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Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

January 4, 2016 2 comments

cover_birdboxSummary:
Malorie thought the hardest thing she was going to have to face was dealing with her pregnancy and impending single motherhood.  She thought the warnings about seeing something that makes you go crazy and become violent was just the news blowing things out of proportion, or at least just hysteria.  Her sister believed in it, but not herself.

But that was all years ago, and now Malorie is alone in a house with her two children. Children who have never been outside without blindfolds on. She only leaves the house blindfolded, tapping the ground with a stick to find the well.  But now it is time for her to be brave and to take a boat on the river, just she and her two children, blindfolded, in the hopes of finding salvation.

Review:
I was drawn to this book for two reasons.  First, the mere thought of a mother and two young children boating down a river blindfolded had me intrigued.  Second, it’s set in Michigan, which is where my husband is from, and honestly I can’t recall the last time I saw a book set in Michigan.  These two elements came together to tell me this book is probably unique.  So when I saw the kindle version on sale on Amazon, I snatched it up.  What I found was a chilling tale that could easily fit within the Lovecraft mythos.

The order the story is told in helps build the suspense and keeps it from being a same old apocalypse and survivors’ tale.  The book opens with Malorie and her two children living alone in the house.  It opens post-apocalyptic.  Through flashbacks we learn various things such as who used to live in the house with Malorie, why there are certain parts of the house she doesn’t like to go to, and why neither she nor the children leave the house without blindfolds on.  From here, the reader is then taken forward into Malorie’s action onto the river, going down it trying to find a safe haven of other survivors that she knows used to be there years ago.  It’s a nice combination of flashback and plot progression forward that keeps the suspense interesting.

It is no spoiler to say that what caused the apocalypse is something that causes people to go stark raving mad when they see it.  This is included in the official book blurb.  What was interesting to me was how Malerman kept this from being purely straight-forward. Some characters believe in the mysterious creatures right away, others don’t.  Some think that merely believing it will cause you to go crazy makes you go crazy.  Some think that some are affected and others aren’t.  Some wonder if animals are affected too, and no one knows where the creatures came from or, if you don’t believe in the creatures, how the phenomenon started.  The lack of clear-cut answers reflects reality.  In general, with large-scale catastrophes, it’s hard to know exactly what happened or what is going on.  This lack of knowing made the situation read as real, even if the exact situation is an absurd sounding one at first.

I was also struck by how well Malerman wrote a female version of experiencing the apocalypse.  Malorie is both focused on surviving for herself and her baby but also distracted from the apocalypse because she is having normal hormonal reactions to pregnancy.  Similarly, while some characters embrace her as a symbol of hope, others see her as a burden.  Malorie was a refreshing change from the young, virile, kick-ass heroine often seen in post-apocalyptic books.  She is strong, yes, but not in a kick-ass way.  She is strong in a she’s doing her best to be a good mom and still survive type way.  And that’s a nice thing to see in post-apocalyptic horror fiction.

The book naturally ends up pondering “madness” a lot.  The creatures drive any who see them into near-caricature depictions of madness. Sometimes the person becomes violent against others. Sometimes the person turns on themselves, killing themselves or self-injuring to the extent that they die.  There are a lot of questions about what the human mind can handle.  There is a lot of argument in the book for agency against all odds.

It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces. (loc 4034)

On the one hand, I appreciate the argument for agency and fighting for your sanity and humanity.  On the other hand, I’m not sure how I feel about a metaphor where madness happens to people who just aren’t careful enough or don’t have enough of a plan.  While it’s valid that a mental illness must be fought every day and some have more natural resiliency than others, there’s a tone of blame to the theme that strikes me the wrong way.

*small spoiler*
At one point, it is postulated that perhaps the only ones immune to being driven mad by the creatures are those who are already mentally ill because they are already mad.  There is no science behind this thought.  There is simply a character who appears to have paranoid schizophrenia who firmly believes the creatures are not actually dangerous because he has seen them and is fine.  Yet he is a character who ends up instigating an incredibly violent scene.  While it is true that there are violent extremes of mental illness, there are also those that are not.  The book fails to bring out the subtleties and varieties of mental illness.  Imagine the power that could have been from a character who had, for instance, OCD and was able to see the creatures and interact with them without harming anyone and able to understand that others cannot see them safely.  Imagine if it was simply that seeing the world differently already, being abnormal, protected one from being driven truly mad by the creatures.  What an interesting direction that could have taken the story.
*end spoilers*

Thus, in general, while I appreciate the more unique and interesting things the book did, such as focusing on a pregnant woman and then a young mother as the main character and telling the plot in a non-linear way, ultimately the book did not push the boundaries or the ideas far enough to truly enrapture me.  Recommended to horror, Lovecraft, and post-apocalyptic fans looking for a read with a young mother as the focus.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Celebrate Pride! 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual Characters

June 12, 2015 3 comments

The month of June in the United States is Pride Month, celebrating LGBTQ people, culture, and history.  In Boston, the culmination of Pride is this weekend, with the Pride Parade and block parties.  I wanted to contribute to my local celebration with a little something on my own blog–obviously a reading list! There are a lot of good reading lists out there for LGBTQ reads, so I wanted to do something a little different.  First, I wanted to feature one of the letters not featured very much — the B for bisexual.  Second, I wanted to to highlight both that bisexual people are everywhere and the issue of bi invisibility (more info on that term and issue here) by featuring books that have bisexual characters but that don’t mention that in their blurbs.  You’d be amazed how hard it can be to just find books with bisexual characters.  It’s usually downplayed or not named.  So, here is my list, in alphabetical order, with a mention as to which character is bi and whether the book ever actually uses the term “bisexual.”

  1. 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual CharactersBad Glass
    by Richard E. Gropp
    Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Lovecraftian
    Brief Blurb:
    Something strange is happening in Spokane, and the US military has taken control of the city, closing it and its happenings to the press.  Dean sees this as the perfect opportunity to break into photography before he graduates from college and is forced into giving up on his artistic dreams to work a regular 9 to 5 job.  So he sneaks into Spokane, where he meets an intriguing young woman and her rag-tag household of survivors, and quickly starts to see the inexplicable things that are going on inside the city.
    Who’s bi? Dean, the main character, is bi.  He at first appears to be straight but later it is revealed he also sometimes is interested in men.
    My Full Review
  2. 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual CharactersThe Drowning Girl
    by Caitlin R. Kiernan
    Genre: Fantasy, Psychological
    Brief Blurb:
    India Morgan Phelps, Imp to her friends, is sure that there were two different Eva Canning who came into her life and changed her world.  And one of them was a mermaid (or perhaps a siren?) and the other was a werewolf.  But Imp’s ex-girlfriend, Abalyn, insists that no, there was only ever one Eva Canning, and she definitely wasn’t a mermaid or a werewolf.  Dr. Ogilvy wants Imp to figure out for herself what actually happened. But that’s awfully hard when you have schizophrenia.
    Who’s bi? Eva Canning (both iterations of her).  Also, Abalyn, a transwoman who is also Imp’s girlfriend at one point. She states that she likes both men and women but currently prefers women because men in her experience tend to negatively react to her now that she has had bottom surgery.
    My Full Review
  3. 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual CharactersDoctor Sleep
    by Stephen King
    Genre: Fantasy, Thriller
    Brief Blurb:
    Danny Torrance didn’t die in the Overlook Hotel but what happened there haunts him to this day.  Not as much as the shining does though.  His special mental powers that allow him to see the supernatural and read thoughts lead to him seeing some pretty nasty things, even after escaping the Overlook.  He soon turns to drinking to escape the terror.  But drinking solves nothing and just makes things worse.  When he sees his childhood imaginary friend, Tony, in a small New Hampshire town, he turns to AA to try to turn his life around and learn to live with the shining.Abra is a middle school girl nearby in New Hampshire with a powerful shine.  She sees the murder of a little boy by a band of folks calling themselves the True Knot.  They travel in campers and mobile homes, seeking out those who have the shine to kill them for it and inhale it.  They call it steam.  They’re not human. And they’re coming after Abra.  Abra calls out to the only person she knows with a shine too, the man she’s talked to before by writing on his blackboard.  Dan.
    Who’s bi? Rose, the main antagonist.  What makes her the antagonist or the “big bad” has absolutely nothing to do with her sexuality. She’s just an antagonist who happens to be bi.
    My Full Review
  4. 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual CharactersLove in the Time of Global Warming
    by Francesca Lia Block
    Genre: Fantasy, YA
    Brief Blurb:
    Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait.
    Who’s bi? Pen, the main character.  She has a crush on one of her best female friends in the time before the disaster, and then later falls for a transman.  There is one particularly beautiful scene where she talks about being afraid of telling her friends that she likes girls the way she likes boys.
    My Full Review not yet posted
  5. 5 Unexpected Fantasy Reads Featuring Bisexual CharactersThe Miriam Black Series
    by Chuck Wendig
    Genre: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy
    Brief Blurb:
    Miriam Black is an early 20-something drifter with bleach blonde hair and a surprising ability to hold her own in a fight. She also knows when and precisely how you’re going to die. Only if you touch her skin-on-skin though.  And it’s because of this skill that Miriam became a drifter.  You try dealing with seeing that every time you touch someone.  But when a kind trucker gives her a lift and in her vision of his death she hears him speak her name, her entire crazy life takes an even crazier turn.
    Who’s bi? Miriam, the kick-ass main character.  Miriam uses no labels for herself whatsoever (she would probably hate even being called a brunette, to a certain extent), so she also refuses to label her sexuality.  However, she also states she enjoys being with all genders.  It’s interesting to note that the first time Miriam’s sexuality comes up is not until the third book in the series, and only because she (minor spoiler warning) breaks up with her boyfriend.  A great example of how bisexual people’s sexuality can be erased when they’re in a monogamous relationship.
    My Full Review of the first book in the series