"we're from where we're from"
(Stephen Graham Jones, Stephen King, David Quantick)
Here’s what I’ve been reading this week…
Stephen Graham Jones - The Only Good Indians
When, where and why I bought it: in paperback, from Waterstones, with a book token. It's one of the few horror novels from the past few years everyone agrees is great. They're right.
What it's about: it’s about a bunch of Indian men being haunted by an elk who they killed ten years before.
What it's really about: facing up to your past sins, and not being able to escape your cultural upbringing.
What it's like to read: surprisingly emotional. That's the novel’s greatest strength - you feel the characters’ pain and weariness, although much of that pain is existential rather than physical. I wrote about Adam Nevill's The Ritual a few weeks back, whose incessant focus on physical trauma wore me down a little, but that's not the case here - it's nicely balanced.
It's also got a couple of really, viscerally gory scenes - necessary ones, and on a scale that feels small and realistic, but they’re nonetheless shocking.
Ally Wilkes wrote a great review of the book on Sublime Horror that points out some issues with the book - around character motivations, mostly - which I do agree with. But that said, when I was reading it, I didn't notice those things - only in retrospect. And if the mark of good horror is what it makes you feel (as Tim Waggoner argued), then this is a big success.
Stephen King - If it Bleeds
When, where, and why I bought it: it’s a library book, now the library has finally reopened for browsing. I know it says something about me that, throughout this pandemic, the thing I’ve missed most is the library - but let's just pause for a moment to acknowledge that libraries are amazing.
I remember somebody on Twitter saying that if you tried to introduce libraries now, they’d seem like the most socialist concept imaginable - all these books, paid for by the state, and we’re just lending them to people? For free? - and would be instantly voted down in Parliament. That makes their continuing existence all the more miraculous, and makes them worth fighting to preserve.
So yes, I didn't need more books to read - I've already got far too many on the go - but honestly I couldn't resist this. Free books, man.
What it's about: it's four novellas. One of them is a continuation from The Outsider, another is a story told in reverse about The Life of Chuck, which is about the end of the world (kinda), and those are the two I read. The others are about buying an old man a phone, and a sinister talking rat, I think.
What it's really about: If it Bleeds, the novella that's a continuation of The Outsider, isn't really about much - the nature of evil, if I'm feeling generous - but it's mostly just fun. The Life of Chuck is about grief, and death, and how the death of a loved one feels like the end of the world.
What it's like to read: it's an absolute blast. Stephen King can really tell a story, and although If it Bleeds is almost never scary, it's always entertaining. I'm never quite sure how he manages that - whether it's his character voices, which always feel just the right kind of authentic even when filled with folksy, down-home aphorisms, or the drip feed of mystery in his stories - but his work scratches an itch in my brain.
I won't remember any of the stories in here as vividly as some of King's earlier work - or even his lesser classics like 11-22-63 - but I enjoyed every moment I spent reading them. Sometimes that's enough.
David Quantick - All My Colours
When, where, and why I bought it: in a charity shop in Warwick, while staying with friends. I knew about David Quantick from his excellent books on writing, so this was on my radar already - it's the kind of horror concept that really appeals to me - and it's also by Titan Books, who I'm hoping might buy my novel.
What it's about: Todd Milstead, a jerk who discovers that he's the only person to remember a novel called All My Colours - which, conveniently, he can type from memory. He does so, with terrible consequences.
What it's really about: the writing process, its many miseries, and the terrible people involved in it.
What it's like to read: unputdownable. That's not to say it's always brilliant - for one thing, the protagonist is really unlikable, and some people will find Quantick’s breezy style out of keeping with his material - but it is consistently compelling, with an insistent note of dread and an unpredictable plot.
I read it in a day, and although I'm not completely sure it lives up to its potential, it was nevertheless a thoroughly entertaining experience. I especially enjoyed the final unravelling, and its delicious sting in the tail.
Two final things - firstly, my website has a new look, and I’d be really grateful if you could let me know whether it’s (a) readable and (b) displaying properly.
Secondly, a plug for Amplenote - my new note-taking solution, which I’ve used to write today’s letter over the course of the past week.
It’s the single best tool I’ve ever discovered for capturing ideas and turning them into action - and if you’re working a full-time job but still want to create in your spare time, I highly recommend you check it out.
Until next time,