Heather O’Neill Wants Us To Feel

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

Spoilers abound. I had the pleasure of hearing Heather O’Neill promoting this book at the Toronto Reference Library. She gave away way more spoilers than I have done here, and it did not ruin my enjoyment of the book one bit.

Once there was a city that was both charming and cruel. In that city, there was a strangely beautiful orphan girl who loved to dance. There was also a beautiful boy who love to play piano. They grew up together at an orphanage. People thought they were peculiar but, oh, could they entertain.  They put on shows to amuse the people around them. The rich delighted in watching the poor; they would pay the orphanage handsomely to watch the girl and boy perform.  This made the rich people feel good about themselves.

The girl and boy fell in love. On a snowy evening, they decided they would start a circus. Sadly, the horrid nuns who ran the orphanage despised their love and schemed to keep them apart forever. “Impoverished children do not have the right to love,” they harrumphed.

The horrid nuns sent the boy away to an eccentric old man who loved the boy more than he loved his own family. His family did not love the boy. When the eccentric old man died, the family took the boy’s money and threw him out on the street.

The girl was sent to be a governess. Since the girl let them eat cake for breakfast and made them laugh, the children adored her. The girl never ever yelled at them. Even their once lovely but now sad mother, as she no longer had any use in this world, treasured the girl. While there, the girl bewitched an ogre, who was also their father.

The boy was despondent. He had no money, and he had no friends. The boy missed his piano, but even more he missed the girl. He got a job playing piano at a theatre. “Why, he is better than the movie,” the patrons would murmur to each other. He met a sprite. She was very nice and taught him how to shoot heroin. The boy really loved heroin and would joyfully inject it into a vein every day. To thank the sprite, he became her pimp.

The girl became the ogre’s mistress and she moved away from the children who adored her. He bought her the prettiest clothes and would take her to the best parties, as he was an extremely important ogre. As she was so enchanting and funny, many of the ogre’s friends were beguiled by her as well. She really did not like the parties except for when she could dance. Everyone liked to see her dance. The girl want to run a theatre. But the ogre and his friends laughed at such a silly notion, because a girl couldn’t do that.

The boy cherished heroin so much he became a thief. He would sneak into fancy houses and liberate the expensive paintings that hung on the walls. Then he would take them to the ogre and sell them. The sprite realized that he would never love her like he loved the girl and the heroin. So, she hurt him.

The girl became mad with the ogre. Because like all ogres, he could be awfully mean.  She ran away from the ogre and got a job making pretty pictures. In the pictures, she wouldn’t wear any clothes and she would do naughty things with men and, sometimes, other girls. She had a baby but it died.

The boy was sad and missed the girl. He gave up his other love, heroin, to find her.

The girl was sad and missed the boy. She gave up her pretty pictures to find him.

He searched and searched.

She searched and searched.

Then, in the charming and cruel city, on a dark night, and in the snow, they found each other…

Now, if this was an actually fairy tale, this would be the end of the story. But this is a Heather O’Neill story. She is not going to let us off that easy. Heather O’Neill is going to smack us down because that is how the world is and she does not want to lie to us. But to keep us from feeling too bad, she writes the prettiest sentences ever; some of them might even make you laugh out loud. Also, there are clowns and invisible bears.

I will be hosting an on-line book club discussion on this book on Tues, April 25th @7:30p at onelitplace.com. Onelitplace.com is a full-service writers’ hub & collective for people who love to or want to write and are looking for a supportive community. 

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Super Cool Podcasts

I am just going to say it. I am enjoying podcasts way more than television these days. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I am breaking up with TV or anything. I just think we could both use a bit of a breather right now. We both need time to grow. Call me selfish, but I have needs too and, well, podcasts are meeting them, you, television are not. I enjoy the quaint old-timey feel of a podcast; good stories, interesting well-rounded characters, and no visuals. Podcasts allow me to dust off that old thing called imagination and make it work for me again. Here are some of the podcasts that have wooed me away from my former love. Those vixens.

Alice Isn’t Dead created and written by Joseph FinkFirst episode March 8, 2016 (completed Season 1):

A nameless woman—voiced by Jasika Nicole from Fringe! — quits her job and leaves her home to become a truck driver at Bay and Creek Shipping Co. Her goal is to find her wife, Alice, and escape into her misery. Alice also drove for Bay and Creek Shipping Co. and has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Jasika drives across the country with a kick ass collection of books on the floor, a load of travel sized deodorant or paper towel in her rig, and an audio recorder by her side. She amuses herself by making pithy yet astute comments regarding the banality of life on the American road. Then she meets the Thistle Man. The Thistle Man is not good, not good at all. He is scarier than Cthulhu and she is on his radar. The deeper into America she gets, the weirder shit gets. There are disturbing road side signs—even more disturbing than the ones selling Jesus on one half and a sex toys on the other— telling her to stop her mission.  There is the town that she keeps finding herself in no matter how many times she drives away from it. There is another town that hides “The Other Town”, and you don’t want to know about “The Other Town”. But Jasika keeps on truckin’ because that’s what love and despair does to someone.

Archive 81 created and produced by Marc Sollinger and Daniel Powell—First Episode April 4, 2016 (First season completed):

 Marc Sollinger is searching for his lost friend, Daniel Powell, whose whereabouts are unknown. Daniel, realizing that he was up to his eyebrows in trouble, sent Marc his audio recordings from the job he was on. Wanting a change from his clichéd writer’s lifestyle, Daniel foolishly took on a temporary job at The Housing Historical Committee of New York State.  He ended up living in a bunker, surviving off of canned peaches, befriending a rat named Ratty, and recording every minute of his day as per his contract. His boss was Mr. Davenport, a gasbag of a bully who relished belittling Daniel. Daniel’s job involved archiving audio tapes recorded by Melody Pendras when she was working at a historically significant—i.e. creepy— apartment building called The Visser Building in New York City, during the mid-1990s. This building had issues and most of the people there just aren’t right. The drug dealing on the eighth floor is the least of the building’s worry. Far more concerning to the people who live there is the diabolically named Visser Historical Research and Preservation Society that runs out of the sixth floor by a cult like figure named Samuel. The members are not sweet, tea drinking, slightly racist, little old ladies who think they know best, but more of a Rosemary’s Baby kind of crowd.  They certainly do not want Melody messing around in their business. Where Melody ended up, nobody knows. The more Daniel learned, the more unhinged he became, and then he started looking for answers.

ars PARADOXICA created and produced by Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton First episode June 1, 2015 (in second season):

Poor Dr. Sally Grissom. In 20**, she accidentally created time travel and ended up on the USS Eldridge on Oct 28th, 1943. Oops. Worse, she cannot get back to her time. She is brought into custody, and is hired by Director Bill Donovan of ODAR (Office of Developed Anomalous Research). Their goal is to find a way to end the war and if possible, best those arrogant sons of guns over at the Manhattan Project. She is already a weirdo and fitting in is not easy for her at first. Her continually use of contemporary slang and pop culture confuses and confounds her co-workers. Sally’s arrival shakes up ODAR hierarchy and many people get fired or demoted. She eventually makes a friend with another smarty pants, Anthony Partridge. She eventually befriends Anthony’s wife, a generally dumb but nice guy Chet, and her assistants Esther and Jack. Unfortunately, ODAR turns evil and some of her friends fuck her over, or get fucked over themselves. This is a cautionary tale about how time travel can corrupt and is generally not healthy. After much contemplation, I have decided if I was offered the chance to go back in time, I’m saying nope.

The Bright Sessions written and directed by Lauren Shippen and sound production by Mischa Stanton First episode November 1, 2015 (in third season):

The Bright Sessions is about people with some unusual issues or “abilities” and their plucky, yet has her own agenda, therapist, Dr. Bright, who provides support to them. Now these patient’s issues are not like our own; but then again they kind of are. There is Samantha who has an anxiety disorder. When she is having an anxiety attack, besides feeling like she is going to collapse into a drooling, twitching ball in the middle of the road and die, she also travels back in time. As someone with an anxiety disorder, I can attest that this would definitely not help the situation. Caleb’s teenage angst is exacerbated by the fact that he is an empath. He has anger issues, but can you blame him? Honestly, imagine having to feel every emotions of a bunch of teenagers! I’d rather be drawn and quartered—and that is one of my biggest fears. Chloe is a blabbermouth with boundary issues and a heart of gold who can read people’s thoughts. She wants to use her ability for good not evil and starts working with a veteran/artist called Frank who has his own unusual issues. There is a bad dude called Damian, you know he is bad because he changed his name to Damian. He has a personality disorder and he can bend people’s will to make them do what he wants. There is also the obligatory evil organization trying to put them all down.

Small Town Horror created and produced by Jon GrilzFirst episode April 27, 2016 (in second season):

Gloomy Ryan Jennings goes home to Crayton, Minnesota to deal with his father’s death. As a teenager, he was so traumatized by an event, it drove him away. See, back in the day, he made some recording on video cassette that mysteriously made its way back to him, which he posted to the Internet. The video cassettes show him going into the woods, drunk, to play the Sinner’s Game. Now, I don’t know how many more times I can stress this, but people, come on, do not go into the woods while drinking, alone, nothing good will come of it! Naturally, bad things happened, he ran away, became a DJ, drank a lot, was forlorn, and then returned home when his father died. Ryan is still messier than a four-year old’s finger painting. Too scared to stay at his old home, he holes himself up in a motel living off of ramen noodles and whiskey.  He decides he needs to get to the bottom of his trauma to survive. Daniel and his crush Sara—who has the most delightful Minnesota twang and is savvy with a gun—set off to Ashbury, a nearby ghost town, hoping to find some answers. There are laughing children. Heinous laughing children.

Within the Wires created and written by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina MatthewsonFirst Episode June 6, 2016 (Completed Season 1):

The woman is in a cold sterile room. Like a jail but nicely painted. She is given relaxation tapes from a woman with an incredibly soothing voice, unless she is being stern. Word of warning, Janina Matthewson voice is initially so calming that drifting off into a nice little nap is an issue in the first few episodes. Soon the tapes start containing hidden messages. The story takes place in a dystopian future or maybe a different world altogether. The narrator works for the obligatory evil institute—or maybe the government— and is trying to get the woman out.  The narrator is a little obsessed by this woman. A past was shared, one that the woman may not remember or even care to. I hope that the narrator is genuinely concerned for the woman and is not the most silver-tongued stalker to ever exist. You have to hear that voice, I would follow her.

*As I have already discussed Welcome to Night Vale, The Black Tapes Podcast, and Tanis in other posts, they are not included here even though I still strongly recommend them. Although Tanis, if you have harmed Geoff in any way, I swear to god…

**Also I have only discussed fiction podcast here. If you are looking for a non-fiction podcast that looks at horror and a dystopian future check out Canadaland created, hosted, and published by Jessie Brown. It examines the sod and sorry state of Canadian media today. Terrifying.  

Stay On That Couch!

Well, 2016 has started out rather humdrummingly. There was a winter that really wasn’t a winter; there was no snow. It only got really cold when I had a reason to get all gussied up, but I didn’t, because it was too cold. Everybody came down with weird, long ass ailments. Cauliflower prices skyrocketed to a ridiculous $7.99, and do not get me started on the price of celery. Due to tiredness, apathy, and hangovers, naps were a daily event. I was lower than an “everything must go” sale on cotton batting at Honest Ed’s. My couch was my best friend. It never let me down or complained when I was needy, although sometimes it squeaked. But I was busy on that couch. Besides the napping, I watched TV and movies, listened to podcasts, read books, petted my cats, and sanctimoniously cussed out—in my mind as I don’t stoop to their level—Twitter trolls. If anyone else is trapped on a couch, do not try to get up but instead use your time productively enjoying some of my recommendations listed below.

Pacific Northwest Stories: The Black Tapes and Tanis Podcasts (2015-2016)

Ok, so this is a little confusing. If you go to the Pacific Northwest Stories (PNS) website, their home page states that they are back and that PNS was once a terrestrial radio station and the previous host has removed all episodes from the Internet. Now they are back and producing two podcasts: The Black Tapes (TBT) and Tanis. The Black Tapes is hosted by Alex Reagan and is produced by Nic Silver. Tanis is hosted by Nic Silver and Alex Reagan provides supports. Now, it took me longer than I care to admit to figure out that PNS never left because they never existed in the first place. The PNS episodes that are mentioned in TBT and Tanis never happened. This a whole new self-contained universe that the producers are creating. Many thanks to reddit for sorting that out for me.

Tanis: Season 1

Nic hears about something called the “myth of Tanis”. He can’t find any information on it and loving mysteries as he does, needs to find out more about it. In order to do so, he has to go to the dark web, and he finds himself in way over his head. So he finds a cyber-information-specialist—not a hacker—named Meerkatnip to help him. She is way smarter than him and she mocks him. Actually pretty much every woman on the podcast is smarter than he is, and they all mock him. He takes it in stride. So what do we find out about Tanis? Well, there may be a secret society, actually maybe two. People go missing. There are runners, who don’t really run. Obviously there is an evil corporation. There are cults, which are not the same as the secret societies, and are run by scoundrels. And there is a cabin in the woods; a cabin with issues. Oh, and the woods are evil too. Not just the usual run of the mill evil like most woods, but these woods are downright ruthless. There are many twists and turns and a few too many characters that make the story somewhat convoluted, but Season 1 concludes with a very fervent and disturbing season finale. This podcast is a mash-up of House of Leaves, House of Rumour, and The Southern Reach Trilogy, which in my mind is a very good thing.

The Black Tapes: Season 1

Alex is starting a podcast that looks into odd jobs. Her first case brings her to The Strand Institute run by Dr. Richard Strand, who is a ghost hunter who doesn’t believe in ghosts. At the institute she finds The Black Tapes, ones Dr. Strand has never been able to debunk because he does not “have the proper tools” yet. Alex decides to help him and makes this the object of her podcast. So the dynamic duo look into creepy kids, music that can kill you within one year of listening —FYI, I listened. If I suffer a mysterious and painful demise, it’s my own damn fault, but please, somebody, go feed my cats, you can have my comic book collection—satanic monks, an upside down face, math, and a devil board. Alex pulls a Mulder and starts believing all these stories while Strand is all, “poo-poo there could have been a breeze, poo-poo she could have drawn that, poo-poo they were unstable, poo-poo….” During this time, Alex starts to question Strand’s credibility. His wife had mysteriously vanished before he opened the institute and he went missing for five days, right after she disappeared. Is that a coincident? Hmmm.

Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorkin (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012)

Vladimir Sorokin is one of Russia’s favourite post-modern writer/artist bad boy. His works were banned during the Soviet regime. But did that stop him from publishing photos of conceptual artist Oleg Kulik doing the nasty with farm animals alongside poems glorifying the Russian homeland. Nope.

His book, Day of the Oprichnik, is exactly what the title says it is, the day in the life of Andrei Danilovich Komiaga, an Oprichnik—the oprichnik was a secret-police organization during the time of Ivan the Terrible. Yes, the monarchy is back. He wakes up with a grueling hangover but is ready to go back to work once his servant plunks a fresh dog’s head onto the hood of his Mercedov to use as a hood ornament. Let me tell you, he has quite the day, which is probably just an ordinary day for him. Every wrong that can be done, he does, in the name of Mother Russia, in the name of the Lord, obviously. So do many others; the Tsar’s son is a bit of a fire starter as he likes to do it with women in the midst of the blaze. Now that is a complicated fetish. Drug culture runs rampant. Cocaine is legal but mushrooms aren’t!?! There is a drug that is a little gold fish that if you use it with others give group hallucinations, so naturally the Oprichnik take a break in their busy day of arresting, raping, praying, and taking bribes to go to a sauna, get naked, and hallucinate together. The Oprichnik are tight. Well, tight-knit. The climax of the novel leads me to believe that there are areas of them that aren’t so tight. Day of the Oprichnik ends with Andrei’s servants putting him to bed, dead drunk. And so the cycle continues.

The book is set in 2028 but there is a mix of old and new in it. The Oprichnik dress in caftans and have long skinny beard of old, yet they also get to carry ray guns (ray guns!). It has been awhile since I read some Russian literature, and this book reminded me that Russia is a harsh, brutal, and enduring country that breeds some harsh, brutal, and enduring characters.

In the Basement, Directed by Ulrich Seidl, (2014)

Ulrich Seidl wanders around Austrian people’s basements and his uses close-fitting, long shots to make the poor, unsuspecting fools watching this documentary feel like they are right there with him. Their basements are way different than any basements I have been in. Actually, that is not totally true. Basements, in general, are creepy. I have skedaddled out of a few basements due to rats, ghosts, horny teenage boys, and overflowing cat litter boxes. Seidl’s basements are creepy mainly due to the décor and the weirdos who have decorated them. I can say with one hundred percent certainty that if I’m ever invited to play triangle in some man’s oompah band that practices in his basement that is filled top to bottom with Nazi regale, I am saying no. I don’t care how much booze he offers me. I, also, will not pretend that some woman’s doll is her baby. And I firmly believe that toilets should be cleaned with a brush, not with a body part, thank you very much. That being said, I would have a cup of tea and a biscuit in the taxidermy room, but would not spend the night. I am iffy on, but not ruling out the shooting range —ever preparing for the apocalypse, of course.

Like in his brilliant movie Paradise: Love that is about a fifty something year old Austrian woman who goes on vacation in Kenya to screw young men/boys, Ulrich once again proves that us humans are flawed, twisted little fucks who really should not have the privilege of owning a basement.

A few other shout outs and recommendations

The Witch,* Directed by Roger Eggers (2015)

A controversial horror film if only because the general masses have no idea what the word thee means and everything else went over their heads, so they are in an uproar that it wasn’t scary enough. But it was. It’s a slow burn creeper with a smart story. Eggers took particular care to ensure historical accuracy, except for the fact that witches aren’t real. But really, they could be. How would I know? I wasn’t there—I think.

*I left my couch for this one but then spent hours reading about it on the Internet, so it counts

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (HarperCollins, 2016)

A black family, besides having to live in the horrors of living in the Jim Crow era in America, unwittingly get hooked up with a rich white man who blackmails them into doing supernatural biddings for him. Jerk.

*also, love that cover

New Girl (TV show)

In case people were worried that I was all gloom and supernatural doom on my couch, I watched a few comedies. The episodes while Zooey Deschanel was off having a baby were delightful. My favourite character, Winston, actually had some major plot lines. He caused some hi-jinks, had some rants, and best of all there were classic Winston and Cece’s mess arounds. I love everything that comes out of Lamorne Morris’ mouth. I would not complain one bit if there was a whole episode dedicated to him talking to his cat, Furrguson.

 

Janet Lee’s Book Guide 2015

Stupid Christmas is so stressful; you spend hours trying to find that freakin’ perfect gift for someone—who doesn’t even deserve it—before deciding on a three-pack of Ferrero Roche.  If you are in such a pickle, here are some handy dandy book suggestions to satisfy your greedy mate, family member, friend, secret Santa, strange cousin, or your mortal enemy that you share a tiny office at work who cuts her toenails at her desk.

These suggestions are eight of my favourite—and two least favourite—books that were published in 2015. As usual some spoilers.

The Nice

The Country of Ice Cream Star – Sandra Newman- Knopf Canada

For the smarty-pants, late teen-early 20’s niece who is constantly smugly telling you how cool Hermione Grainger and Katniss Everdeen are and that you don’t understand strong women characters. This’ll show her.

Notable Quote: One hand stroke nervy on his whitish cat. She rumble in her chest, blink lazy pleasure.

Description: In a dystopian world, where no one lives to be over 20 and they have some real rockin’ names like Problem Four Tool, My Sorrow Nine Wang, and Cat Fancy Thirteen Ba, Ice Cream Star embarks on a lofty mission. She needs to take her Sengle people away from the dangerous roos and find a cure for the WAKS that is giving her brother, Driver Eighteen Star, the posy. If that sentence confuses you, welcome to the club. The whole book is like that. You get used to it. Then you start talking like them. In public. People stare. These kids are hard drinking, smoking, fighting, and fucking bad asses and have hard, brutal lives, but they roll with it.

Dear Leader – Damian Rogers – Coach House Books

For your next door neighbour who you always thought was a witch and scared you as a kid. You don’t leave a card.

Notable Quote: I was born with the head of an owl and the eyes of a cat./The ninth abandoned palace of the marquise was like a velvet-lined meth lab./I learned later she wasn’t real royalty, just an out-of-work actress./I’m not used to living with so little sleep.

Description: This book of poems is not afraid to tackle any subject. These are very scary poems written in very pretty ways. Death, paranoia, teenage shame, cults, cats, toilet paper snake thieves, Yoko Ono. No subject is too dark.

 The Familiar – A Rainy Day in May Volume 1, and Into the Forest Volume 2 – Mark Z. Danielewski – Pantheon

For all cat lovers, whether they be young or old, smart or dumb, or sane or crazy.

Notable quote – How much [vastly {immensely <unfathomably> tremendously}…] Anwar loves [t]his child.

Description – A girl finds a cat; it will take 27 volumes to tell the story. Each volume is approximately 900 pages long. Many sentences look like the above quote. There are nine different story lines.  I’m pretty sure the cat is mystical. That is all I know. This book is way smarter than me. Try it, I dare you.

First Year Healthy – Michael DeForge – Drawn and Quarterly

For that crush you are trying to impress by showing him/her what a groovy comic book nerd you are.

Notable Quote – I dreamt about a cat later that night. It wasn’t moving or doing anything much at all.

Description- A woman, with pigtails that look like yoga balls, recently released from hospital after having a very public and mortifying outburst takes up with an illegal Turk. The Turk has a kid from a previous relationship with a round old bitch who dies. They move into her house. He has a dangerous job that puts her in a sticky situation. Naturally, no one will help her because, you know, the outburst and people are meanies. Fortunately, there is a holy cat.

Harmless – James Grainger – McClelland & Stewart

For your husband or boyfriend who irritates you to no end. The biggest problem is he has no idea why. This may help.

Notable Quote – You read about these personal catastrophes, relieved that your kid wasn’t missing, but also secretly disappointed to have missed out on the experience, because how often in this bloodless age do you get the chance to test your mettle against the elements, against the bad guys?

An unmanly man takes his daughter to his ex-girlfriend and frenemy’s farmhouse. That is his first mistake. Life in the country is not safe, people! They get way too high and behave like teenagers who stole booze from their parent’s liquor cabinet for the first time. Unfortunately, the actual teenagers go missing. Unmanly man and frenemy stumble off into the woods to find them, but instead find a very active forest filled with coyotes, pornographers, and Vietnam vets. There was a chicken.

 The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Pasi Ilmari Jӓӓskelӓinen – Thomas Dunne Books St Martin’s Press

For that gnome enthusiast in your life. We all have at least one.

Notable Quote: When Ella Milana left Silja Saaristo’s house, she had a headache and a cinnamon jar.

Description: Ella moves back to her home town called Rabbit Back. She gets invited to an exclusive writing group of nine members that is held by her favourite childhood author; they share a secret. The author disappears, garden gnomes behave suspiciously, library books get awfully sick, and then there’s the boy. Now I don’t know what most Finnish writing groups are like, but if this is any indication my writing group is kind of boring.

The Vegetarian – Han Kang – Portobello Books Ltd

For your roommate who is always going on about his/her fucked up family that seems perfectly normal to you.

Notable quote:  My father-in-law mashed the pork to a pulp on my wife’s lips as she struggled in agony. Though he parted her lips with his strong fingers, he could do nothing about her clenched teeth.

Description: A man who prides himself on being average, loses his shit when his average wife—except for the fact she refuses to wear a bra (scandalous!) —decides to become a vegetarian to thwart her crippling nightmares about being attacked by cats, pigeons, and other wild creatures. He rats her out to her family and they are horrified. Then the wife’s brother-in-law takes an unbrotherly interest in her (or at least her Mongolian mark). Finally, her sister is left to pick up the pieces. Let me tell you, boys suck in this book. This is a dark look into when mental health—or perhaps a demon— plagues an unremarkable, conservative family.

Wind/Pinball – Haruki Murakami – Bond Street Books

For Starlee Kine at Mystery Show.

Notable Quote: I would pull a hot dog from my pocket and gnaw on it.

Description: I’m not writing one. It’s Murakami. It’s super. There are cats and simple meals.  Instead, could someone please answer some questions I have about the above quote?

Did men usually walk around with hot dogs in their pants in 1973? Is it cultural? Wouldn’t it make your pocket damp? Wouldn’t it get all linty? Was it raw? Was it cooked? If it was cooked, wouldn’t it burn you? Would hugging be uncomfortable? Wouldn’t it break? Was there more than one? Wouldn’t you be chased down the street by a pack of Akitas? How do you gnaw on a hot dog, seems like something you would chew instead, don’t you think?

Help.

 The Naughty

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara- Doubleday

For your 72-year old aunt who is always rambling on about how bad her life is – this will show her, plus it will keep her busy for a long, long time.

Notable Quote: …he now recuts over old cuts, using the edge of the razor to saw through the tough, webby scar tissue: when the new cuts heal, they do so in warty furrows…

Description- The blurb for this book is a lie. It says it is about four friends, but it is not. Two disappear quickly and we are left with Jude and Willem. Here is the gist of this 736 page book: Jude is secretive, friends wonder about him, Jude cuts, Willem worries, Jude cuts, Willem worries, flashback to Jude’s most tragic childhood. Jude feels self-conscious and cuts, Willem worries, flashback to Jude’s most tragic childhood. Jude has good things happen, Jude is secretive and cuts, Jude has a doctor that does nothing and should lose his license, Willem becomes a big star but still worries, flashback to Jude’s most tragic childhood. Jude tries to kill himself, Willem worries, flashback to Jude’s most tragic childhood. Jude has bad things happen and cuts, Jude’s doctor and friends worry and do nothing, Jude feels self-conscious and cuts … {reader who is a mental health worker tried to explain what is wrong about the book to the book; book don’t care}

Gold, Fame, Citrus –Claire Vaye Watkins-Penguin

For the ultimate victim.

Notable Quote: All that time he let her think she was the flimsy one.

This sentence! This @%*#&% sentence! This sentence highlights all the problems I had with this book. This is a dystopian novel—no water, lots of sand dunes. The main protagonist, Luz, squats in an abandoned mansion with her boyfriend, Ray. He tries to get her to do projects to keep busy, so she plays dress up—that’s a project isn’t it. Then they steal a baby—another project—and hit the high road looking for water. Because she is so dumb, they have to separated or die. Luz meets up with a cult, gets a dicking from the handsome and charismatic cult leader (because aren’t they all), and gets addicted to a dystopian drug while neglecting the stolen baby. It is never her fault, ever. She is slightly redeemable at the end, but I think we were to feel bad or sad for her. I cheered.

 

*If there is lesson to be learned of this best/worst of list is that books that have cats in them are way superior to books that don’t. Obviously.

 

 

Halloween Creep Out

As it is the Halloween season, like others, I am embracing all things scary. I love that feeling when I have been reading or watching something and there is that moment when I become so scared it feels like the room has darkened, turned on its side, and I am trapped in one of those rooms where the walls move in closer and closer until it squishes you to death. It’s like I’m having an anxiety attack, but it’s ok because I know why it is happening.  Being scared for no reason is not fun. Being scared because you are actually in danger, well, I don’t enjoy that either.

Here are some stories that have given me the good scared feeling. I started with a very long list and to narrow it down I had to lay down some rules for myself—plus I like rules.

Nothing here is technically classified as horror. There is so much other spooky stuff out there that I decided to completely ignore the horror genre. Ergo, you will not be finding Marytrs, House of Leaves, or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on this list.

I also decided not to pick anything before 1987, the year I was legally entitled to drink, and hence I was now an adult, which some may argue is still a work in progress. Unfortunately, that excludes the movies of Mario Bava, The Shining, and the dream episode from Mash.

As always, minor spoilers.

Books

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami – 1994

Synopsis
Toru quits his job. His wife sends him to look for their missing cat, Noboru Wataya, named after her evil brother. Then she goes missing too. While trying to find her, Toru meets many people—a psychic obsessed with water, her sister who was raped by Noboru Wataya (the brother, not the cat), a teenage girl who works for a wig company, a woman named Nutmeg, and her mute son who works for her including answering the phone—who although he has just met them, all tell him bizarre, disturbing stories. He’s pretty cool with the stories and takes it all in stride. For a while he gets a job where he touches rich women and they feel better, but that’s only when he has the scar. Eventually the cat, thankfully, comes home. The wife, well.

My I’m So Scared Moment
One of the stories that Toru is told is by an old war vet who sees his captain flayed alive and then the old war vet ends up in the bottom of the well. After hearing the story, Toru decides he needs to spend some time in the bottom of the well. He gets trapped down there for longer than he planned. After getting out, he still spends considerable time in the bottom of a well—as that is, obviously, the key to finding his wife—and inadvertently encourages other people to go down that well too.

His first trip down the well panicked me. There is absolutely no good reason to willingly go to the bottom of well, unless there is. Maybe I need to go down a well? I just don’t know. But I do know I have spent far too much time thinking about it.

Tracks – Louise Erdrich – 1988

Synopsis
There are so many books of hers I could pick, but I picked this turn of the century story because it gives the back story of Sister Leopolda, the most tyrannical, pious, psycho nun ever.  She could teach Sister Jude (American Horror Story) a trick or two. Before she was Sister Leopolda, she was Pauline a mixed Ojibwa-German girl whose goal in life was messing with an Objiwa family that includes trickster Nanapush who rescued a mystical and powerful woman Fleur Pillager, who hooks up with Eli Kashpaw, their daughter Lulu, and Eli’s mother, Margaret, who moves in to help. They really have more than have their hands full dealing with poverty, hunger, illness, bad treaties, and being fucked over by the US government and a family member. So the last thing they need is a nuisance like Pauline, who believes she is better than they are, tries to break up the family, and then eats the last of their food. You so want Fleur to bad mojo her.

My I’m So Scared Moment
When Pauline decides to become a nun, she really goes balls to walls proving nobody is more pious than her. She wears a potato sack instead of underwear (a potato sack not potato sacks), uses the outhouse only twice a day, wears her shoes on the wrong feet, and, of course, there is the usual self-harm most devout Catholics like to inflict upon themselves. But what does me in is her talks with Jesus and arguments with Satan. Only Erdrich and Dostoyevsky have ever created characters with mental health issue that I find truly terrifying. They understand mental illness and are able to portray it in a realistic but deeply unsettling way.

Movies

The Tribe – director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky – Ukraine – 2014

Synopsis
A deaf boy goes to deaf boarding school in what I think is a totally deaf town that includes scoundrels, teenage ladies of the night, truck drivers, and “doctors”.* The deaf boy falls into the wrong crowd; although, I really don’t believe there is right crowd in that town. He falls in love with one of the teenage ladies of the night. It is unrequited. Brutal acts incur, and I looked away. Dorm room furniture should never be used that way.

My I’m So Scared Moment
After the movie, I went to catch the subway and there was no one else on the platform. A little meltdown happened. It was just so quiet! Fortunately, after an eternal ninety-three seconds, two people came down to the platform and they were talking about the movie. I gave them no choice but to befriend me until I got off safely off the subway. Thanks unknown people. I will never forget you—even if I can’t remember what you looked like.

*all the actors in the movie are deaf and there are no subtitles but you can easily get the jist of what is happen

Room 237 – director Rodney Ascher – 2012

Synopsis
Five ‘intellectuals’ discuss what The Shining is really about. Is it about a Minotaur in a maze, erections, guilt over the fake moon landing? Gigantic cans of baking soda leads one ‘intellectual’ to believe it is about the genocide of Native Americans.  One ‘intellectual’ states “…why a German typewriter? And in connection to that, I began to see the number 42 appear in the film.  And for a German historian, if you put the number 42 and a German typewriter together you get the Holocaust because it was in 1942 that the Nazi’s decided to exterminate the Jews…” This is deep shit. What were you trying to say Kubrick?

My I’m So Scared Moment
I went and saw this because I love The Shining and was curious, but also to avoid a major sporting event. It may have the Superbowl or an Olympic hockey game, I’m not sure. It was cold, and I wanted to avoid sports. So I trucked off to the Bloor Cinema, bought some Nibs, and watched this by myself. My anxiety attack hit during the scene when one ‘intellectual’ is explaining that to understand the movie, you have to watch it forwards and backwards at the same time. Honestly, what on earth is wrong with me? I couldn’t be watching a nice sporting endeavour with my friends. No, I was watching a intellectual crackpot discussing how seeing a ski poster changed her life.

TV shows

The Leftovers —Season One—2014


Synopsis 
One simple banal day, 2% of the population disappear (including the whole cast of Perfect Strangers); we don’t know where they have gone. Garmonbozia ensues. Three years after the departure, a small town is still trying to get their shit together, just like the rest of the world. Justin Theroux, the chief of police, battles dogs with his imaginary friend, his insightful father imparts sage words from inside a mental health facility, his teenage kids boringly rebel, his wife joins a creepy cult that dress all in white, refuse to speak, and chain smoke while lurking outside of loved ones homes. There are other cult figures as well. A woman who lost her entire family hires street workers to shoot her in the chest and she gets freaky with a big doll. Her brother really loves God. The world is screwed.

My I’m So Scared Moment
Do you want a mute person standing vigil outside your house, all dressed in white, chain smoking and won’t move when you yell, spit, or punch them? I sure don’t.

Welcome to Night Vale —podcast—2012


*This is a cheat. Instead of describing a spine-chilling episode of Fringe or Battlestar Gallactica, which is impossible to describe in five sentences, I am going to toot my most recent obsession’s horn.  I realize that I am a little late to the Welcome to Night Vale party but am downing the Night Vale Flavor Aid to catch up. I am only at Episode 40 out of their 76 episodes.

Synopsis
This podcast is, well, just neat. Cecil Gershwin Palmer is the somewhat fearless, opinionated radio host who bring us news of a very strange desert town where librarians are pure evil, dog parks are not to be trusted, interns enthusiastically risk life and limb for their job, and a menacing glow cloud is a school board trustee. All Hail the Glow Cloud! Khoshsekh, the male cat who floats about the sink in the men’s bathroom recently had kittens. “Some things just aren’t meant to be questioned.” There is a highly competitive mayoral race. Some candidates running include the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home and Hiram McDaniels, a 5-headed dragon. Go Hiram! Well, go at least 3 of Hiram’s heads, the other two are stupid jerks.

The I’m So Scared Moment
Instead of being scared—although episode 33, Cassette, is especially chilling with young Cecil being an intern, which opens up so many question —I am enchanted. I root for the town, I root for invisible pie, and I root for Cecil. I want him and Carlos to last forever (and maybe they could). In solidarity, I hate that Steve Carlsberg and those unacceptably dry scones that he brings to the PTA meetings almost as much as Cecil does.

Oh, and their weather is usually super cool music!

My time at tiff

So Tiff ended yesterday. I saw ten out of some three hundred movies to choose from. Five really impressed me, three I thought were swell, one lost me in the final act, and one was just meh.  I hated nothing. It is very rare that I don’t hate a movie. I hate so many movies.

Since I liked so many, I have decided to share what I have seen. Below I have listed all the movies that I watched, in the rough order that I liked them, with a brief synopsis, and a reason or two you might want to see it. Please note there will be some spoilers. Also, if you are hoping to find the next Oscar winner, a nice rom-com, or something to warm your heart in these movies, your chances are slim, next to none.

Endorphine — Dir. Andre Turpin —Canadian

Young Simone witnesses her mom’s death and wants to make out with her cousin. Middle Simone works in the parking garage where the murder happened, and photographs herself with nylons on her head. Old Simone lectures about time and falls of a bed. They are stuck in a loop. There are time jumps, wacko imagery, beautiful cinematography, incest, and few outfit changes.

When your reality sucks.

Men & Chicken – Anders Thomas Jensen – Denmark

Two harelipped brothers—Gabriel a semi smart but unlucky in love man and Elias a dumb, bullish, chronic masturbator— discover that the man who they thought was their dad isn’t. They go off in search of him and end up at a deserted sanatorium and meet their three hairlipped half-brothers. The brothers like to beat each other up with huge pots and taxidermy animals, and Elias fits in well. He learns the importance of chickens. Gabriel discovers that their dad was a mad scientist, and he also learns the importance of chickens.

Because you want to see some god damn absurdity. Also Mads Mikkelsen is having a blast as Elias.

Green Room —Jeremy Saulnier —USA

Hard core band loses their gig so they go play to some Neo-Nazi skins. Naturally things go terribly, terribly awry for them.  They end up trapped in the Green Room, which actually has free beer in it, but, sadly, no emergency exit. Every time they venture out horrific things happen to them. Until those left go koo-koo bananas.

To relive your punk rock youth, hear some great hardcore, and see skinheads get their comeuppance.

Chevalier —Athina Rachel Tsangari — Greece

Six middle aged men on a yacht decide to have a contest to see who the best at everything is. Exciting and mundane contents ensue; competition is fierce. No one dies, no one grows from the experience, but feeling do get hurt. Men grading other men on eating habits is funny.

Because middle aged men showing off is always funny (and sad).

The Whispering Star — Sion Sono — Japan

A female robot courier delivers packages across the galaxy in a talking spaceship shaped like a house. When she is not delivering packages, she makes tea, cleans, and cuts her toenails. She catches a cold.

It’s like Firefly but slower.

Der Nachtmahr – AKIZ – Germany

A 17 year old girl —who wears fantastic, but leaves little to the imagination, clothes that I never would have been allowed out in— goes to a party, does drugs, dances in strobe lights, and passes out. Something creepy and hungry follows her home. She is terrified of it but continues to party. Her parents and friends thinks she’s nuts. With no one left, she turns to the only thing that wants to hang with her.

Reverse Gremlins for a new generation.

Evolution – Lucile Hadẑihalilovic – France

A boy swimming in a lush but formidable ocean discovers a body. His “mother” says he made it up. He stares blankly at her; she stares blankly back. The town they live in does not appear to be on the up and up. Why are there just young boys and women? What in god’s name are they eating? The women meet at night to writhe around on the rocks. The boys are having weird procedures done to them so that they can birth the babies. There is a sympathetic nurse who likes the main boy because he is different; he draws.

Not to be watched when hung over. I can say that with 100% certainty.

Rams – Grίmur Hakonarson – Iceland

Two brothers (Gummi and Kiddi) haven’t spoken in 40 years and are rival sheep farmers. Gummi is pissed when Kiddi’s ram (Sproti), beats his ram (Garpur) in a highly competitive ram contest. Then Sproti gets a bad case of scrapi and all the sheep have to die. Things happen. Snow plows are used. Garpur is really the breakout star of the movie and embraces his sex scenes with gusto.

Cool sheep, naked old men. ‘Nuff said.

*they say no animals were harmed during the making of this movie but the Tiff crowd had many concerns during the Q&A.

Baskin —Dir. Can Evrenol —Turkey

This movie starts strong with a charming beginning with a bunch of policemen relaxing after work.  I love men who tell dirty stories, beat up the dishwasher, and then sing pop songs together. Then the frogs come, unfortunately they weren’t raining down from the sky.  Anyway, they end up in the abandoned police station and eventually hell (unsure if it is regular hell or hell especially for policemen). They start witnessing weird people doing weird fucking things in weird gyraty ways.  Fortunately, the hunky policemen was key to bringing down the king of hell. Then comes the torture porn, and my interest dies like a frog run over on a deserted highway.

For when you want to be scared but you can still turn your light off at bedtime. Or torture porn turns you on.

Collective Invention – Kwan Oh-kwang – South Korea

Sad sack of a guy does a medical trial and turns partly into an unspecified fish (the top half). A lying reporter who said he was shooting a documentary, a capitalistic ex-girlfriend, his deadbeat dad, and an earnest but broke lawyer try to help him. There is an evil pharmaceutical company that turns everyone against him. He is very sad. Then he goes to the sea.

For killing time on a train, or you are a teenage girl. The lying reporter is apparently a pop idol.

How Long Would I Last In A Dystopian Novel

As a kid, I spent a lot of sleepless nights fretting about the end of the world. Nuclear war would end us all. Or killer bees. Russia, who I had no beef with, or killer bees, who I did, would bring me to my untimely end. Those were some tense nights.

Now that I’m older, my anxious mind adapted and worrying about the end of the world is now what helps me sleep. As long as the end of the world isn’t happening the next day, then I would be a little worried. At 3am, I have survived nuclear war, disease, zombies, and army ants. My biggest worry is what on earth will I do with my cats. I like to believe Rubie and Olive would survive with me.  But the logistics of finding them cute little googles, helmets, and scarves, packing up the diabetic cat food and litter, and properly strapping them into the sidecar of my motorcycle—that I don’t have and don’t know how to drive— is problematic.

So, obviously, I am a fan of the dystopian novel and have devoured the recent slew of them that have been published recently.  I have picked a few of the ones that I read and decided out how long I would last, and how I meet my untimely end.

SPOILERS, SPOILERS, and SPOILERS.

California by Eden Lepucki

Synopsis

An immature woman, Frida, and her control freak husband, Cal, escape a mid-apocalyptic LA and go in live in the wilderness. Although they have no outdoorsy skills —even though Cal went to an outdoorsy college, they somehow manage to survive for two years eating beets and screwing. Then Frida becomes pregnant, gets really high, and decides they have to leave the woods. They go off to find some people and end up at a cult run by Frida’s supposedly dead brother Micah. There are no children there and they are all inexplicably afraid the colour red. Things go terribly awry.

How Long I Last

One week. Death by suicide.

After 7 days of living with Friday and Cal, I am so friggin’ irritated that I commit hari-kari by pissing off the porcupine that traumatized poor Frida so. A thousand porcupine quills enters my belly and when I fall to the ground, stomach first, the quills punctures my organs, and I bleed out.  Just to get away from them. I do contemplate killing them, maybe with the controversial turkey baster, but in the end why bother. Let the baby hating cultist or land bound pirates finish them off.

My rating: 2/5 You can pass on this. Unless you are in the mood to be angry.

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

Synopsis

A long neglected area in Florida is taken over by an unknown force and a new eco system is created. Is it aliens, ghosts, David Attenborough? There is only one way in and it is tricky. Many expeditions go in and if anyone comes out they are not the same and then they die. A tunnel—or tower— and lighthouse are not to be trusted. An evil organization tries to control Area X but how can they when Control is a lost soul?

How Long I Last

I do not die. I transcend. So a very long time.

Known only as social worker, I was asked to go into Area X for reasons unknown to me. Four of us go in, and we all go nuts. Two kill themselves and I kill the other one, but she tried to kill me first while possessed, so it’s ok. Eventually, I realize my goal is to understand/counsel who or what is at the bottom —or is it the top of the staircase. But I’m too crazy to realize it.  I return home, I am not me, I am a captive, I am raucous raccoon, I go back, I am tornado.

My rating: 4.5/5. So damn good.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Synopsis

A flu wipes out most of the world. The survivors end up scattered across the northern US even though most are Canadian.  Kirsten finds a travelling Shakespeare troupe, Clark a museum airport, Jeevan a family, and The Prophet many scared followers. They all have ties to an actor, Arthur, who dies on stage just before the pandemic hits. You would think that we were thankfully done with that character but unfortunately no. There is a lot of backstory. A graphic novel is very important.

How Long I Last

I last 23 years before death by paper cut.

I would survive the flu by holing up in my apartment after a good pilfering of my corner and liquor store. Because of this, I get to avoid Arthur and his ex, Miranda. I hit the road after everyone is dead but I stay in Canada, with infrequent visits to the US as I am afraid of walking over bridges. I start my own travelling thespian troop where we re-enact episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My travelling graphic novel is Death of Speedy by Los Hernandez Bros; I have never left town without it in 20 years so of course it would be with me in an apocalypse. When my troop ends up at the airport, I do a hand drawing of Death of Speedy to archive it in the airport museum and on my final page I get the mother of all paper cuts that gets infected. I succumb to my wound a week later, the night before we were to perform Once More with Feeling. Fortunately, Death of Speedy lives on forever!

My rating: 3/5 I suggest reading it. Everyone else seemed to like this more than me. I found the backstory really dragged.

The Passage/ The Twelve by Justin Cronin – Third book hopefully coming soon

Synopsis

The US government have more than their hands full when they take death row inmates and a little girl and try to make them into warrior vampire-like creatures. In hindsight the US government really wishes they had researched the project more. Besides being vicious killers, the vampires are also psychic and can control minds. They enlist ex-pedophiles now docile eunuchs to help them escape. Naturally all hell break loose, they go on a rampage, and turn or kill most of the population.  Jump one hundred years in the future and a plucky group of young adults go out and try to take them down. Also, the little girl, she’s different.

How Long I Last

3 days as a human. 97 years a vampire.

I stopped by my neighbourhood bar went out after gathering supplies to say goodbye. I only meant to have one. If only I could have just had one. Fortunately, the vampire who turned me is a pretty cool, albeit, simple dude. Even though I am vampire, I have my and my vampire’s moral centre. In a noble act*, I sacrifice myself in the most public of ways, coming to the assistance of the plucky kids and the little girl. I had a good run. Besides, being constantly hungry for 97 years is a pain in the ass.

*big spoiler

My rating: 4/5 Easily one of the scariest books I have read recently. Also very addictive.