The Dangers of Smoking In Bed by Mariana Enriquez, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell ( 2021 International Booker Prize Longlist)

I’m not usually a fan of short stories. I like best to be fully immersed in the depth of a novel. But, this collection from Maria Enriquez provides great intrigue. Each story is startling, unexpected, and in its own way, horrific; almost too much to handle if it had been written in novel form.

The first story, Angelita Unearthed, is about a ghost, the rotting corpse of a baby who had died at three months of age. This baby was a sibling of the narrator’s Grandmother, and clearly didn’t like being dug up in the backyard, for it followed her great niece “on her little bare feet that, rotten as they were, left her little white bones in view.” What a contrast this image is, with an innocent baby called Angelita…meaning “little angel.”

The second story, Our Lady of the Quarry, involves a crush of several girls on Diego, a muscled guy who falls for the older Sylvia. When Diego and Sylvia play a trick on the girls at the quarry, a dangerous place named the Virgin’s Pool, the revenge that one of them extracts is much worse.

The Cart tells of an old man who pushed his cart of rubbish, cardboard boxes and whatnot, into a neighborhood where he proceeded to pull down his pants and poop on the sidewalk. Those around him were incensed and reacted violently, all accept for a sweet woman who helped him escape. Before he left, he turned around to give a certain look at all the people except her, and subsequently the rest of the neighborhood was cursed. They found themselves in utter poverty and despair, until they burned the cart…and something that smelled like meat, but wasn’t, on the grill.

There are nine more stories included in this book, which I will not explain here lest I spoil the surprises for you.

I think of smoking in bed, which is not something I do. But, it seems to me to be a pleasure, for those who smoke, which is laced with added danger. What if the bedding catches fire? What if an ash falls somewhere unexpected, and lies there smoldering before erupting in flame? So many things, from a simple pleasure, can go entirely wrong. Such is the case, I think, with each of these stories by Maria Enriquez. Her world is a frightening one to consider, as the most ordinary thing can go dreadfully wrong.

Thank you to Granta for a copy of The Dangers of Smoking In Bed to read and review.

R.I.P. VIII: The Books

Behold four of the books I have for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XIII. Always I will miss the input of Carl, who began the challenge long ago when I myself was beginning blogging; may I hazard a guess of 2006? Be that as it may, here we are thirteen years later. Feeling autumnal. Willing to ‘frighten’ ourselves with spirits and ghosts and eerie stories.

The Laybrinth of Spirits is the latest in the quartet which makes up the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It is, frankly, just as involved and filled with characters as The Shadow of The Wind, a book in which I had to list all the characters on the inside back cover. But, there is an air of mystery, and an aura of the power of books, which melts my heart.

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Palombo is a retelling and continuation of The Legend of Sleepy Hallow told through the perspective of Ichabod Crane’s forbidden love. It will be published October 2, 2019.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell was first published last October, the paperback came out in March. It is described as, “An extraordinary, memorable, and truly haunting book.” –JoJo Moyes, #1 New York Times bestselling author and, “A perfect read for a winter night…An intriguing, nuanced, and genuinely eerie slice of Victorian gothic.” –The Guardian

The Hanging at Picnic Rock by Joan Lindsay is a 50th anniversary edition of a book which has been called, “A beguiling landmark of Australian literature, it stands with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides as a masterpiece of intrigue.” Apparently, three girls go off climbing after their picnic, into the shadows of a volcanic outcropping, and never return.

And you? Have you any autumnal reading planned for this fall? For the R.I.P. XIII? (Sign up, if you haven’t already, by clicking here.)

The Stand (The Complete and Uncut Edition) by Stephen King. Breathlessly finished.

Deliver us from evil.

It’s a phrase I have repeated over and over in my life, especially when I have been most afraid. It is the only thing I know to say in the face of darkness and fear; that or the words, “I love you.” Even Stephen King knows that evil cannot stand for long against light. Laughter. Or, love.

The characters in this novel know, without needing to be told, who Mother Abagail and the dark man are. They feel the powers at war within themselves; they have dreams which will not let them sleep. And, they are called. Some make their way to Boulder, Colorado where the forces of good are gathering under Mother Abagail’s guidance. Some make their way to Las Vegas, so aptly nicknamed Sin City.

But he is in Las Vegas, and you must go there, and it is there that you will make your stand.You will go, and you will not falter, because you will have the Everlasting Arm of the Lord God of Hosts to lean on. Yes. With God’s help you will stand. (p. 904)

My mother has often suggested that the Enemy is not ugly at all. Because he is the father of lies, the ultimate deceiver, perhaps he is really quite handsome. Perhaps he wears a jacket with two buttons on the front pockets, blue jeans, and low-heeled cowboy boots such as the Walkin’ Dude does.

Perhaps the plague which annihilated most of the world’s population was begun by scientists with less than honorable intentions. Or, perhaps the very hand of Satan was behind their invention gone awry. In any case, the world which Stephen King created in this novel does not seem as far fetched as it once might have been. In fact, the scariest part of all is that it feels downright possible.

Until the very end we are drawn into the battle, witnessing the stand of courage against that which frightens us most.

Yet, I will fear no evil. Even when it seems it will not be vanquished.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King (about the story this time)

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Roland, the gunslinger, isn’t any one I can admire right now, even though he is clearly the hero.

He isn’t a hero as I would define one: honest, fearless, and loyal.

He wanders through the dry desert, following the tracks of the man in black, leaving  destruction in his wake. Allie, with whom he has slept (for information) is dead; the town, Tull, is destroyed behind him.

He meets a boy, a brave boy named Jake, who has somehow withstood the heat, the lack of food and water. They go together, the boy clearly admiring the gunslinger and asking for stories from his youth. How, for example, did Roland become a man?

The answer is less than pleasant. The gunslinger used a trick against his teacher, choosing a weapon which was perfectly admissible and yet most difficult to take a position against. The battle is bloody, and I can tell this is just the beginning of many such battles.

For there are hints that Roland will exchange the boy, use him as “a poker chip” which Jake himself knows, when next they meet the man in black.

It ain’t no Girl Scout camp, this journey to the Tower. The fact that Roland came from New Canaan ought to be enough to tell you that, for as anyone knows, Canaan was not a land of the noble or good. No matter what Stephen King may tell you.

It will be interesting to see where this series takes us, if I continue in reading all 7 books. After I get back to the Man Booker list, of course.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

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The gates are locked. Hill House has a reputation for insistent hospitality; it seemingly dislikes letting its guests get away.

Shirley Jackson sets the mood straight away, bringing us closer and closer to Hill House as one of the four guests, Eleanor, drives there in the car she has taken against her sister’s wishes. Eleanor seems unable to stop herself from going, and early on we suspect one of the reasons lies in the line she keeps repeating in her mind:

Journeys end in lovers meeting.

A sweet sentiment, this, with which she can easily deceive herself. Three fourths of the way through the book she finds herself on the steps of the summerhouse beside Luke, the heir to Hill House, and she tries to draw him into a romantic conversation, into revealing his affection for her. But at the end of their discussion, which is quite matter of fact, she thinks to herself, “All I want is to be cherished.”

Maybe, more than a house of ill porportions in which walls seem to shift and doors close of their own accord, what is scariest about Hill House is the loneliness of Eleanor.

Her desperation is so acute that I suspect she imagines they form some sort of family: Dr. Montague, Luke, Theodora and Eleanor herself, all living in Hill House to discover what sort of paranormal activity might be taking place there. There’s even a cook, Mrs. Dudley, who reminds me strongly of Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers, presiding over Manderley.

When Dr. Montague’s wife comes, she sits with planchette (like a Ouja board), and discovers that someone named Eleanor Nellie Nell Nell (it tends to repeat a word over and over to make sure it comes out all right) wants a home, and with this summation I concur. Eleanor doesn’t want messages from beyond, or ghostly encounters; she wants a friend. A home. Peace.

Peace, Eleanor thought concretely; what I want in all this world is peace, a quiet spot to lie and think, a quiet spot among the flowers where I can dream and tell myself sweet stories.

Eleanor does find peace, in a shocking way. A respite from her loneliness, or a respite from the evil in Hill House which has gradually overpowered her, whichever side you chose to see. For far more than a simple ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House speaks to the shadows and darkness ready to grasp at any of us.