Review for Cynthia Robinson’s Birds of Wonder

DSCF4220

Cynthia Robinson’s Birds of Wonder is never what it promises to be. Usually, I would relate a lot of the plot (which I definitely had strong feelings about) to much personal oversharing in a much longer review here on my blog and make sure people know they are reading the super spoilers review.

However, in this rare circumstance, I am using a single completely non-spoilers review. So, this is going to be a much shorter recommendation rather than anything in depth.

I feel readers need to go into this one without knowing anything other than it starts, as many things in our collective culture often do, with a very beautiful, young, dead girl and the usual suspects you usually try and blame in order to tie up something gruesome as neatly as possible are brought out, lulling us into feelings of complacency and security in knowing we have seen this before.

Only, there’s nothing neat or simple about the characters in Birds of Wonder. In fact, our assumptions about human nature are used against us here – just like the characters have been badly damaged in ways which blind them to the truth and it’s this fatal flaw which drives the narrative.

Fans of more literary mystery novelists like Tana French will enjoy that this isn’t a quick solve and reading about the very human characters.

Spoilers and Overshare Version of my Review for S.P. Miskowski’s The Worst is Yet to Come

‘A great, tense, existential horror with a supernatural bite’ says The Horror of Marna Larsen.

Before you read this review, I want you to answer a question for me.

Why is Poppy’s ‘Sit/stay’ (which has an appropriate title but is literally about internet stardom being made into the anthem for the #stayathome movement – which, btw, I modify as #stayathomeifyoucan) when there is a song on the same album literally about staying inside because it is the apocalypse outside? And actually, the title of that one is LITERALLY Don’t Go Outside??? Is it because that would be too obvious or what?

I want to remind everyone this is the spoilers and overshare version. The spoilers and undershare version will be available on Goodreads and the blurb of neither available on Amazon. Thank you.

I’m almost finished with a for-review copy of S. P. Miskowski’s The Best of Both Worlds (I love that self referential title, btw) and since it’s a  companion piece to her previous novel, The Worst is Yet to Come, I wanted a refresher on the source material. The Worst is Yet to Come is something I read during the summer but hesitated to write up a review for, both because the summer is extremely stressful and I generally do very little else during, and because I had almost too much to say about it and had no idea how to begin drawing up a coherent review. It’s one thing to realize I’m not good enough to get published, but I don’t want to let people down because I’m in over my head with this review stuff, too. This is the sort of oversharing you get with a review from me, and people who are not used to it, might not, er…respond so well? (Which is why this is going to be a post for my long-neglected blog and the short, sane version will go on my Goodreads and Amazon.)

So. The teen stuff. I’ve found it’s never possible to resonate fully in terms of references or language. There’s just always going to be a noticeable lag. There are people I talk to who are just a decade younger and I understand like 37% of what they say and rely on faking and emojis. But I related to the two girls because of the commonality. Not just because I was a weird girl but because I literally dragged home an unsuitable friend who lit fires and pierced things without the proper implements or even, at least, sterilized ones.

I admit, it did bug me a little that all the weird girl references were men. Even though that is absolutely true and so it feels authentic. Girls didn’t have access to Roberta Findlay back in my day. There were only the elder gods: Carpenter (Deb was never even mentioned) Lynch, and Cronenberg. (But we at least had Anne Rice.)

I also grew up in the same landscape, the difference being, mine was an island. I failed to live in Seattle epically and far worse than Kim ever could, but I understand the basic sentiment. I am also terrified I will end up dating someone like Charles who, every time the character spoke, I found myself either rolling my eyes or sometimes, actually putting the book down so I could roll my eyes and shake my head at the same time. In fact, I worry sometimes that all men are Charles, but thankfully, my bf believes more or less the same thing about having kids late. He’s forty and I’m thirty-seven so that’s far too late. Yes! Off the hook. Finally, something positive about aging as a female.

But I sympathized with Kim, even when I agreed with Tanya that she could be extremely weak willed. At the same time, as someone who was rejected by literally everyone (including the press which printed this book and I admit, some of the delay in writing this review was hurt feelings and pride) I sympathized with people taking pleasure in my failure and just wanting to give up. There were times even forced motherhood, the thing I’d been so afraid of all my life, would be preferable. I would reap so many benefits from that which are absent from my list of failures and having to put a positive spin on them for social media. (Failure is a learning experience on the road to the real thing! Ugh.) It doesn’t even make me feel better that any publication through a press may have been delayed or even cancelled indefinitely with everything that’s going on. It’s just more excuses.

The short version of all this is, I really sympathized with the characters, even when they were obnoxious, which is something I always appreciate as anyone can like a likable character.

It’s also really funny in that mean way people usually end up distancing themselves from me as friends for.  Like Charles saying the wrong thing to the wrong redneck conservative (a mistake someone who grew up in an area like that would have never made. I always assume I’m in mixed company because I always am). Then again, I ran away from that high school friend who laughed too hard in a way that was too difficult to interpret at NPH’s casting in gone girl during our only friend movie date fast, fast, fast and never looked back. (And I unfriended her even though I am trapped on an island with this girl which is yet another way in which children tether you to completely shitty people. No thank you.)

But I’ve always had a core of weird, angry, pragmatic sociopathy at the very bottom of my soul therefore, I probably related to Briar the most. Which is weird, because we’re told over and over not just in The Worst is Yet to Come but in the companion novel that there is something not right about her. (That’s the term used by the characters who do not have a belief system in place. Those that do, use a different word.) I love that you don’t know if this is just the filter those characters view the world through or not. I don’t know. I believe if you are put physically in an intolerable situation the way children often are, there’s nothing wrong with getting the fuck out of it any way you can. I think it’s possibly also Miskowski’s sense of humor which assumes the girl will interpret Dead Lavender’s advice as: women are built to take shit and be stronger for it and instead reads: if people are threatening you it is perfectly okay to defend yourself. There is also a soliloquy about what it means to be an acceptable female in today’s society and when I read it this summer at work, I snort laughed.

Anyway. It’s a wonderful and important book. It’s nice to see the horror genre stepping forward a bit. You just don’t see a lot of truly existential horror in the way that Shirley Jackson’s work was always, at it’s core, about how horrible both the threat of being alive and the threat of dying are at the same time.

Hey! Were you aware literally all the virus-related articles have the same title and my google chrome search results highlight the gorgeous cover to the right of all the grim news? If I were tired of being told how everything is going to get worse and we are all going to die and hadn’t already read this fantastic book, I would definitely gravitate toward it!

Is that ghoulish of me?

 

 

 

death and aesthetics

PSX_20191109_192028.jpg

Sadly, criticizing my aesthetic, calling it cutesy is now literally the most insulting thing you can say to me. Unfortunately, I am also a Leo so I will cry about this for a few days – actually fucking cry over someone making a totally offhand comment but, as it sounded a bit too much like a admonishment and in public no less, and in public while I’m trying to make people like my shit videos before likes (and likely my very sad and small but sadly only social media platform success – sorry, lb, I love u but you don’t rate) disappear and everyone ditches IG just like they did with tumblr literally five seconds before I got one. And like, that’s really my fault because I know I can’t expose myself to people’s offhand dismissive thoughtlessness because I will obsess over it forever and underneath acting (this is me finishing the above sentence I just abandoned) like we are cool, a small, hard kernal of dumb hurt feelings will make me, behind a wall of muscle and bile and other less pleasant things, hate you, actually forever. It’s completely dumb and makes relationships impossible. And it can’t actually be governed by some bullshit star arrangements but there are other times when this makes way, way too much sense.

I really wanted to use today’s blog thing to talk about like, death and season two of End of the Fucking World which made me have dumb feelings and Max Coomb’s wonderful After the Burial of Dog Stanley and accompanying prose which made me have similar feels only I was slightly less angry about being forced to have them. If that makes any sense. I’m just going to have to do it despite my dumb other star sign feelings otherwise, I will never, ever do it. This isn’t just, as some people have recently suggested, my feeling obligated to people for no reason who are not currently helping me. Like, do what, exactly as everyone I know is self publishing or being published by limited press publishers, but something! Otherwise, I am supposed to just be like fuck you and never spend my money on art I find meaningful and valuable, I guess.

Basically, my bf and I have slightly different value systems. Like, we both don’t really care about what society in general says we should care about but I have pretty liberal sensibilities about everything because he made me have feelings again and so now I have them all the time and inconveniently I guess? Or I shut them off entirely. It’s like I can’t decide, or think there’s some in between state. Which is I guess, the type of person who gets their dumb feelings hurt cuz you hate the wizard of oz and think all references to it are cutesy and on the surface, I’m like ‘well I guess that person is not my demographic and probably also people who keep ordering me to read Clive Barker.’

Yet, I care just enough about what people think to like, pretend I give a shit that my stuff is trivial and their shit is esoteric and genius. I can’t just be like ‘fuck them, I like my stuff.’ And some of this is gender. It’s scarier to say ‘fuck your stuff ‘ if you are female. Like, men decide what the stuff is and if we should like it. They decide if we are well read enough or which things we should be reading. They decide which things are worthy, and which are derivative. And because they decide, in a way, sending my work to female agents (which I naively thought was the solution) might be just as ineffective because they are being told what is marketable or mainstream or cutesy or empty, too.

Anyway. I am letting season two of End of the Fucking World give me a smidgen of hope as the current person I sent my stuff to liked it and…well, yeah, my writing, while occasionally socially inappropriate, might be too many things. Like, too much a mix of cutesy shit and weird shit and awkward shit and just bleak, dark shit. Also, End of the Fucking World is way edgier and funnier. I’m not really that funny, though occasionally, I think I am. I think it also says more profound things about death than I am capable of. I’d rather just sort of…ignore it. Rather than face it. Which is maybe why the climax of season two hit me so hard and like, what I wrote had no effect on anyone who read it. No impact. Like ashes that have gotten wet and clumpy.

My parents were going crazy trying to find my brother’s ‘wishes’ like we didn’t just keep him in a box (and in several film canisters I carry around with me sometimes when I’m feeling particularly bad) for the rest of her life, probably the rest of his life, and maybe even the rest of my life, on a shelf in the background of my stupid instagram videos like, there is my brother, my mother, my father and my cat I neglected at my parent’s like the terrible human monster I am. And I walk in and find it right on his desktop. In the center of his desktop, on a document labeled final instructions. I guess my parents thought sudden, hysterical blindness is a really good excuse to force your twenty year old daughter to have such a bullshit cinematic moment. (In case anyone cares: he wanted to be scattered at all the ends of the island. We have two dead end roads running north and south along the coast. We also have a road that goes east up to Harriet Hunt Lake. Mine would be the same if it had been me. And the beach, down the hill from our house.)

Anyway, I’m sorry this went on forever about my social sad problems and dead family. But After the Burial is also this like…place I could go. For a while. And it made me think about my family for the first time in a long time. Without immediately ordering myself to stop thinking about that because it could accidentally lead to feelings. Or without reminding myself well, they’re dead, so. At the same time, I felt really good about how we were for that short time. My dad wasn’t even being a dick to me about my latest boyfriend because we all knew my brother was going to die. We used to go on these drives to the end of the island and back. And in a way, I wondered if those words were for me. Like, that he’ll be here only here is here, so I can’t leave. Even if I wanted to or even if I suddenly had the ability to. I hold onto the ashes anyway. I can’t let them go. It’s stupid. But I’m too literary (not like quality of writing literary but just that I do write and have written and read things and watched movies) to think it would make any difference. Like, a big cathartic letting go. There really is so little of him left anyway. No one remembers anymore. Just me. But After the Burial of Dog Stanley made me feel ok about remembering them even though the family and experiences described through the beautiful words and artwork are completely different from me and my family.

But there’s a similarity, always, in missing someone. A quality of absence and the hyper-real presence of memory, I tried to convey, clumsily in my own writing. Even if no one ever sees it, my best efforts and the better person I used to be with them, when we were all together and sort of okay, is preserved. It’s a wonderful book and I wish this blog reached more than five people because everyone has lost someone and maybe it could help them remember, too.

Review of short horror collection Darkest Hours by Mike Thorn

It’s been a really really long time since I’ve blogged because out of all the things I spend hours writing and am in no way comphensated for (when someone tells me to contribute something somewhere for exposure, not that anyone ever has, but if they ever did, I would probably wonder where I would fit that in amongst all the other instances where I am, in theory, already doing that) my wordpress blog always seems the least conseqeuntial. Probably because I had one a long ass time ago and it seemed like a complete waste of my efforts. I know some ways to make it less that now, but my brain is still locked onto ‘this is an utter waste of time so whenever I’m busier, this is always the ball I chuck maliciously at a window and then run away, laughing.’

So anyway, after recovering my password and being informed I already entered in too many incorrect passwords even after setting up a new password, I can finally paste the entireity of my review for Mike Thorn’s Darkest Hours, reminding anyone who actually follows this blog (watch everyone roll their eyes and quickly look away when I put a photo of the physical copy of his book which I ordered because it is that awesome on ig and tell people to check out my blog. Check out her blog! What is this, 2004? Boo! upload some more videos)! To which I reply, I wasn’t aware this was a video site I was risking copyright infringement fines in order to impress people on. Should that have been inside the parenthesis? I can never tell. Reminding them! That’s what I was orignianlly doing. Just that this contains more detailed write up’s of the stories I really, really, really liked and may be considered spoilers by some, so be warned.

My mom and I took my aunt to one of our better hippie cafes – or really, our only one, way back in the mid 90’s and she claimed there was a hair in her hippie sandwich. And while one might speculate, ‘how could she tell amidst all those sprouts’ she immediately went into the tiny hippie bathroom to vomit and spent the rest of the day in a hypochondriac sulk. I didn’t have quite that reaction to the story which opens Mike Thorn’s Darkest Hour. But close.

Mictian Diabolus was like the best film festival trash – think Exeter, which I love and watch at least once a year – only this is a lot scarier. (I think I’m the only ones who likes Exeter.) Whoever says surviving the thing is worse clearly has never been flayed or been to a flaying. But it’s still not fun and the narrative seems to really get that. You feel really bad for these poor, dumb characters.

Mired is the funniest yet would probably be funnier if I weren’t basically an uneducated dummy. But the gist of it still works for anyone who worries they are only scanning the words on the page in front of them because that’s how we’re trained in college (I did sort of go to college) and wonders how much more improved their lives would be if they could truly absorb knowledge in a meaningful way. Stupid humans.

The Auteur is my favorite. Sadly, there was only one video rental store here which could actually afford to hire employees, and let’s just say I…didn’t know the right people. Still, I relate to scouring youtube for lists of no budget, SOV horror looking for…something. I was never exactly sure what. Now I know. This could act as a deterrent, except…I kinda want it? Which is, imo, why the best horror works so well.

Choo-choo is one of the ‘oh-shit-that-one’ stories. (When I looked back over the titles to refresh my memory. I read these over a very long summer. Anyway, the ones where I was like, ‘oh shit. That story.) What I really love about a lot of the stories is that kids doing really dumb shit in a low budget movie on Netflix. (Or when Netflix used to have those, anyway. Remember that…remember the like, 2011’s of streaming?) But also, it’s terrifying. But older cell phones kind of scare me and that’s what I was picturing? Who else ever needed to call you on those? 1. Your mom, informing you your brother has died. 2. Your doctor, informing you of some new and horrifying venereal disease. 3. A childhood friend who died the night things went too far! That’s it. Now, at least half the time, it’s the ghost of the dead person who owned the phone before you did.

Long Man was a great nod to found internet horror. I’m still so sad Channel Zero didn’t make it. What is wrong with everyone; that show was fucking awesome. Anyway, it also reminded me how everyone has a shadowy other-place from childhood where you’re not sure if any of it happened. (Mine is my aunt Marilyn’s house in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, but that’s not a story for here.) In this story, you find out what happens when that place follows you out of childhood and is the second story I had the ‘oh, shit’ reaction to.

Sabbatical is a much better and less dog murdering (I’m more of a cat than a dog person myself but what in the actual fuck) version of Whisperer in the Darkness.

Satanic Panic is for anyone who was that kid harassed by cops for being gothy on a deserted road late at night (fuck u, officer Walker) but Remembering Absence is a wonderful closer that understands what I think might actually happen to some of us, but also deals with how it is to be left behind by someone we love.

And is everyone this refreshingly gender neutral in Canada? It must be nice.

Oh, I always forget about Fear and Grace. I love that story but I narrowly escaped from and was romantically involved with a lot of sociopaths so I kind of willfully (willingly? Both)? blocked it out. It’s really terrifying though, and is a reminder about a certain kind of predatory magnetism that simeltanously makes someone charismatic to the masses and also a horrifying monster one on one.