Saturday, July 08, 2006

Books of Blood Volume Two by Clive Barker

More delicious horror! I’m really intrigued by the work Clive Barker has done in this genre. He has a certain grotesque cruelty in his work which seems to have been sanitized out of much of the mainstream pulp horror I’ve read. I’d really love to hear about any other books of horror shorts which pick up the conversation where Barker left off with Books of Blood. If anyone has any recommendations for horror that is… let’s use the phrase “hard core” in this fashion, I’d love to hear them. I think it would be a fun exercise, after I finish the historical epic I so foolishly threw myself into last year, to write a quick book of brutal horror shorts. An homage to Mr. Barker, and his fine work here.

This volume of Books of Blood is roughly equivalent to Volume One. It contains five horror shorts, dealing with various elements of the macabre, the violent, and the cruel. From “Dread”, which deals with the deranged experiments of a young philosopher is pushing his classmates beyond their psychological breaking points, to “New Murders in the Rue Morgue”, a twisted tip of the hat to Edgar Allen Poe’s tale of violent ape carnage, none of these stories are incredible, but each is entertaining.

I’ll note again here, as I did with the first volume, that some of this feels a little dated. It’s been twenty-six years since Barker penned Books of Blood. Time, language, culture, and some of our mores have moved on.

But these tales are still a great late night treat if you like vicious horror in short, mainlined doses.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett chose a difficult subject for Bel Canto. Her interest was on recreating the complex relationships between captives and their captors. I understand that the situation which evolves in these cases, by which the captives begin to have strong feelings for those who hold them prisoner, is referred to as the Stockholm Syndrome. (The word “worship” is usually included in any shorthand explanation of the syndrome.) Patchett weaves a beautiful story around variations on such themes. It is a testament to her gentle finesse that what seems implausible when you read it is summary on the book jacket, plays out beautifully. This is a first class love story about several doomed and tragic loves between a group of hostages in a Central American coup, and the wide eyed revolutionaries who guard them.

The revolutationaries come in, tough and carrying guns. They make demands which are ill considered and which the reader knows will never be accepted. Government forces surround the building. Negotiations begin, but unfold slowly. Months pass. Several relationships are formed, between a Japanese translator and a young Indian revolutionary, and a Japanese zaibatsu head and the eponymous Beautiful Singer. The reader knows how this will end. We are told exactly what will happen more than once. But, like the guests of this tragic operetta, we forget. We are lulled into the slow rhythm of south American days, the charms of budding romance, and the spell of Patchett’s seductive characterizations and languorous verbiage. When the inevitable conclusion explodes in upon the reader, the results are powerful.

Good work, Ms. Patchett. I resisted reading this novel for quite a while, but I’m impressed with your deft touch, your compassionate eye, and your ability to tell effectively the kind of implausible tale which seems to so often occur. It is difficult to take that truth which is ‘stranger than fiction’ and wrest from it a believable story. You have do so, and I’m impressed.