My creople (creepy + people), I give you the sixth annual Shelf Life Fun Size Halloween Book Reviews:
My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris
It had been, as the hip youths say, a minute since I had read a graphic novel. It’s a moon-howlin’ shame, too, because this past summer, the library added an adult graphic novel collection, so I’ve got a bunch of great ones about thirty feet from me at most times during my work day. I was admiring them early this month, and My Favorite Thing is Monsters caught my eye. Being the season of monsters, both of the mashing variety and otherwise, it seemed eminently appropriate with which to kick off my month of scary readin’. Our protagonist, 10-year-old Karen, is definitely not playing around; her favorite thing soooo is monsters. She loves them like McAdams loves Gosling. She’s so hyper monster-focused that she sees herself as a werewolf, and that’s how she’s drawn in the story. The reader follows little Kare-wolf (she doesn’t call herself that, which seems like a missed opportunity) as she plays detective investigating the mysterious death of her upstairs neighbor. Though the mystery is a big part of the plot, I wouldn’t really call this a mystery story. I wouldn’t really call it a horror story, either, though there is plenty of monster imagery. Rather than try to peg it with a genre, let’s just classify it as “very good.” The characters, particularly Karen, her mom, her brother, and the murder victim, Anka, are well drawn, both literally and figuratively. In Karen, we get a sweet-yet-stinging look at childhood and how it feels to love something obsessively, be who you are by loving it, and be socially punished for it. Getting into Karen’s head was my favorite part of the book, but the exploration of holocaust survivor and all-around-traumatic-upbringing-having Anka’s backstory is just as intriguing and emotionally affecting. The artwork, which repeatedly features just awesome-looking monster magazine covers and illustrations of real-life paintings, makes the book a visual treat. My only minor complaint is that the pages are sometimes too packed with images and text running in all directions, making the intended order of things difficult to decipher. Other than that, it’s a real literary mon-star.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Frankensteins (NOT Frankenstein’s monster, the human doctor who created him, so back off me)
Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice
My experience with vampire literature is very limited; I’ve pretty much just read the first Twilight novel (I only read it for a youth literature class while in library school, I swear) and Salem’s Lot, which I loved and discussed last year in this space. If the good readers of Goodreads are to be believed, Interview With the Vampire is not only one of the essential vampire reads, but one of the essential horror reads in general, so I decided to finally sink my pathetically unpointy teeth into it. The novel follows the tragic plight of our interviewee, Louis, who was made a vampire against his will (as most are) by the roguish Lestat. Louis is then forced to live a never ending life marked by coffin-bound days and blood suckin’ nights, and he’s very much not down with all of that. The novel is essentially one big existential crisis as Louis grapples with what it means to be good or evil, or what anything means, really. Surprisingly, this vampire turned out to be one of the most relatable characters I’ve come across in recent memory. He’s just trying to figure out what it’s all about and hoping (and often struggling) to find satisfactory answers, and that’s what we’re all doing, to various extents. Some readers may find Louis whiny or boring, and while the story does drag in places, it has multiple compelling, suspenseful, and/or heartbreaking moments, and I found myself mostly engaged throughout. If you’re wanting large doses of murderous vampire escapades, while there is some of that, you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re up for some vampire philosophizing, this book is a worthy read.
Rating: 78 out of 100 bloody fangs
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
This one came highly recommended by a trustworthy source, and it’s the inspiration for a new Netflix series, so I was doubly motivated to read it. This is my second straight year of reading a Shirley Jackson novel (last year I took on We Have Always Lived in the Castle), and I have to give her props for being a consistently strong, enjoyable writer. As The Haunting of Hill House is known as one of the OG haunted house stories, so I kind of knew what to expect going in: people live in/visit a creepy house, scary stuff happens in that house, people grow increasingly uneasy, even scarier stuff happens in the house, people reach a breaking point and leave or die. That’s more or less how it plays out, but not entirely in the way I thought it would. The story primarily follows Eleanor, a somewhat enigmatic young woman who, along with a few others, agrees to stay at a known haunted house for the summer as part of a doctor’s paranormal investigation into its alleged supernatural phenomena. The four visitors start out having a grand time, and then the inevitable spooky happenings start…happening, and our visitors have a less grand time, but only slightly so. One of the odd things about the book to me was the characters’ reactions to the weird events in the house and their attitudes toward the whole haunted house experience in general. While they talked about being scared when obviously freaky things like mysterious, unidentified banging on bedroom doors, unexplained extreme temperature drops, and cryptic bloody writing on the walls happened, they didn’t actually come off as being scared. The whole thing seemed like it was an intellectual exercise for them to be bemused by. This oddness in behavior is also present in the characters’ interactions with one another. They are all skilled banterers who never fail to deliver with snappy dialogue, and while it is entertaining to read, I repeatedly found myself thinking, “People don’t talk this way.” I know it’s fiction and that many, many books have unrealistic, movie script-style dialogue, but I think it stood out to me more and was less forgivable in this book because it took place in what should have been a tense setting and situation, and everybody was calmly slinging repartee all over the place. Gripes about what I perceive to be bizarre behavior on the characters’ parts aside, I do still think Jackson deserves credit for telling an eerie tale marked by a subtle inducement of fear (in both the characters and the reader) and an exploration of the psychological aspects of being afraid/affected by the unusual. It’s not really a scary book; it doesn’t feature any modern jump scare type stuff, or anything like this house described. Maybe that’s a letdown for you, but keep in mind that a) the book was published in 1959, so it shouldn’t be expected to have the gross out, freak out horror that has become garden variety to us these days, and b) it’s not meant to be that type of book, anyway. It definitely does give off all the right vibes to put you in a Halloween state of mind, and that’s sometimes all you need out of a book at this time of year.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 skull-shaped door knockers