SURVIVOR: let the great world spin (colum mccann)*
CHALLENGER: dark places (gillian flynn)

our friends mari and josh came down from harlem to watch the oscars with us (and birch beer and fritos) last night. the horror clip sequence, heavy on bits from the shining, the exorcist, the blob, and nightmare on elm street,** was miserable for mari, who's as allergic to horror as i was for the first half of my life. i feel for her, though scary books ended up being more difficult for me to handle than scary movies were, actually; my formative horror moment was having a stephen king story read aloud to me at camp. oogy writing (and his in particular) was too much for me long after zombie movies and i were BFF.

which brings me to gillian flynn, an author king has called "the real deal, a sharp, acerbic, and compelling storyteller with a knack for the macabre." most blurbs can be taken with a grain of salt, but flynn really is king's type: dark places is set in especially unlovely parts of missouri and kansas, and its characters are not-entirely-unlikable at best. "draw a picture of my soul," says libby day (once a seven-year-old whose mother and sisters died in a mass murder a la in cold blood's clutter family, now a superfluous thirty-year-old whose pity money is about to run out), "and it'd be a scribble with fangs." it's an introduction that could easily sound ridiculous, but flynn commits to her angle: even in the flashback sequences, libby and her family are weak, selfish, vindictive. our perspectives are theirs, and they all have shitty eyesight.

sounds like a party in a can, right? i freely admit that i tend to avoid this genre like the plague, and that dark places scooted just past the edge of my hicks-who-hack forcefield thanks to its editor (my friend sarah, the hardest-working woman in the book business***) and a pair of unlikely supporters (an entertainment editor at my office and my friend jacob). the chorus was right, as it happens: it's a mean, scrappy book, and i was up with it until three on saturday night. flynn is almost frighteningly good at recasting her characters (i'm not used to rooting against, say, an eleven-year-old girl), and i would pay her to coach a few male post-modernists on plausibly unreliable narrators. i'd never name names, of course.

VICTOR: let the great world spin. in an actual fight, i'm fairly sure flynn would wipe the floor with mccann. on paper, big, blowsy phrases tend to trump gripping ones for me - and animal sacrifice still freaks me out.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what did you serve at your oscars-viewing, if you had one?

02 what's your take on stephen king?

03 how do you feel about horror in general?

04 what was the last book you read 'til three?

*previous battle here.

**and unforgivably light on george romero and blink-or-you'll-miss-him sam raimi (name checked later at the podium), and - twilight stars, really? kristen stewart and taylor lautner are easy on the eyes, sure, but behaving as though they have anything to do with horror is like calling deliverance a movie about canoeing.

***i was going to say "publishing's david lee roth," but that could mean so many things.


LPC said...

01 what did you serve/eat at your oscar gathering, if you had one? N/A

02 what's your take on stephen king? I'm still scared of "IT." The sewers.

03 how do you feel about horror in general? Can only watch horror movies through a grid I make out of my fingers. Horror writing carves its way into my stomach and lives there for far too long.

04 what was the last book you read 'til three? Probably one on how to get my babies to sleep through the night.

wabes said...

i like the idea of a horror allergy, insofar as it removes any inkling of my choice from the matter. ("saw"? "no, thanks, i'm allergic!") the irony is that i'm mostly a chickenshit because i got scared by the books when i was younger. one of my brothers read a lot of stephen king, and it was exciting - then awful - to read the backs of them, or flip through. i read part of _cujo_ and was up until 4 a.m., and i think i was maybe 12?

we could also blame it on me living out the woods for my life before CA. visions of supernaturals, serial killers, or rabid anything are all bad when "no one can hear you scream" is actually TRUE. needless to say, it didn't take much to get creeped out during sleepovers in 5th grade.

Katherine Cortes said...

I feel you must be aware of this: http://www.themorningnews.org/tob/
but just wanted to make sure, noting the convergence at LTGWS. I've sadly read none of this year's competitors, although I dutifully filled out a bracket anyway and ordered myself a copy of Wolf Hall at the discounted TOB price.

Also: Ben H. Winters was the president of my high school class, and we have the same birthday. For a year or so, we were simultaneously members of the Park Slope Food Coop. So where's my parody novel deal?

Rachel (heart of light) said...

01. N/A, although we accidentally watched some of the Oscars because I forgot to set the East Coast feed of Big Love to record and was forced to wait until the West Coast feed came on. Hard times.
02. Meh. Will watch movies, but never got into the books. And I'm usually willing to read just about anything.
03. Pretty much a no, with an exception for murder mysteries (everything from the range of Agatha Christie to modern serial killer types). But murder mysteries aren't horror. Anything that even hints at paranormal stuff is OUT.
04. Will be up on Thursday post.

P.S. I picked up Dark Places, totally randomly, from the library and thoroughly enjoyed it.

kidchamp said...

i was not, katherine! i was going to say they should send me cookies since i got started first, but they clearly put some time in on infrastructure, so i'll say we should send each other cookies. i'll be interested to see how colum mccann fares in their universe. also, i'll take six copies of your first parody novel (and sell it like girl scout cookies at my office. it's cookies-imagery day, apparently.)

wabes, i made a point of keeping a few warm bodies between me and the door at sleepovers - and i still have mild closet flare-ups.

LPC, if you ever feel like having at that sewer issue with immersion therapy, i can't say enough about CHUD. seriously.

Amanda said...

01 My birthweight in guac.
02 My father made me read one of King's short stories at a tender age. One day I will recover. About the same time my mother is no longer afraid to have milk delivered, perhaps.
03 Tears, pillows. We've been through this.
04 Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, followed some months later by her Catching Fire. Both technically ran out at 1:30.

jacob said...

01 tempted by take-out chinese, but ultimately we made "fettucini alfreda" from vegan with a vengeance (http://www.theppk.com/recipes/dbrecipes/index.php?RecipeID=109) and roasted brussels sprouts. it was tasty and less heavy than the traditional (real) cheese one.

02 can't comment, haven't read him. seeing the cover of his latest book, though, made me immediately think of "the simpsons movie."

03 like wabes on movies (though getting better), less afraid when it comes to reading horror.

04 i don't know that i've stayed up until three reading anything since i was much younger, and it was probably one of those 800 pages allan eckert historical novels on the french and indian war. but in the sense of "racing through a book" i thought that "everything ravaged, everything burned" by wells tower was excellent (it's also on the TOB, and the only one i've read in that list).

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

02: For me, the Night Shift collection still offers lots and lots of high-octane entertainment; three-fourths of the titles alone cause me to brim with agreeable trepidation. For the uninitiated his On Writing is admirable and addictive but I don’t know if I’d ever crack another one of his big boys again (Ahem, uh, awkward aside- I was real young when I read IT, younger than its child protagonists even, and was mightily confused by the sexual matters therein discussed; or: mine is a slightly tweaked antithetical reaction from LPC’s.) J/k for the most part, and I’d still like to read Pet Cemetery I think.
03: Perhaps you’d like to inspect my sophomore language arts thesis statement: Horror is a lot like The Apparatus from Kafka’s In the Penal Colony.
04: William Goldman’s Which Lie Did I Tell? No one even comes close to dishing like WG. He’s got that glad verb down to a science. He even has a few non-The Princess Bride novels I remember with fondness, believe it or not.

kidchamp said...

admittedly the staying up 'til three was on a saturday, which isn't nearly as significant as doing so on a school night would have been. i was also full of chia after shoveling it into fresca for three hours at mari's mega shark vs. giant octopus party - considering what it does to runners, imagine what it must do to readers.

MDF, i run hot and cold with on writing. i get that SK wants to discourage contrived language, but telling writers to use the first adjective that occurs to them - as shatner and henry rollins would say, i can't get behind that.