Archive for historical

Forbidden Tomes: THE ACCURSED

Posted in Forbidden Tomes, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Happy March, ghouls – we’re beginning to get a taste of spring in the air. It’s a time of reawakening, good weather, and fertility. Unless you’re in a Joyce Carol Oates book. In one of her only outwardly supernatural works, Oates weaves a disturbing portrait of historical Princeton as it falls under the power of demons. Things get weird in the sepulchral spring of THE ACCURSED.

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It’s 1905 and we’re in Princeton. While some actual figures appear in the background, like Woodrow Wilson and Upton Sinclair (who were at Princeton then), the main story depicts the Slade family as the daughter – set to be married – is targeted by a vampiric demon. When the demon takes young Slade as his unwilling wife, the surrounding characters (accurate and fictional alike) fall into madness, betrayal, and violence. It really sucks when demons walk into history; they tend to ruin things.

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Having read a few other works by Oates, I expected this one to be like those – psychological, grim, and very disturbing. While it is all of those things, this novel sports a wonderful, crooked sense of humor as well. Like Shirley Jackson’s work, there is social satire to spare here, stemming from these real people’s responses to demonic activity. And though it may be funny, it also tends to get nasty. Oates has created a synthesis of the macabre, the grotesque, the political, and the tragic. It’s pure literary fun to watch Mark Twain, Jack London and Sinclair interact in a world where demons roam.

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Being a part of Oates’s Gothic series (which includes “Bellefleur” and “The Mysteries of Winterthurn”), this novel is written in high language and spares no detail. It moves slowly, which for some is a turn-off. But for those who are willing to wait for the Gothic nightmares to begin, the payoff is all the better for what is established before. The imagery and manifestations are suitably bizarre – possessed babies, toad-demons in a bog-castle, snakes ejecting from men’s throats – and, even better, visually represent the neuroses of the characters. Oates is brutal with the psychological dissection of her creations, and this is no exception.

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In spite of its slow pace and its ultimate focus on satire over horror, “The Accursed” is a wicked ghost story – more so because the supernatural elements explore the human characters. The period setting and springtime aura give the uncanny occurrences an air of elegance, almost loveliness. Oates’s universe is pleasant… until it’s not. The madness and horror that seep (or explode) through the historical trappings is of the highest order. It’s a hellish tale, poking through the fallacy of human belief and their sureness in themselves, finding corpses instead.

For an old-fashioned but gruesome epic of phantoms and broken minds, Oates has given us a gift. She is a craftsman of the highest order, as long as one has the patience. So take the vow and enter this work of nightmares – but know that those vows are binding.

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Forbidden Tomes: BELOVED by TONI MORRISON

Posted in Forbidden Tomes, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2015 by smuckyproductions

 

America’s past is full of horrors. Red stains that we have tried to expunge. But while scrubbing away the colors may dull them, it only embeds them deeper into the fibers, where they fester. It is rare to find a book or a film that honestly and completely explores these stains; and it’s no surprise that one of the greatest examples comes from Toni Morrison, in her powerhouse novel BELOVED.

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Set in the years just after the Civil War, this novel acts as two things: a historical thriller and a ghost story. It occupies two times, weaving the narrative of a woman who escaped slavery, and the aftermath of her family some years later. They live in a house haunted by the ghost of the woman’s baby. When a man whom the woman knew before she escaped comes to visit her, along with a mysterious young girl who may not be human, the woman is forced to confront the horrific past that she may not be able to reconcile.

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Morrison is an undersung genius in the art of the metaphorical Gothic. Her novels are populated by strange, but deeply human, characters – people like Milkman and Pilate in “Song of Solomon,” Sethe and her haunted family in this story. These slightly surreal elements are intriguing from an entertainment perspective, but by the time the reader has become interested, Morrison has already unleashed the full blow of her disguise. Her fantastical elements always stand for something else. She never undercuts them by retracting from their reality, though – in the world of the story, they exist, but they also represent something in our physical world.

The ghosts in this novel, amongst things both literal and nebulous, stand for past trauma. Sethe and her living daughter, along with the supporting characters, are haunted by the horror that their mind cannot escape: the nightmares of slavery. Morrison doesn’t spoon-feed these metaphors to the reader, though. She embeds them in the terror, making the reader feel every wrong done until they can’t deny it. Her vivid details serve a more horrifying purpose because, to many people, they were reality.

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This is a deeply important novel. Morrison’s ghosts are those of our own history – and they are not at rest. ‘Beloved’ is far from a traditional scary story, but it embodies the truth of horror so completely, and digs up terrifying graves that were never really buried. The aura of doom that pervades the characters’ lives is a doom that exists. For that reason, it is impossible to look away, or to forget. This book’s truths are more haunting than any phantom.