There aren’t many successful horror fiction writers who are described as comical and/or whimsical. The terms seem incompatible. You don’t expect to discover that your vampire tale is full of snickers and puns. Besides, it is a rare gift to find a writer who can combine humor with gore; terror and giggles. Well, Robert Shearman can. In fact, he have a half-dozen popular titles out in England, and now his reputation has spread to America. Saddle up, folks! This is going to be fun.
In recent years, I have been surprised to learn that it possible for books to win prestigious awards, honors and endorsements of major literary critics only to abruptly disappear long before they reach the shelves of a bookstore. However, sometimes literary entities like the New York Times objects to this abrupt dismissal of what was judged to be a “significant work.” What happened? Frequently, an author or critic appears and attempts to giving worthy works “a second chance.”
In recent years, literary works that are classified as “investigative reporting” have not only become best sellers, but have lingered on the shelves for decades. Examples are Capote’s In Cold Blood, Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter-Skelter. All were in-depth non-fiction works that go under the classification of “crime fiction.”
I have been waiting for this book for a long time. Back in 1978, I read Falling Angel, which was that rare thing, a dark blend of noir/thriller and the occult. I read it several times, and it seemed to get better each time. It was made into a pretty decent film, “Angel Heat,” which had two of my favorite actors, Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet.
I have always been a Russell Banks fan, and when I look back over the last 40 years, he has always been there with memorable portraits of flawed but unforgettable people — all products (or victims) of American culture. I remember his treatment of John Brown, a historic figure that Banks recently called “America’s first terrorist” (Cloudsplitter).
Some 30 years ago, I saw a disturbing film entitled “Koyaanisqatsi.” The title comes from a Hopi word meaning “unbalanced life.” Essentially, this film (which has no dialogue) consisted of disturbing images of our planet: abandoned cities, vistas of barren earth and surreal sequences in which our technology seemed out of control. When people appeared in the film, they seemed lonely, trapped and irrelevant.
The growing threat of drought in the Southeast and the problems of “water politics” has prodded the memory of many legislators and ecologists to anxiously recall the snail darter controversy.
I spent a week reading this novel, and each time I laid it down, I expected to find a damp spot under it when I picked it up again. Rivers is about rain — unrelenting, unforgiving rain. This novel begins, “It had been raining for weeks. Maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn’t rained.” The world seemed to be dissolving around Cohen. Even the lumber that he used in his futile attempts to build an addition to his house became spongy and fell away as though rejecting its own nature. Even the land had become shifting mud and flowed away.
Eighteen-year-old Jacob McNeely, a shy high school dropout from Walter Middleton High School in Jackson County, North Carolina, seems resigned to a bleak future: As the son of Charlie McNeely, the biggest drug dealer in Cashiers Valley (and Laura, a mother who is a hopeless crack addict), his options are woefully limited. He can continue to endure his father’s contempt and abuse as he performs menial (drug-related) tasks, or he can venture into the world outside the mountains ... a prospect for which he has no training or aptitude. (At one point, Jacob wryly notes that he could count the times that his father had been proud of him on one hand, even if he had lost two or three fingers in a saw mill accident.)
One of my bookshelves is reserved for books that I have not read, but that I am saving for some special event. What I want is the pleasure of reading without a deadline hanging over my head. I actually buy books and put them on the shelf, reserved for “when I get the flu.”
Joe has been on that shelf for more than 15 years. Each time I take it down and read a page or two, I put it back. “No, that is too good to waste by “speed reading.” Take your time. OK, the time has come.