaker and dark fiction writer-she channeled these struggles into the characters and themes that drive her narratives.
Jackson wrote in a style that, on the surface, is rather simple; her prose is clear and concise, yet at times disarmingly poetic. Until recently she was underrated as a writer in part because much of her work was classified as horror, a less esteemed genre than literary fiction. Jackson’s brilliance, however, is most evident in her ability to shed light on the darkness and frailty that lie within us all. Her protagonists are as disturbed as her angry villagers. Her settings are far less haunted than the people who inhabit them. Her characters behave in alarming and, at times, wicked ways, and yet you can’t help but hope they will be okay in the end…and usually they are not. In fact, in Jackson’s world, nothing is okay. It is a hostile place that is inhabited by lonely people who stand on the precipice of madness or death. She holds a mirror to her readers, reflecting our fears about ourselves and the communities in which we live. Despite this, her work is immensely entertaining to read. Jackson has fun placing her characters in peril, and you can be sure it gave her great pleasure to shake up her readers and make us uncomfortable. I would argue that if you don’t feel unsettled after reading Jackson, you haven’t enjoyed the full experience.
On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock. The story begins on Valentine’s Day, 1900. Students of Appleyard College for Young Ladies are going on an outing to Hanging Rock, an ancient volcanic rock formation and popular picnic site. During the trip, three of the girls and a teacher disappear. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a mystery, but is also a work rich in themes, addressing colonialism, repression and the spiritual and natural forces that cannot be controlled by man. This work is eerie and disturbing, and it’s backstory is as strange as the novel itself.
In this video, I explore how Lindsay’s interest in Spiritualism-she is said to have been a mystic herself-informed her writing of Picnic at Hanging Rock and how Lindsay’s training as a painter is evident in her use throughout the text of light and shadow which not only function symbolically but also create the hazy, dreamlike sense of place, one of the most powerful aspects of the novel. I also talk about the decision to omit the book’s final chapter and Peter Weir’s 1975 film adaptation of the novel.
I hope you enjoy this video. If you do, please like and subscribe to Strange & Scary Story Talk. Also, please leave comments. Let me know what you think about the novel, the film, the ambiguous endings of both….
Thank you for watching!
On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Clarice Lispector’s The Fifth Story. Although Lispector, one of Brazil’s most famous twentieth century literary figures, wrote mainly short fiction and novels, her work is deeply poetic, her manipulation of language and form a testament to her ingenuity and brilliance. Lispector’s work is dark and disconcerting. Most of her stories are about women engaged in mundane daily tasks; however, her writing is not about plot but the internal worlds of her characters – worlds that, when exposed by Lispector, reveal disturbing truths. The Fifth Story is no different. Ostensibly, it is about a woman killing cockroaches in her apartment, but it is so much more. Within the frame of seven paragraphs, Lispector retells the same story five times, ending in two sentences and the understanding that the story could continue. As for Lispector herself, she is as fascinating as her writing. Her brilliance, her glamour, her enigmatic personality created a mystique which endures today.
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One final note: Towards the end of the video I say that Gottfried Leibniz was a mathematician and philosopher of the eighteen hundreds. I meant to say sixteen hundreds (sixteen and seventeen hundreds to be precise). It was out of my mouth before I realized and there was no going back! The perils of recording! Wondering what Leibniz has to do with Lispector’s story? You’ll have to read it to find out!
There is a fine distance between myself and the robin.
There are seven yards.
There is the height of the branch.
There is the wall, and the window of my kitchen, the plate glass, the plaster, the brick.
There is my chair
And myself, perched upon it.
Me, still as the robin, enjoying this perfect, soft space
Where I can watch, unheard, unseen
Content with companionship from afar;
Content to observe, to know
Something other than myself, without myself being known;
Content to make this something part of me,
To live within my mind, my fantasies,
Allowing me to increase the distance
With a steady, slow retreat
Into a world away from this noise and hurt.
Just for today, let’s pretend all is well;
that once was, still is;
that a breeze blown from the right direction
can lift mountains
and carry shadows away into the night of another day.
Because, my love,
some things still are.
Some things still quiver under aging flesh.
Desire, though obscured by the burdens of time, still pulses.
Hope still begs to be seen
and light still shines
when your hand takes mine.
The world has gone still.
All are lost in the silence of unquiet minds.
But I am neither still nor quiet.
I stand in the deafening roar of this new work
delivered by the tide of strange upheaval
that has cast me onto the shore
of a place I do not recognize.
Tonight on Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Henry James’s exquisite short story, The Altar of the Dead. This beautiful and haunting tale is not only a meditation on death, betrayal, forgiveness and unconditional love, it is also a reflection of what haunted James himself at the time he wrote it. The Altar of the Dead demands careful reading, not because it is unnecessarily complex but because James was so generous in his crafting of the tale that you do not want to miss all he offers.
*Please note that James’s 1904 masterpiece was The Golden Bowl, not The Glass Bowl. Unfortunately by the time “glass” stumbled out of my mouth, it was too late to turn back.
If the ocean turned pink,
then it would be mine.
If the earth changed rotation,
it would be mine.
If the sparrows barked,
they would be mine.
And if the mice spoke,
they would be mine too.
If up became down and down up,
they would be mine.
And if sound became silence
and sight the blackness of night,
they would be mine.
If only I stayed silent.
If I had stayed silent
and the ocean turned pink
and the earth changed rotation
the sparrows barked
the mice spoke
and the universe turned itself inside out
and sound and sight disappeared
into the black void of an ancient catacomb
…if I stayed silent,
would it all be mine?
Surely, it would never be yours.