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The second collection of stories about Kyle Murchison Booth. It was available in a very, very limited edition as a fundraiser, so in order to get it you're going to have to either borrow it from somebody who has one, locate one of the libraries somebody bought one for, or pester the author to hope the author brings out another edition. I read [personal profile] sovay's copy. All four stories have, however, appeared in other places, so you could theoretically track them down individually and read them that way. And of course the first collection, The Bone Key, is readily findable.

So the awesome thing about Kyle Murchison Booth is that basically what Monette has done here is sat down and said 'so what if all of the subtext that could exist in a short story by H.P. Lovecraft were made explicit and worked with by the author and also did not suck?' Booth is your typical Lovecraftian protagonist, too literate for his own good, sickly, socially inept, working in a museum which keeps having uncanny bequests and acquisitions; also fundamentally a decent sort, but with some damaging assumptions and gaps of knowledge about both the world and the workings of his own heart. One of the stories in The Bone Key just breaks me, 'Elegy for a Demon Lover', the one about how there's losing your soul and then there's losing your soul, and it isn't an easy choice.

Being Booth, the three short stories and one novella in this collection are all at least good, although I find two of them minor compared to the other two-- 'The Yellow Dressing-Gown' is actually doing exactly what it appears to be on the surface, so it's fun but therefore something I've read, and 'The Replacement' is a completely reasonable little familial horrorshow but again, I feel as though I've seen this sort of thing before.

'White Charles', however, starts as one sort of story (and one I like, with a bit of a nod to Leiber's Our Lady of Darkness; you can make a lot of creepy things out of paper, out of books) and then turns into a different story entirely, one which is not remotely one I've read before and which is a lot more nuanced and ironic and both kind of hopeful and recognizant of the fact that Rome was not built in a day.

And 'The World Without Sleep' is not 'let's redo Lovecraft', it's 'let's redo Thomas de Quincey via The City of Dreadful Night', in that Booth gets swept out of his own world entirely and into one with angels who are not what you expect and vampires who are not what you expect and factories which aren't what you expect either, and I really hope she keeps going in this direction because seriously, this is such good writing, here is the first paragraph:

In the January that I turned thirty-five, sleep became a foreign and hostile country. I had never been more than what one might call a refugee in the country of sleep; one of my earliest memories is of my nurse telling me that if I did not go to sleep, the goblins would get me, and of waiting all that night for the goblins to appear. They did not, of course, but even so I am not sure that she was wrong.

If that does not both intrigue you and make you happy, then, well, I am sorry that we have such antithetical tastes in fiction. The economy and grace with which this sets up more of the rest of the story than you think it does is lovely.

I could be biased, mind you, I admit that freely, I will read anything with blind angels in it, I unironically like Barbarella for that reason, but I think this is genuinely good, and different both from the rest of the world generally and the rest of Monette.

So you're not going to be able to find the book, but 'The World Without Sleep' was in Postscripts 14, Spring 2008, and 'White Charles' has been anthologized in The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2010, so maybe that helps, and you really should track those two down. Hopefully we will get a bigger collection someday, and hopefully it will not be in too long a time.
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I don't read John Bellairs very often because of the thing that keeps happening with The Face in the Frost. This thing, which I will eventually learn to stop doing to myself, is that I remember that it has been a long time since I read The Face in the Frost, and that it is one of the great fantasy novels-- smart, funny, compassionate, knowledgeable about Renaissance magic-- and I start to reread it in circumstances which involve it being after dark, or being by myself in a strange city, and only then do I remember that it is also one of the two or three books which reliably scare me senseless, every single time. (The other two that I can think of are Fritz Leiber's Our Lady of Darkness, which will give you permanent scars if you are the sort of person who likes to keep books on the side of your bed, and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, which is simply uncopable.)

So the association of Bellairs with extreme grace and erudition but also spending the next two weeks looking twitchily over my shoulder has kept me from reading many of his kids' books, especially since the impression I tend to get from them is that all of the qualities, good and creepy alike, are somewhat toned down.

But I feel like it, every so often. I don't know why. Why do people read horror in the first place? That's a question a lot of critics have spent a lot of time on, and that no one is ever going to be able to answer fully and in a way which satisfies everybody.

One of the reasons I read horror, though, is that it's a genre that gives as much weight to history as I'd like to see it given. In many horror stories, it is perfectly true that the past is neither dead nor past, and there is also the lovely practice that many writers play with of making up cool-sounding academic things. Volumes of forbidden lore half made up and half really there in the library but nothing like so alarming, the infinite cross-references that writers who are in on the joke can make to each other... this sort of textual play is not nearly so traditional in other genres. And this particular volume of Bellairs, with its professor named for Roderick Random and its plot that comes damn close to actively paraphrasing M.R. James' 'The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral' but doesn't, quite, in little loving ways-- this book makes me happy.

It might make the rest of you, happy, too; the only thing I find somewhat mentally uncongenial about it is how incredibly, incredibly Catholic it is. John Dixon lives with his grandparents, since his mother's dead and his father's in the Korean War; the professor across the street tells him a ghost story that took place at their parish church, regarding the disappearance of a former priest there, and John finds a thing that priest left behind, with a note saying that whoever takes it out of the church is at risk of their soul. Of course you can guess what happens from there. I enjoyed the well-evoked fifties-working-class Massachusetts small town, and the way that everyone in John's life does care about him, and is trying to help him, and does sensible things, and yet. This is certainly the only book I've read in which a person who is haunted is sent to a psychiatrist and the psychiatrist saves his life by mistake, without knowing it, and through doing something which would reasonably affect both the haunted person's mental state and state of being possessed.

Competent, congenial, creepy as hell: John Bellairs all over. Now it will be another few years before I read any more of him.
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You may recall that I recently read Block's teenage werewolf novel, which was hilariously bad, and found out that she had written a teenage vampire novel. I got the vampire novel out of the library, and...

it's not bad.

I am as surprised as you are.

I mean, it's not, you know, a brilliant work of transcendent art that will last the decades or anything, and it is certainly not a book I would recommend to everybody, for reasons I'll go into below, but I was expecting it to be a train wreck, and it is a perfectly decent little novel.

The thing is, it combines two things that Block is genuinely good at: Los Angeles and prose so lush it's basically indigo. It's playing to her strengths, and what she's done here is used the essential melodrama of the vampire elements to ramp up the prose even further. The reason I don't think everyone would like this book is that it is so far over the top you can't even see the top anymore. Every element, every bit of lace and brand-name perfume, is so precisely more than it ought to be that the effect is one of careful calculation, and the quiet emotional notes underneath everything actually come through the artifice. It reminds me somewhat of Tanith Lee. It's like a painting so supersaturated it turns into chiaroscuro, and this is an approach I hadn't known I wanted somebody to take with a teenage vampire novel.

The protagonist, Charlotte, is a ninety-something teenage vampire who goes to high school because she's bored, of course, and of course there's a girl who was her best friend and committed suicide in mysterious circumstances, and that girl's boyfriend, who rides a motorcycle, and of course Charlotte's controlling maker is sniffing around again, and I don't even need to summarize all this because it's basically Twilight, only, and I would like to emphasize this point, without the terrible. The entire book is one long tightrope-walk of atmosphere and tone and it worked for me. Your mileage may vary, but I do think it is objectively well done.

Except. And this is a huge except, a bookbreaking except, an except of the sort that does actually make me quite reluctant to recommend the thing. There is a page and a half of this novel that is one of the worst mistakes I have seen a writer make in a book, and I can best summarize it this way: you do not put real historical atrocities in lightweight fiction, because the fiction will always break, always. And she didn't do sufficient research or grounding to make it even clear that she was trying not to be offensive, if she was, and it is distressing when a writer who is doing perfectly well at her research on the twenties fucks up 1945. I finished the book, because I was close to the end of it. Your mileage may also vary.

So: very much not what I was expecting; both better and worse, but not mockable.
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What an unexpected little book.

This is a novel that at first glance looks like (possibly mildly pretentious) fractured-narrative post-modernist metaphor, and then looks like one very specific subgenre of horror, and then looks like a different very specific subgenre of horror, and then turns all of those inside out and jumps up and down on them, while genuinely actually being each of them. And it's like a hundred and fifty pages long, too, so I am impressed at something that can do that in the length of time.

Also, it has some very cool and creepy stuff in it, discussing most of which would totally spoil the plot.

Miranda lives in Dover in the bed and breakfast her family runs; she and her twin brother are working at getting into university; she has pica, a medical condition wherein she wants to eat things that aren't food, such as chalk, plastic, and mud, so there's some concern about her health generally, and also her mother was just accidentally murdered and no one is coping. And the reasons behind every single one of those facts are... not what I was predicting.

The central conceit of this is also specifically political in a direction I was not expecting but do think works and have not seen done in that way before.

The main problem is that, well, the narrative is very fractured in a way that does read, especially at the beginning, as mildly pretentious, as though it took her a while to find the voice of the book. And some of the jumps and transitions read as artificial and very slightly forced, as though structure is being imposed on story rather than the other way round. But if you can get beyond that, this is disconcerting in a good way, and appears nebulous while actually being very tight. It reminds me most of Caitlin Kiernan's The Red Tree, and also a bit of House of Leaves, if that helps anyone. I recommend it, although not to non-horror readers, because this book is definitely trying to scare you, and there is a short chunk of it that did scare me, which almost never happens.

Hm. I am debating doing a spoiler-cut or possibly a separate spoiler entry, because really just about everything unique about this book should not be discussed without that, and I find that I've left out of this review the things I really liked. Trust me, they're there? I may come back and do that tomorrow, but I want to think about it a while longer.


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