Misery

Misery

By Stephen King

 

Ah, Misery. Stephen King has always been my favorite author. I love his subtleties and themes. His characters are so lifelike and realistic that I am drawn in by the end of the first page. I know he is a master on a level few will ever obtain but I am going to approach this review in the most honest and unbiased way that I can. Not as his “number one fan” but as a fellow writer who has studied his craft and found both genius and some petty mistakes as well.

There is no doubt in my mind that much of Paul Sheldon is King’s fictional alter ego. A prolific and successful writer who wants to dabble outside his designated genre and gets punished for it. And who else could write about the psychological terrors of addiction better than a man going through it himself. I think, when you look at King’s characters, there is often some autobiography in them, which is what makes his ability to turn them into real people so effective.

What King does well is analogy. Sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant his analogies are often both in one. For instance, Paul recalls a time in his childhood when he would go to the beach and watch the tide ebb and flow around wooden pylons. He remembers the ugliness of the portions that become exposed when the tide goes out. Soon, his mind uses these images as a meditation on his pain. As more and more of the pylon in his mind’s eye is exposed, so is his pain. The tide is the relief he receives from his pain meds. Later, as I read on, I wondered if King used those ugly stumps as a foreshadowing of Paul’s amputation at the hands of Annie.

Paul’s mind uses a lot of analogies to help him through his experience. The African bird trapped in a cage, Annie Wilkes as a goddess, immortal, powerful and all knowing, and Scheherazade. Although I do have an issue with the Scheherazade reference because first of all, it was too easy a connection (Scheherazade being the storyteller in One Thousand and One Nights who used her storytelling to save her life from the king who planned to kill her) and secondly King used it way too much. Constantly making reference to it until I was so sick of having it shoved in my face I wondered if King thought all his readers were stupid and wouldn’t get it. I got it before he mentioned it and certainly didn’t need it rehashed as a theme over and over. Yeah, obviously Paul is using his revival of Misery Chastain to prolong his own life.

Looking at the book as a whole, I also wondered if the entire tale itself was not an analogy of the task of writing a novel. The pain, the pressure to do it well, distractions, an alter ego that tells you it’s not good enough. Sometimes we need that sort of thing to drive us; that demon on our backs pushing and pushing. Paul ends up with the best book he ever wrote under those conditions. Maybe I should hire a dominatrix to help keep me in check.

Something that I often struggle with in my first draft is description. King is a writer of little sprinkles of it only when necessary and I love that. If you’ve ever read his book On Writing, he discusses that very thing. When I first read Misery, it was before seeing the movie, and it is funny to me that when I reread it again, I still saw the home I concocted in my head the first time I read it and not the movie’s scenes. That maybe why I thought to make this point. I bet those who have seen the movie before reading the book don’t necessarily notice King’s paucity of description. He only describes the things that are absolutely necessary for you to know and the rest he leaves up to your own imagination. So many Stephen King stories in my head took place at the farmhouse my Step-father grew up in. That was a scary place to me and so that’s the home I always saw in my head, the layout and everything. I like that we have a good idea of what Annie looks like, a vague idea of Paul and just a general idea of everything else. Because that’s all we need. We don’t need pages of boring description of the house, the room he is in. Just little details here and there and those almost give a feeling not a look to the room. The guy is a master with this and I think it is a big reason his books are so readable and catch you so quickly.

Now, I did promise you something petty so here it is. There is a scene after Annie takes Paul into the basement to stay and she brings a couple Pepsis and a bottle opener. “There were three bottles of Pepsi on the collapsed TV tray. She opened two of them, using the opener on her keyring, and handed him one.” Bottle opener=glass bottles, right? You wouldn’t need a bottle opener for a plastic bottle with a screw top, would you? But then, two pages later “Annie came back and took a third bottle of Pepsi…She twisted the cap off the bottle and drank deeply.” Ok, so two glass bottles opened with the opener on her keyring and one plastic bottle with a screw cap. A few pages later we are told the bottle is indeed plastic. “She drained her second Pepsi and held the empty plastic bottle…”

I told you, petty stuff, right? But hey, this is Stephen King we’re talking about. He is allowed a dumb mistake here and there. You’d think his editor might have picked that up, but one little thing in a sea of gold, is not all that bad. So, I’ll just end with this shout out to Mr. Stephen King—if you ever want or need a gal like me to hang around and pick out petty mistakes like this feel free to give me a call. I’ll move into your guest room, I’ll read each page as it comes off the printer. I’m a doc too, so I can always offer health related services as needed. Come on, Mr. King, I’m harmless and I just happen to be your biggest fan.

 

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The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs

1991 Movie Directed by Jonathon Demme and starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodi Foster

 

Revisiting a movie I have watched at least a thousand times is not a problem, the problem is trying to watch it in the spirit of academic review. With the eye of a critic, I viewed it and found some really amazing things and some not so amazing. It doesn’t change the fact that I absolutely love the movie (not as much as the book of course, but this review is of the movie and I will stick to that only.)

Let’s begin with the beginning of the film. Clarice Starling, a student in the FBI academy is called to the office of Jack Crawford head of the Behavioral Science Unit. This happens to be the department Clarice hopes to someday join. On her way there, multiple scenes show her weaving between the myriad of male recruits all of whom oogle her like nothing more than a piece of meat. She gets on an elevator filled with men who dwarf her into a small meek woman rather than the strong (both physically and emotionally) woman that she truly is.

The first time viewer will not realize that Crawford is lying to her when he describes the job he wants to offer her. He is not, in fact working on a collection of profiles of the country’s most infamous killers but he is sending her in; young, attractive and innocent as a way to bait Hannibal Lecter to aid in their Buffalo Bill investigation. She is being used by the very man she looks up to and strives to be like. A man who would become a father figure to the once orphaned little girl who rose above her “white trash” family history to follow her dreams.

When she arrives at Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, she meets Dr. Chilton who makes a pass at her and again refuses to take her seriously. The FBI recruit can’t catch a break. So far, she has not managed to garner any sort of respect from the men—all professionals—that she has encountered.

Enter Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The introductory scene is effectively creepy as we pan into the plexiglass lined cell to see Lecter standing, hands at his sides, clear blue eyes, and a slight smile on his face. The strange attentive stance tells us everything we need about this psychotic psychiatrist.

Here is a man who immediately accepts Clarice for who and what she is. While occasionally brutally honest, he is never disrespectful to her. He never treats her as if she is beneath him and he never objectifies her (although there was that opener when he did regret that he could not smell her c**t). He makes it clear to her that he knows the real reason she is there and opens her eyes to the truth. He never talks down to her and he gives her puzzles to solve leading her to more clues in the Buffalo Bill case.

Now, given that, I will say this led to several things I just couldn’t buy. For one, Clarice solved the Miss Hester Moffet anagram and the “look inside yourself” pun way too easily and once she did, she was allowed to go investigate on her own—a student, who could have messed up everything, alone. I guess one could argue that in this instance she was treated as an equal, but one could also argue that perhaps again she was only being humored and allowed to run after what they considered a lot of nonsense.

The lack of respect for the female “lead investigator” continues when she is taken along to view the recently found body of a Buffalo Bill victim. Crawford introduces her last, then excludes her from the conversation, leaving her in a room full of male police officers, all of which shamelessly glare at her. Throughout the movie, Starling is forced to guild her loins and keep holding her head up high even when she wants to break down and cry. She only does so once in fact near the beginning, after Miggs throws his jizz into her hair. Watching the girl crumble into sobs at her cheap Pinto, I was reminded of a piece of advice my mother drilled into me my entire life: “Put on a strong face, don’t let them see you’re nervous or scared. Be strong always in public, then when you get home, if you need to fall apart, do it then.” In that moment, I felt for Clarice, I felt her pain, I felt her heart pounding and I felt the unfair feelings of being a “poor, one generation away from white trash” female trying to make it in a professional male’s world.

She even once tries to call Crawford out on his treatment of her, but he blows it off and later almost makes a joke of how she got upset when he left her out of the conversation back at the funeral home. Yet, in each interaction with Lecter and make no mistake it is a true interaction, a give and take, a quid pro quo, he treats her both respectfully and equally. He even talks Miggs into swallowing his own tongue after Lecter is humiliated by the way his “guest” was treated by the crazed masturbator.

Although never given full credit, it is Clarice and she alone who solves the Buffalo Bill murders and somehow manages to survive long enough to take him out all by herself. Let’s take a closer look at that as well. Buffalo Bill or Jame Gumb. A man who has taken over the home of a seamstress. Now, I don’t know if the man has a job but he certainly has a lot of “stuff” that makes it easy for him to do what he does. I’ve brought this up before. How do these serial killers have access to all this equipment?

Of course, there is the deep symbolism of the Death’s Head moth pupas placed in the throat of at least one victim. We learn that he has these eggs imported. WITH WHAT MONEY? Not to mention the setup he has in the basement to grow them. The basement is something else too, isn’t it? A complex labyrinth of hallways and rooms so that each one can be devoted to a specific aspect of the killing. There is the autopsy table and dissecting area, the sewing room, the dressing room, the moth farm, the decomposing bathtub, and of course, the convenient well in the floor. Wow, what a great real estate find. Lucky for Buffalo Bill, right? Lucky thing he has those military grade night vision goggles too so he can shut the lights off to pursue the FBI student in the dark.

His only mistake is hesitation in the end. Oh, how many murderers have been taken down in a similar fashion?

But even in the end, Lecter continues to be the shining example of a most decent villain when he telephones Starling to congratulate her on her graduation and wish her well. He assures her that due to his respect for her, he will never come after her.

Don’t get me wrong, Lecter is and always will be one of the creepiest villains I have ever known. I wouldn’t want to find him in my closet. But in review of this movie and in comparison to all the male protagonists in it, he doesn’t look that bad after all.

Red Dragon

Red Dragon

By Thomas Harris

 

I’ve given a lot of thought to want I want to say about this book. It was not my first time reading it. I remember reading it after I read Silence of the Lambs. Silence of the Lambs terrified me. Hannibal Lector lurked in my closet waiting to bite my face off. So I remember finding Red Dragon and devouring it as well as the subsequent sequels. While I recall that I liked the book Red Dragon, I don’t recall being afraid and the only images I could remember were those of the movies (there were two based on this book. One starring William Peterson called Manhunter from 1986 and one starring Edward Norton in 2002).

Now, I will always be a fan of Lector and therefore, I have to give Harris a lot of credit for bringing this complex madman to life. That says a lot about a writer when he can create a character that will live in infamy forever. You’re doing something right. And without re-reading Silence of the Lambs critically as I have Red Dragon, I only speak to the writing in it.

The writing in this book is flat for me. I wanted to feel more for Will Graham than I did. The story is told in third person and mostly from Will’s POV, but even so, you never get close to him. As for the rest of his cohorts, I couldn’t keep them straight. I knew Jack Crawford from SOTL but the rest all blended together because none of them sounded different or spoke differently enough to tell them apart. How can a man who wrote one of the greatest villains of all time fail to write a standout protagonist (remember, I am talking about this book only)?

One other thing that bothered me was the head-hopping. As I said most of the book was from Will’s POV yet occasionally in the middle of it, there would be a sentence or two thrown in from another character’s POV. Which threw me off and made me stop. Never a good thing, right? Now, when I have a problem with a book, especially a popular novel, I like to read reviews by others to see if anyone else felt the same. I found a review by a person who stated they were too young to have ever seen the movies or read the book when it came out. So, take this for what you want, they made a great point that maybe Harris did the head-hopping to show how Graham’s brain worked; i.e. always trying to see through other’s eyes. Maybe that’s true and if so, I guess I missed that. So, not sure if it’s me that is too dense to get a genius idea or if we’re giving Harris too much credit.

One thing I did notice and found interesting was in the one scene with Lector (yeah, the book that advertises itself as the book that introduces Hannibal Lector has one scene with him in it), whenever Harris gives a description of Lector, he does it in present tense. It ups the creep factor. Hannibal is not Hannibal was.

Speaking of creep-factor, how about that Mr. D? Very creepy, yes. Sad though, because we learn about his traumatic childhood and if that isn’t sympathy-inducing enough, we also learn that he is struggling in the end when he finally finds someone like Reba to love him unconditionally. By then, he is too far gone. It’s easy to forget what he did to the Leeds and Jacobis. It’s hard not to root for him at least to survive. I knew and cared more about Dolarhyde than I did Graham. I got hints at Graham’s past but never enough of his internal thoughts or memories to care.

The story was good, although perhaps cliché (especially the “twist” at the end. Oh no, the killer isn’t dead? I didn’t see that coming when he died with three chapters left in the book) Still, I enjoyed watching Graham figure it all out and Dolarhyde struggle with his inner dragon. I liked the book, I read it quickly. But could it have been better, sure maybe even a lot better. But the tale should come first, the fancy shit is just the icing on the cake.

The Sculptor

The Sculptor

Or as I like to call it: The Sculptor vs The Pretty Protagonist

 

When I pick up a piece of fiction to read, I have entered into a contract with the author; I agree to suspend my disbelief and they, in turn, tell me a good story that I can completely lose myself in. Like most contracts, there are usually benefits above and beyond the main clause—things like suspense and scares and thought-provoking commentary woven seamlessly into the tale. I think few books manage to meet all our individual requirements. Most are read once, put on the shelf and forgotten, a few are so bad we can’t even finish and then there are those special ones that we read over and over, recommend to all our friends and list as our favorites.

The Sculptor sits in the middle of the bell curve I just described. It was an easy read, had an interesting plot, and your basic expected but not unsatisfying finish. It wasn’t bad, but for me, there were just too many problems and irritants that I never found myself fully involved. The writing is fine, everyone has their motives, the action is enough to keep you turning the pages, so sure, it was a decent book. I like my psychos to be intelligent and calculating. I like when they have a purpose to their madness beyond the clichéd “I hate all women” or “I am gay but hate myself for it so I kill gays”. And I have a confession: I liked Dan Brown’s books because I am an art and a history buff so if you can weave those into your plot and make it a puzzle as well, I’m on board.

Here’s the problem with The Sculptor: Christian Bach is just too perfect to be believed. He is genius level smart, independently wealthy, has access to all the equipment he needs (without ever drawing suspicion to himself for all the stuff he must be ordering in bulk), can expertly replicate a master artist (meaning on top of all these things, he has innate/natural artistic talent), he is unnaturally strong, manages to work nonstop/around the clock for days-weeks on end while also caring for his invalid father who also requires round-the-clock care, and is apparently immune to chemical burns and explosions. If he has a flaw, it’s his ever-changing underlying motive for his killings and his years-long obsession with Dr. Cathy Hildebrandt that he quickly gets over in the end.

When we first meet The Sculptor, we’re given the impression that he is killing to make a statement to the world—to “wake them from their slumber” and his obsession with Dr. Hildebrandt stems from his belief that only she understands his genius, only she can help interpret his message. He wants the world to know her and read her book and have their eyes opened. Later, we learn that The Roma Pieta was originally planned to be his debut piece rather than the Bacchus statue he started with. (his attention to detail was so precise except, we learn, that he used the wrong marble for Bacchus because he already had the other stuff lying around for use with the Pieta. Don’t think that was lost on me, Funaro—either this guy is hardcore OCD about his work or he isn’t). The Pieta, we come to discover has this whole weird incestuous meaning for The Sculptor dating back to his childhood and relationship with his mom. So now, we are to believe that this is his true motive and Hildebrandt just happened to write a book that gave him some helpful ideas.

Do we learn these motive revelations through The Sculptor’s point of view? Sort of, but it is spelled out for us by the also perfect, unbelievably intuitive Sherlock Markham, I mean Agent Sam Markham who, using the talented but more importantly pretty Dr. Hildebrandt as a sounding board, keys in on the Sculptor’s deepest thoughts and symbolism and pretty much his entire subconscious. This is the guy they should have sent to talk to Lector in Silence of the Lambs, he thinks on the deepest level and would have caught all of Lector’s inferences (with the aid of his trusty but more importantly pretty sidekick; the lovesick Dr. Hildy—who, have I mentioned is pretty and has Korean eyes?). Basically, Dr. Hildebrandt reads passages from her book to him, sometimes even having to explain what she means and then it is Markham who extrapolates it to the killer, not Dr. Hildebrandt. In this way, he remains the star, the hero.

And so, I come to the famous and also pretty Dr. Catherine Hildebrandt. Our first description of Cathy comes from her own inner thoughts: “Although she was an attractive woman, Cathy could not deny that she had been a nerd all her life.” And thus begins a pattern for Dr. Hildy who is always pretty BUT has this one snag of also being smart. Throughout the entire book, she is presented this way through every character’s eyes. First a physical description about her level of attractiveness followed by her intellectual traits that are always presented as a kind of footnote. When we see her through the Sculptor’s eyes, he opens her book (the one he has used as his textbook for his life’s work, mind you), flips to the back jacket flap where her picture is, notices that her hair was shorter then, and thinks “looked a little heavier” and notes that perhaps it is her glasses, “yes, the black frames she wears now look much better on her than those old wire rims”. Special Agent in Charge, Bill Burrell is constantly reminded of his Korean wife when he sees Dr. Hildebrandt (no, I will not stop referring to her as Dr. Hildebrandt instead of Cathy, someone has to give her the respect that is due.).

“Turning, Burrell’s gaze fell upon a petite, attractive young woman shivering beside the Quantico profiler. He right away pegged the eyes behind the black-rimmed glasses to be Korean—same as his wife’s.”

Someone please give this academic, intelligent, expert on Michaelangelo some credit beyond her looks! My god, look at this passage and tell me what kind of image this projects? She is shivering? Petite and attractive and shivering beside THE QUANTICO PROFILER. Thank god for the big strong, non-shivering man. (who, by the way is described by his profession and not his looks in this passage). Dr. Hildebrandt, in fact is referred to as “the pretty art professor” no less than four times in the second half of the book (well beyond the initial description telling us she is attractive and one of those times it was from the point of view of a priest! But don’t take it personally, Dr. Hildebrandt, you aren’t the only professional woman objectified by her looks in this book. Our introduction to Special Agent Rachel Sullivan is “blonde, early thirties, with chiseled features that Cathy envied.” And when Markham is thinking about the death of his wife, the first picture we get of her is through the confession of her killer who recalls seeing “the pretty, twenty-six year old ‘scientist lady’”.

I’m not saying we don’t get similar descriptions of other male characters, we do. But when we do it is 1. Through Cathy’s lovesick eyes and/or mentioned once and then not referred to again and certainly not used as an adjective before their profession. We don’t read “The Muscular Sculptor” or “The handsome Agent Markham” do we? And for a professor of Dr. Hildebrandt’s esteem, who also happens to be the object of a serial killer’s obsession, her thoughts are almost always occupied by love, her worry about Markham’s reciprocated feelings for her, her worry about having to be away from him and so on. She is never focused on the task she is consulted on, she is focused on her personal life. So much so that at the beginning of Chapter twenty, two words from Markham are able to soothe her of the loss of her life’s work.

“What’s bothering you, Cathy?”…

               “My life” Cathy whispered suddenly. “My whole life has been dedicated to the work of Michelangelo. And now, I’ll never be able to look at his statues, teach a class—will never be able to even think about him the same way again—I mean without thinking about…”

               Cathy trailed off into a silent stream of tears…Markham reached out his hand for hers. She let him take it—felt her fingers melt into his.

               “I’m sorry,” was all the FBI agent said.

               But for Cathy Hildebrandt, it was enough….Cathy realized her tears had dried.

 

               For the love of god, really? Ok, I have to move on, but I could seriously write an entire thesis on the sexism displayed in the subtext of this book. Now, those of you who know my reviews from the previous RIG know that I am a stickler for believable stories. I can only suspend my belief so far. If you put me in a world like mine with human characters, then I have certain expectations.

Funaro started this book with a killer obsessed with Dr. Cathy Hildebrandt. His entire M.O. was based on her text. He wanted her to see what he was doing, he even used her ex-husband for his second (but really most important) tableau. Then he discovers she is on to him (and of course she is, he did everything he could to get her attention, leading the reader to believe he was planning on her being around to see the murders through til the end and then likely become a victim herself.) and once he decides that she is getting close, he just determines to put a bullet in her head. Really? That’s it? Just shoot her? If I hadn’t had to read this book for this class, I probably would have shut it then and there.

Alas, I continued and stumbled upon the clichéd ending of the man being injured, the woman brutalized and chased and she almost gets away and then the killer catches up. Just when we think she is a goner, the injured man finds the strength to come in and save the day. Please, of course I wouldn’t expect Funaro to give the win to the female lead, not when she is just a “pretty art history professor”. Additionally, as a physician, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that a man who is shot several times resulting in a shattered shoulder, a punctured lung, and having a chunk out of his leg would not be crawling up the basement stairs, leaving the house, traversing the lawn, climbing the stairs to the second floor to leap down upon the bad guy!! No Way In Hell. I don’t care how much adrenaline you have in your system. You must have oxygen to make muscles work and you must have muscle to move bone. Same for Dr. Hildebrandt. She was shot with a chunk taken out of her arm. So one would assume in a petite, pretty girl, that chunk would include muscle. So how she managed to pull her now unconscious boyfriend into the van without arm muscle I don’t know.

I hated the end of this book. I wanted something more and I suspected it from someone who obviously did some major research on his idea. And if I don’t stop this review, my readers will hate me too.

The Church of Dead Girls

The Church of Dead Girls

Stephen Dobyns

 

What can I say about this book? I have read other reviews and they are either hot or cold. I am in the middle. While this story is not about a psycho nor is it about the dead girls the title alludes to, it is a wonderful examination of the behavior of a small town when a killer is one of their own.

I was disappointed of course since the opening chapter led me to believe it would be focused on the psycho and Dobyns’ strange choice to use first person made the reader question the narrator the entire time. The thing about the first-person choice was that it made the book seem so unreal. I mean I have never read a first person omnipotent (although maybe one could argue The Lovely Bones was written in that way) but that is how this book was presented. The narrator told us things that happened outside his presence, he told us how people felt and what they were thinking. He knew everyone’s secrets or at least it seemed that way.

Perhaps the book would have worked better if written in the style of a true crime or as a rough draft as a book written by Franklin complete with notes and journal entries which would give us more of an overview of people and would give us a more believable tale as well as an more enjoyable read. We are trained to show not tell. Its drilled into our beings, if by making us read this book we were supposed to see how terribly boring an entire book of telling is, then this was a success. There was no showing in this book because it is presented as a tale told in first person by a minor character of the story.

When telling occurs and the cast of characters grow immense as in this book, another obstacle the reader faces is finding empathy for any characters. You never really get to know anyone and so you don’t care about anyone. And when the characters are all so two dimensional, the reveal of the killer felt like a Deus ex Machina which is also frowned upon.

Let’s also talk about the reveal of the killer (I won’t say his name and ruin it for anyone in case you want to read this book for yourselves). His behavior at the end during his confession scene (can anyone say cliché to the max?) was so erratic that it was hard to believe he’d lived this way most of his life (that’s what he alluded to in his confession) and yet held it together enough to maintain his position in the town and his professional status. How had his family (who seemed close) not noticed or even considered him as a possible suspect? I don’t know. You can’t spend an entire book focusing on a few possible suspects and then make the killer be a character you only mentioned a couple times. I hate that.

Lastly, I was truly taken aback by the last chapter involving the narrator’s confession. The book seemed to have an underlying theme of the consequences of sex and homosexuality. Both of which were shown in a light which made them appear a bad thing or a dirty thing. At first, I thought “this theme is coming from the small town hive mind” and the author is weaving it through the story well, but then the end made me wonder if Mr. Dobsyn himself is saying something about homosexuality. Does he believe they are all perverted weirdos? I don’t know but I can tell you that there really was no need for that last chapter. It added nothing except a sense of unreliability to the entire story.

So what I am trying to say here is that the big picture—that of the paranoia and ugliness that flows through a small town when a crime occurs within its boundaries was presented well. If that was Mr. Dobsyns’ plan, then he succeeded. But the story, when broken down into its pieces was weak and cheaply made. Have you ever seen the movie The Money Pit? This book is like that house. On the whole, it was a great presentation but when you got inside and really looked, it all fell apart.

 

American Psycho

Devil in a Blue Dress by Oscar de la Renta, with gazelle skin handbag by Michael Korrs and Christian Louboutin heels

or

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

                I have mixed feelings about this book. If there is such a thing as modern day classic literature, then this is it. This is a book that were it not for the pornography, could be studied in future high school classrooms in the way that I once studied The Great Gatsby. In fact I kept thinking of the Great Gatsby as I read this book. And there were plenty of instances where my mind would roam off into the literary landscapes of memory as Bateman prattled on (and on and on) about what every person was wearing or the possessions they had. The Great Gatsby was a forbidden-love tale within a social commentary on the rich of the roaring twenties just as American Psycho is a morbid horror story within a commentary on the society of the mid-late 1980’s. Yet like those classics I was forced to read in school (not that I can’t appreciate them now, because I can) I found myself dragging through it. I tried the audiobook as well, but often had to rewind because I could not stay focused and frequently I drifted off into other thoughts. There was just so much “clutter”. I think the author dost push his point too much.

Early in this book, I realized that more than its namesake, the story is really about the shallowness of the 1980’s—specifically the “yuppy” types. Now, I realize that Patrick Bateman is an unreliable narrator and perhaps he never blurted out the horrible things he thought and did to his friends and lovers and perhaps they in turn never had the opportunity to learn of his horrible deeds, but I believe he did say the things he tells us. I think Ellis was trying to show the self-centered, shallowness of this particular generation. They never heard what their peers were saying, instead they were only planning what they would say next. And then there were the attacks out in the open: homeless, children, cab drivers, etc. The public didn’t notice, because the public, like the shallow, two-dimensional yuppies of the story, just didn’t care about anyone else. What better time for a serial killer to strike?

In this book, Ellis effortlessly mirror’s society’s sickness with that of a psychopath named Patrick Bateman who is also the narrator of the book. Patrick is obsessed with the clothing people wear, the brand and material it is made from. He is obsessed with having only the best of everything and of course, like any good Wall Street yuppy, he is obsessed with himself. His quirks and odd thought processes are apparent as he narrates his story. Like Rainman, he simply cannot miss his show (in Bateman’s case it is The Patty Winters Show) and he works its topics into the middle of his sentences about restaurants, women, or work. Near the end of the book, the subjects of the show become more and more ridiculous as Bateman’s mind loses its hold on reality. He has methods that scream OCD that help to keep him calm when he wants to lash out and do something he knows might get him caught. He writes chapters on the merits of Phil Collins in Genesis, Whitney Houston, and Huey Lewis and the News between emotionless recitations of sick and disturbing acts of violence.

When Bret Easton Ellis wrote the book, he received a 300,000 dollar advance from Simon and Schuster who subsequently decided not to publish due to moral concerns about the violent content. Women’s groups called for boycotts due to what they felt was misogynistic content. Now, I am feminist in the ranks of Gloria Steinem but I never felt that way. I have never blamed horror novels or heavy metal on the decline of morals and the rise of youth-perpetrated violence. And I can read horror novels depicting women as the victims of horrible crimes without crying foul. It’s fiction and let’s be honest (I really wanted to say Les-be-honest, but I refrained), until recently, women were the main victims in most horror/thrillers. Women are still the victims of popular TV shows like CSI and Law and Order. I don’t like it, but I get it. And rather than cry unfair, I appreciate the art for what it is and I vow to write the book I want to read (as Toni Morrison so wisely suggested) and I can also separate the work of art from the artist himself (or herself). If you want to say something about something and that something you want to talk about is particularly ugly, your work will have to be even uglier in order to get the public to pay attention. So I get it. Preach Ellis, Preach.

Let’s talk about the gore, the brutality of this book. I LOVED IT. I wish there was so much more of it. I know that’s sick and wrong but I am sorry, that’s me. I like it when someone has put thought into their horror. Slasher films lack individuality, lack that subtle difference between engineering and craft. I like the Saw movies for the same reason. Ellis gave Bateman not only a need to kill but a need to do it in such a way that would make the Marquis de Sade turn green. I like to read something that makes me cringe, makes me feel sickened with myself for even continuing. It was these scenes that earned the book it’s title. And although I wanted more to keep me reading, keep me turning the pages in sadistic glee, I realize that more would have tipped the scales toward trash. The fictional equivalent of a snuff film.

It’s hard to explain my feelings for this book. Now that I have completed it, I realize the genius of it. The subtle leanings toward madness nestled between seemingly endless descriptions of upscale clothes and restaurants (I really want to look some of those up because their names were so ridiculous, they couldn’t possibly have existed), the cries for help that went unheard by his peers and the public, and the violent eruptions that occurred between dinner and the gym. It balanced out perfectly. So that even as I sludged through the monotony of description and lists and had to prop my eyes open with toothpicks, I was finding small pieces of gold that ultimately added up to a jackpot. Would I read it again? I doubt it, will I sing its praises? For years to come, yes I will.

30 Days of Night

30 Days of Night—Graphic Novel

Steve Niles (author) and Ben Templesmith (artist)

 

I’ve never read a graphic novel before. So, I didn’t know what to expect. Having read it, I am still not sure what to think. I certainly don’t like reading it in this layout. I had a hard time with the flow of conversations and sometimes at least in this particular graphic novel, I wasn’t even sure who was saying what. But I got the gist of it.

The story itself started out pretty great. I mean why hasn’t anyone thought of using Alaska as a site for a vampire frenzy? It was a brilliant idea. I wish this had been an actual novel because the build up with cell phones disappearing and computer connections slowly being cut off as the day of darkness nears would have been a perfect build up. But we got it so quickly in this form.

And who is the mother/son duo that are obviously aware of and have been trying to fight against the vampires? I wanted to know more. I wanted the mother to be some bad-ass ancient vampire killer. I thought when her son hit “send” before he was killed, she would show up. But that story line came and went without giving us any information on who they were or what exactly they were doing. In a novel I think she could have been a major player. But in the small space of this graphic novel, she was nothing.

Of course, there was the whole “group of survivors hiding” trope and the interior danger of one of them having been bit/scratched (?) turning into a vampire but Eben saved the day by chopping off his head. This he knew would work because while out scavenging for food to feed the group, he witnessed Vincente rip Marlow’s head off for being so stupid. More on Eben in a minute, but he somehow happened to have a hypodermic and had the skill to draw blood from the vampire he killed.

Let’s talk about Marlow and Vincente for a moment. I for one, loved this interchange. The vampires in this novel were so believable and ruthless. I loved that Marlow came up with this plan and had all these details worked out. Admittedly, it was brilliant and I was impressed. Then Vincente tears into him for being arrogant and foolish. For putting the entire species at risk over a month-long blood orgy. His speech on how it took centuries to get the humans to think of vampires as a myth, for them not to believe vampires exist anymore. “Suspicion and fear are the seed to our extinction…” What a great line. And it’s true. I felt dumb for thinking Marlow’s idea was so brilliant then too. I hung my head, slouched my foolish shoulders, and read on wondering how the small group of survivors would ever get away from this most evil and ancient creature—a creature who presumably has survived so many attacks by both humans and other vampires alike.

Which brings us back to Eben and his lucky phlebotomy skills/equipment. Believing the only way to save everyone is by injecting himself with the tainted blood. Somehow, Eben is immune to the hive-mind that the other poor bastard succumbed to. Somehow, he managed to keep his own mind and remain calm. Some superhuman powers I guess. These same superhuman powers enabled him to quickly adjust to his new physical state and kill Vincente. Even though he was completely outnumbered, this display causes all the other vampires to run away and the dark days come to an end…. just as the dark month is almost over. I wonder what they’d have done if Eben hadn’t changed. I mean the vampires were running out of time to destroy all the survivors anyways. Why, if they had lasted for 29-30 days already, wouldn’t they just wait out one more day rather than Eben deciding to go rogue and inject himself with vampire blood (and he may or may not have been able to control himself thus possibly endangering the lives of those he was trying to save). This whole ending blew it for me. It was a deus ex machina where suddenly Eben is able to do what no other vampire has ever been able to and saves the town. Then, before he loses control, the sun comes up and he dies. It’s all so neatly wrapped up. An easy solution to this complicated problem.

I hate to beat a dead horse but I really think that if this graphic novel had been written as a novel, Steve Niles might have been able to develop these characters in such a way as either the ending did not feel like such a cop-out or even better. He may have come up with a more believable ending. I would have used the black female character (who I learned was called Miss Judith) so much more. She would have been the hero in my story. Certainly, in the few pages we read of her, she had a powerful mystique, an almost paranormal knowledge of what was going on. I wanted her to have a bigger part.

Bottom line: I loved the story idea, I loved the characters involved in the story. I wanted more depth, I wanted a more believable ending. I wanted a novel. But for my first graphic novel, it was adequate enough not to leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. I might have to take a look at Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.