Review! Explosion! I’ve been reading faster than I’ve been writing. So let’s get blurby. Though all of these were fucking excellent books and deserve encyclopedic reviews, a brief mention is better than no mention. Here we go…
Patternmaster by Octavia Butler
Oops, this is the fourth and last book in the Patternist series. Which means I have now read book one (Wild Seed) and book four and ultimately spoiled the outcome of the entire sweeping series for myself while missing out on the meat of the middle.
Patternmaster was a quick read, less claustrophobic than Wild Seed, though still with a similar focus on slavery and hopelessness in the face of a powerful enemy with a side of weird and interesting telepathy. I won’t be sure if it is a satisfying ending to the series until I read the rest of the story, but it had a satisfying ending for a stand-alone book. Still, I found myself more than a little interested in what is going to happen after the last page, sad knowing that there will never be another book.
The things i am thinking while smiling politely… by Sharon Dodua Otoo
I put off reading this book because it sounded depressing: a story about divorce and the gradual shattering of other relationships in its wake. That’s not the kind of story I like to read to relax. But after reading Little Book of Big Visions, which Otoo edited, I managed to find a spark of excitement to read this novella.
The things’ narrator is getting a divorce. Her marriage has gradually withered to nothing, and though Otoo tells the story of the couple’s gradual alienation from each other in reverse, the ultimate info reveal she builds up to never quite comes through. Though Otoo never provided the detailed back story I wanted to hear, the structure worked, keeping the story as fragmented as the relationships it described, with short excerpts (quotes? fears? thoughts?) from fights between the couple interspersed between chapters. Most interesting to me as an expat living in Germany were the descriptions of life in Berlin, as well as the discussions about immigration and the refugee experience here. The story was sad, but when I was reading it I didn’t want to put it down.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Finally, I read something by Shirley Jackson that is not “The Lottery” (her famous short story, a story I had to read in high school and college a number of times). Because of a group read, and my desire to read scary things in the cold crinkly months, I turned to the classic The Haunting of Hill House, and it was just as good as everyone says it is. That is to say: really good, really creepy, really expertly written. The haunting is less of a presence than the psychological demons of the characters. Is the ghost real? Or is our narrator mad?
I was particularly taken with Jackson’s dialogue. It was fucking brilliant, didn’t feel dated, and just…wow. If you don’t like scary, read it for the dialogue, is what I’m saying, because it isn’t actually the kind of scary that has you looking over your shoulder (at least not for me), but a mood—thickening air, a claustrophobic feeling in your throat, a feeling of being lost or off-balance—that makes this novel so effective.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Enamoured as I was with Hill House, I moved right onto another Shirley Jackson classic. We Have Always Lived in the Castle, lacking ghosts or poltergeist or group hallucinations or whatever the fuck was happening in Hill House, manages to be far creepier.
Our young narrator lives alone in her family’s mansion with her sister and uncle—the rest of the family is dead, poisoned, maybe by one of the sisters? (Du du DUUUUH. That is how I spell dramatic music playing, by the way.) But it is what happens at the end that really ices the creepy cake—and images of those final scenes return to me almost daily. Pure horror genius. I hope to ride this binge to the end of her complete works.
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne Valente
Girl Who Soared is my least favorite of the Fairyland books—it lacks the driving story of the first two—but it was so full of smart quotes about money, about growing up, about figuring out what you want to do, about revolution, and just about everything else, that it managed to be brilliant though occasionally dragging.
The next book in the Fairyland series—The Boy Who Lost Fairyland—is coming out in 2015 and will feature a little goblin boy as narrator instead of September. Could this be a turning point? The point at which I no longer read this series? Yes. But considering Valente’s considerable writing talent, it isn’t likely.