The Books That Built The Blogger: The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

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“I do something truly innovative, and who gets the prizes? Norman Mailer!”

Truman Capote

 

If I had to choose my top five favourite books of all time, two of those five would be fictionalised accounts of real life events – Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates and Underworld by Don DeLillo. There is something about a novel which has, at its base, an actual lived experience that appeals greatly to me.

My fascination with the genre is in the melding of straight, factual journalism and the imagination of the author. Like a journalist, these stories have the facts; the who, where and what and show us the surface of the story. But a fictionalised telling has the luxury of time and of research and can take the reader beyond the facts, developing characters, creating consciousness and positing theories. Non-fiction becomes novel. Tom Wolfe in his book The New Journalism said

It was in the nature of a discovery. This discovery, modest at first, humble, in fact, deferential, you might say, was that it just might be possible to write journalism that would…read like a novel. Like a novel, if you get the picture. This was the sincerest form of homage to The Novel and to those greats, the novelists, of course.

The easy assumption would be that In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, arguably the most famous of this style of writing, was the gateway to my interest, but a closer look at where my fascination started, has brought me to The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer, which he classed as ‘A True Life Novel’.

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I’ve read a lot of Mailer over the years and the one thing that can be said about him is that you can never forget that Mailer is writing the book. His brashness, showiness and swagger can be both intoxicating and maddening at the same time. Mailer is no stranger to the fictionalised, journalistic approach to writing, exploring as he has the lives of Lee Harvey Oswald, Marilyn Monroe and Mohammad Ali. But it is in The Executioner’s Song that Mailer so perfectly steps into the background of his tale. Exploring the violent, short and brutal life of killer Gary Gilmore, Mailer seems to have realised that his strength lies in exercising the self-control that Gilmore himself could not. The book has its ultimate anti-hero and Mailer allows him the total focus.

Brenda was six when she fell out of the apple tree. She climbed to the top and the limb with the good apples broke off. Gary caught her as the branch came scraping down. They were scared. The apple trees were their grandmother’s best crop and it was forbidden to climb in the orchard. She helped him drag away the tree limb and they hoped no one would notice. That was Brenda’s earliest recollection of Gary.

Before he died, by firing squad at the age of 36, Gilmore had spent 18 of his 35 years in jail. The Executioner’s Song follows Gary’s life, from his release on parole in 1976 on the guarantee of his cousin Brenda to his execution at Utah State Prison in 1977. On parole, Gilmore was both charming and dangerous. Smart, with a talent for drawing, he couldn’t quite escape his own volatility and the prison values he had effectively grown up with. Within a matter of weeks he had moved in with Nicole Baker, an impressionable 19 year old mother of two, who adored him. Theirs was a dramatic, chaotic relationship and although they professed obsessive love for each other, Nicole was victim to his Gary’s frightening tempers and was frequently beaten.

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Gary Gilmore, 1977

 

She finally left him and Gilmore snapped. He robbed and shot an unresisting gas-station attendant and a hotel manager, but was quickly arrested and sentenced to death. Gilmore never denied his crimes, nor did he make any attempt to justify them and he agreed that he deserved to die, however, no one on Death Row in Utah had been executed in ten years. He did not want to spend the rest of this life on Death Row and despite campaigns to save him, he took a legal case for the state of Utah to kill him, by firing squad, as soon as they could. His case called the entire judicial system and the legality of the death penalty into question. Finally, after several stays of execution, Gary Gilmore got his wish and was killed by firing squad in January 1977. His fight for his sentence to be carried out was borne with a dignity and a bravery that he had not afforded his victims.

Then the Warden said, “Do you have anything you’d like to say?” and Gary looked up at the ceiling and hesitated, then said, “Let’s do it.” That was it. The most pronounced amount of courage, Vern decided, he’d ever seen, no quaver, no throatiness, right down the line.

Before his death, Gilmore sold the rights to his life story to journalist and filmmaker Larry Schiller, who then passed it to Mailer to write. Mailer called Schiller ‘a writer with no hands’ but took this story and made it into a classic of literature.

What was most surprising about this was that the Gary Gilmore story was everywhere in the 1970s. It had been pored over and pawed apart on television, in newspapers and in homes. The ending was never going to be a surprise so there would be no conventional narrative tension, therefore the question was, what was Mailer going to do with it? And could he keep ‘Norman Mailer’ out of it?

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Norman Mailer

 

What he did was to split his book into two parts. The first section ‘Western Voices’, is a direct telling of Gary Gilmore’s story from his release from prison in April 1976 to his arrest, told in the flat, plain mid-Western voices of those around him, mostly the women who were a part of his life. His cousin Brenda, his partner Nicole and his mother Betsey capture a world of desolation and hopelessness with a poignancy of passive acceptance. This, they say, is life and they can do little to change it.

What sparse imagery there is, is that of sinking, of falling – as Brenda had from the apple tree – with nothing to cushion the fall. Mailer perfectly captures the defeated working class frame of mind and allows it to take centre stage without his usual linguistic showiness. The research is meticulous, the story detailed, presenting the man behind the myth and moving relentless towards his inevitable end.

‘Eastern Voices’, the second part of the reveals how the machinery then kicks into place. The voices here – mostly male – are the lawyers, the reporters, the television anchors who covered the story. It focuses on the trial, the fight to be allowed to die and the execution and its fall out. It also features of course, Larry Schiller, whose story this literally and ultimately became. In Eastern Voices, the camera is panning out and the man at the centre, Gary Gilmore, becomes a smaller figure in a wider story which takes on a life of its own.

I think The Executioner’s Song, more than any book I’ve ever done, was an exercise in craft, I’ve never felt close to it

I feel that Mailer has done a disservice to The Executioner’s Song by referring to it as an ‘exercise’ and relegating it to the second division of his body of work. It is a vast, epic book, yet also detailed, nuanced and strangely beautiful. Mailer doesn’t ask for pity for Gilmore, Gilmore never asked for it himself, nor did he give it to his victims. And yet, we do end up feeling pity despite ourselves. The reality of the death penalty is shocking, with the last minute reprieves (sometimes with minutes to go) and the endless legal wrangling seeming often like a form of torture. As a treatise on capital punishment and human nature it is invaluable book, while also being a moving portrait of the quiet, hopeless lives rarely explored in literature.

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The Executioner’s Song was the start of my love for this genre of writing. It lead me to Joyce Carol Oates, who explored the lives of Marilyn Munroe (Blonde) and Jon-Benet Ramsey (My Sister, My Love) and the Chappaquiddick incident (Black Water) with such skill. I wouldn’t have read Gordon Burn, Don DeLillo (Libra, about Lee Harvey Oswald) or Truman Capote. More recent books such as Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites or Emma Cline’s The Girls shows that, as readers, we still want to read behind the facts and explore the worlds behind the sketched outlines.

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Tommy Lee Jones as Gary Gilmore

 

The Executioner’s Song was also made into a movie, directed by Larry Schiller with a screen play by Mailer and a searing, Emmy award-winning performance from a young Tommy Lee Jones. It is well worth checking out.

Check back in to the blog tomorrow when Karen, from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings will be talking about the books that have made her!

August in Review

August has been a very busy month here at 746 Books.

Well, not so much on the blog at 746 Books, but in the real life of 746 Books!

August was the final full month of 20 Books of Summer and I watched in envy as several participants tweeted details of their 20th review! What I’ve discovered this year about my summer challenge is, that the reading itself is not the problem. 20 books is a totally acceptable amount of books to read within that timescale.

So, it’s not the reading. It’s the reading and reviewing 20 books is the problem for me! Although I am just about to start book number 20 (with 3 days to go!!) my reviewing has stalled at 13. I will round up on the last 6 I have read here, but we are talking 2 or 3 line reviews rather than 2 or 3 paragraphs, which is disappointing to me as there are a few of these books that I would love to have looked at in a more in depth way.

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I think I may have been able to dive in to this challenge better if I hadn’t started a new job in the middle of it. I am loving my new position as Arts Programmer at the new Seamus Heaney HomePlace Arts Centre, it’s challenging and exciting but it has also been all-consuming. The building opens to the public on 29 September and we are all working very hard to get everything ready for that. It has meant that after work, kids, dinner and anything else I have to do, I have had very little energy for posting on my blog. I am hoping that things settle down over the next few months and I will get back to my usual regular posting schedule, I mean it’s not as if I won’t be surrounded every day by amazing literary inspiration!

Quick plug – do check out the website for the HomePlace – if anyone is visiting, please do say hello!

I was also on holiday last week with the family to the beautiful Rathmullan in Donegal. We had a wonderful week, the kids made friends with a neighbouring cat and the weather was kind to us. No mobile coverage also meant it was a very relaxing week and I got a lot of reading done. Some of it outside at the picnic table no less – a phenomenon that is often unheard of in Donegal!

But today has an autumnal feel. The twins went back to school, starting in P2 and yet again there were tears. And yet again, they were mine and there is a distinct chill in the air here in Northern Ireland. I can’t deny that I’m an autumn kinda girl, so I’m looking forward to coats and tights and scarves and all things cosy!

And finally, I have just found out that 746 Books has made the finals of the Littlewoods Irish Blog Awards in the Books and Literature category. I am so delighted to have made the final 7, it’s such an honour and am currently frantically trying to source a babysitter so the hubbie and I can put on our glad rags and head down to Dublin for the ceremony on the 15 September! Thanks to all of you who voted for me, it was much appreciated.

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So, back to books – here is a very quick run down of the last 6 of my 20 Books.

No 616 The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

As expected, Wharton didn’t disappoint. I loved The Age of Innocence, not as much as The House of Mirth, but it was still wonderful. I found this one to be more biting and often more funny in its dissection of New York society than the other works have read and it has a final scene that is poignant and perfect. Now to watch the movie!

Read on: Book
Number Read: 131
Number Remaining: 615

No 615 Small Island by Andrea Levy

This was another winner for me, with the multiple viewpoints bringing a depth and insight into the story. Perfectly formed with a range of incredibly authentic voices, I enjoyed it very much.

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Read on: Kindle
Number Read: 132
Number Remaining: 614

No 614 I Am No One You Know by Joyce Carol Oates

I adore Joyce Carol Oates short stories as she usually veers towards the darker side of humanity in her shorter works. This collection is no exception, featuring some stunning stories that explore those moments when we do something impulsive, or make a small decision, with no idea of the often devastating consequences that might follow.

Read on: Book
Number Read: 133
Number Remaining: 613

No 613 Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

‘You must have wished a million times to be normal.’
‘No.’
‘No?’
‘I’ve wished I had two heads. Or that I was invisible. I’ve wished for a fish’s tale instead of legs. I’ve wished to be more special.’
‘Not normal?’
‘Never’

I loved this book, which I have been meaning to read for a long time. Telling the tale of the Binewski family, circus ‘freaks’ featuring the megalomaniac Arturo the Aqua Boy, telekinetic Chick and sometime prostitute Siamese twins, this is a dark, funny tale is narrated by bald, albino hunchback Olympia which explores sibling rivalry, family loyalty and how society judges between the beautiful and the ugly, the weird and the normal. A must read.

Read on Book
Number Read: 134
Number Remaining: 612

No 612 The Republic of Love by Carol Shields

This is the one occasion where I wish I had time to write a full review, as The Republic of Love is my book of the year so far. A smart, sprawling, witty and heartwarming exploration of love in all its forms, the story follows Fay McLeod and Tom Avery as they stumble through failed relationships, muse on the impossibility of finding a partner, meet, fall in love at first sight and try to navigate the pitfalls that great romance can bring. If this makes it sound slight, it’s not at all. It is a wonderful musing on all aspects of love and is one of the most charming, humane and entertaining books Ihave read in a long time.

Read on: Kindle
Number Read: 135
Number Remaining: 611

No 611 Solace by Belinda McKeon

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The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that Solace was not on my original 20 Books of Summer list. I should have read Moon Tiger, but it was on my iPad, which I hadn’t brought on holiday, so I turned to Solace instead. I’m glad I did. I adored Tender, Belinda McKeon’s second novel, which was my favourite book of the year last year. Solace is like Tender’s quieter little sister – not so showy or attention grabbing, but a book with real depth and beauty. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but Solace starts slowly, exploring the relationship between Mark and Joanne as they deal with a pregnancy not long after they have started dating. It changes pace halfway through following an unforeseen tragedy and excels in exploring familial bonds and the relationship between fathers and sons against the backdrop of agricultural Ireland before the financial crash.

Read On: Kindle
Number Read: 136
Number Remaining: 610

So there we have it. 19 books of my 20 books of Summer read, with just Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon left to read and I am determined to finish it by Monday – although I doubt I will manage a review before then! Plus, I’m a little excited that I am only 10 books away from getting in to the 500s of the 746!

So, how are the rest of you doing with your challenge? Are you looking forward to Autumn or pining for the last few days of summer?

20 Books of Summer is back! Who’s in?

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Oh I’m a glutton for punishment….

The temperature is rising (slightly), the kids will be getting out of school soon and I’ve done my Great Wardrobe Changeover (I’m not the only one who does that, am I?) so it must be nearly summer time, which means another attempt at completing my 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

I have to admit, I don’t have the greatest track record with this one.

2014 – 16.5 books

2015 – 18 books

Improvement? Yes. Completion? No.

This has to be my year. I am DETERMINED to complete this one. The 746 hasn’t been decreasing as much as I’d like – probably due to the fact that I can’t stay away from Netgalley and at the start of the year one of my goals was to get into the 500s –  so this challenge is the push I need.

From 1 June to 5 September, I’m going to attempt to read my 20 Books of Summer. That’s 7 books a month, which is pretty daunting, but I think I can do it. This year I’ve decided to go for 20 books by women and I must admit, I had great fun putting this list together, but I’m going to need your help completing it. I’ve tried to go for a broad range of genres, eras and styles so that there is always something I’m going to want to read! You can click on the titles to get through to their description on Goodreads.

 

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  1. The Lottery And Other Stories by Shirley Jackson

I have adored The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived at the Castle so I’m looking forward to this highly regarded collection

2 . Small Island by Andrea Levy

I’m trying to keep up with my #ReadDiverse goal this year too, so I’m looking forward to reading this, a mere 12 years after it won the Orange Prize for Fiction

3. Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon

This one came to my attention thanks to Melanie’s great review at Grab the Lapels so I was delighted to find it lurking in the 746. Melanie’s subsequent attempts to have it win last month’s reading Roulette meant I couldn’t not include it in the summer list!

4. A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

I love Dunmore’s writing and it’s been a few years since I’ve read any of her novels. A Spell of Winter sounds fantastic, although not very summery!

5. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Geek Love was on my 20 Books of Summer list in 2014 and was one of the books I didn’t get round to. I’ve been meaning to read it for so long, and given Dunn’s recent death, I felt it was time to finally read it.

6. My Lover’s Lover by Maggie O’Farrell

One of the major problems with taking on a book-buying ban is the inability to immediately purchase new books by my favourite authors. As I can’t read This Must Be The Place I decided to put this earlier work in my list.

7. The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

This is another book for my Diverse Reads goal and I am a big fan of Ogawa’s quiet, powerful style. Plus it’s three short novellas. Which helps. Believe me.

8. Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

I always seem to miss the buzz books when the buzz is actually happening! This book was causing a stir when I started blogging a few years back and I’m a sucker for a good psychological thriller

9. Blue Nights by Joan Didion

This could be a tough read, emotionally as Didion explores the death of her daughter Quintana, but I loved The Year of Magical Thinking and think this will be equally moving.

10. The Keep by Jennifer Egan

I don’t know too much about this one, but enjoyed Look At Me and A Visit From the Goon Squad and the promise of a novel within a novel is always tempting for me!

11.  I Am No One You Know by Joyce Carol Oates

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will be aware of my love for JCO. Rather than go for one of her big novels, I’ve gone for a collection of short stories at which I think she excels.

12.  A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne

This is another Orange Prize shortlisted novel that I missed at the time but the 1970s setting and coming-of-age theme really appeals.

13. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

When I heard about the Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week hosted by Annabel, Ali and Simon in June, I was keen to take part. This is the only Bainbridge I have in the 746 and will be my first experience with her work

14. The Republic of Love by Carol Shields

About 15 years ago I read, and loved, The Stone Diaries and bought quite a few of Shields books because of it. Did I get round to reading them? Of course not. But I will now!

15. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Why did I let Edith languish on my shelves for so long? I hadn’t read any of her work until a few years ago, but have caught up with Ethan Frome and The House of Mirth. I’m really looking forward to reading this one, Edith hasn’t let me down yet!

16. Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

This is a bit of a cheat. Eagle eyes will spot that this was only published last year. No, I didn’t break my book-buying ban on the sly, I bought it for my husband. And now I’m going to borrow it! It’s not officially one of the 746, I just really want to read it and continue the trend for reading a rock memoir every summer!

17. Sister by Rosamund Lupton

This is another thriller I don’t really remember buying but have seen a lot of praise for. Comparisons to Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell? Can’t really go wrong there!

18. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

I adored the skill and verve of Marisha Pessl’s second novel Night Film and Special Topics is billed as a mix of The Secret History and The Virgin Suicides which sounds just weird enough for me!

Now this is where I need your help. I’ve struggled to pick my final 20, and have four other possibilities I can’t decide on. They are:

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1. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

I had an English teacher once who told us that anyone who loved literature needed to read this book. I was 18. I went out and bought it and…..never got round to reading it!

2. Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

I have read so many amazing reviews of Boy, Snow, Bird that I’m thinking this one could be a great read too.

3. This is How by MJ Hyland

This one is a bit of a mystery to me as I don’t remember buying it at all. It sounds pretty intriguing though. Can anyone enlighten me?

4. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

A quick poll on Twitter over the weekend would suggest that this is amazing. But it’s big. So very big.

 

Are there any of these four you think I should absolutely put in the summer pile? Any I should avoid? I’ll make my final choices on 1 June, but you guys always seem to guide me towards some excellent reads, so any advice would be greatly appreciated!

I’m going to keep a Master post at the start of the blog so you can follow my progress as books get crossed off the list and if anyone feels their reading needs a bit of oomph then why not join me?

Just take the Books of Summer image, pick your own 10, 15 or 20 books you’d like to read and link back to my Master post so I know you’re taking part.  I’d love your support and as anyone who has taken part before will know, I am wonderfully slack with my rules!

 

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I’ll be tweeting my way through the challenge as well using the hashtag #20booksofsummer.

So, any thoughts on my choices? Have you read any of my 20? Any I should start with straight away, or save for later? Any I’m going to regret putting on the list? I’d love to hear what you think.

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday or A Long Long Time Ago in the days before Goodreads…

Apologies for the handwriting!

Apologies for the handwriting!

Last week I was having a bit of a clear out and came across a diary from 2007. Goodreads was just a twinkle in some web gurus’ eye in 2007, so I kept track of what I read the old fashioned way. By writing a list in the back of my Moleskine diary.

It’s fun to have a look back at what I was reading seven years ago.

What struck me the most is how many of these books I have no recollection of whatsoever! Seriously.

The Weight of Numbers? Not a clue.

Electricity? Can’t even picture the cover. *

The same goes for JPod (by a once favourite author Douglas Coupland), The Hiding Place (I think there were some sisters involved) and D Is For Deadbeat, which I remember as being a generic crime thriller I got from the library and not much else. It gets worse though.

I bought a copy of The Observations by Jane Harris just last year and it’s sitting on my bedside table, counted among the 746. Yet it appears that I read it seven years ago and can’t remember it at all. Is this normal? Maybe the nature of literary fiction and the amount of it that I read means that I can’t retain memories of all these stories. Does this say more about the books in question or more about me?!

As I am taking part in Non Fiction November, it was also interesting to see that I read quite a few biographies and non-fiction books, including Bill Buford’s Heat, The Divine Matrix (I recall an attempt to get my head around quantum physics!) and Goddess – a biography of Marilyn Monroe, tellingly read straight after Joyce Carol Oates’ majestic Blonde. I read Judith Levine’s Not Buying It in an attempt to curb some of my superfluous spending, but clearly that didn’t work – book-wise at least!

The list also reminded me of my beautiful holiday in Crete that year – I read Battle Royale, Ghostwritten, An American Tragedy, Invisible Monsters and That’s Me in The Corner (borrowed from the hubbie when I ran out of books!). It was so hot that the pages of Battle Royale fell away from the book but it’s nice to remember a time when it was possible to lounge around on the beach all day reading. Holidays with children don’t afford the same luxury!

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There are some duds in here too, I started watching Dexter in 2007 and read the book for comparison. As I recall, the book was awful. Piers Morgan’s autobiography may have been full of smarmy self-aggrandizing, but it was also chock full of hilarious celebrity anecdotes to more than make up for Piers and his self-love. I’m also surprised that I read two Harlan Coben books in a row. I was slightly disappointed with Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk as I’d heard that people had been fainting at his readings from one particular story, but although grossed out a little, I stayed fully conscious the whole time. Sushi For Beginners was my one and only attempt to read chick-lit, figuring that no one does it better than Marian Keyes and while the book was diverting fun, it didn’t convince me to read more of the genre!

Another thing that strikes me when looking at this list, is the amount of books here that have been, or are being adapted for film or television – 14 in total, some more successfully than others.

Overall though, 2007 seems to have been a good reading year. The Line of Beauty, Libra, The Remains of the Day, The Year of Magical Thinking, Black Swan Green, An American Tragedy and The Road. All fabulous, fabulous books. Plus I ended the year with How To Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson, the book that inspired me to go part-time, start a card-making business and have more fun with life and a book I return to again and again when I need to remember what it important.

The 'How To Be Free' Manifesto for Life

The ‘How To Be Free’ Manifesto for Life

So, how did you all track your reading in the days before Goodreads? Do you still keep lists? Can you enlighten me as to the plot of The Weight of Numbers?!

*A quick Google search has just told me that Electricity has been made into a movie that is out this year. I read the plot synopsis. Still nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No 700 The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates

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The full title of this collection is The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares: Novellas and Stories of Unspeakable Dread. Joyce Carol Oates might not seem like the first port of call if you are in the mood for some unspeakable dread, but novels such as Zombie, My Sister, My Love and We Were the Mulvaneys all explore the darkness at the heart of humanity. Hers is the horror of real life, the horror of what one human can do to another, the horror of jealousy, loss, hubris and greed.

The titular novella is a wonderfully crafted tale of girls gone bad, in which Oates tells of the kidnapping of an 11-year-old by older girls at her school. The story flits between the viewpoints of the young kidnapper, a sympathetically drawn grotesque, the kidnapped girl’s mother and a male teacher who is being set up as the potential abductor. The terror and tensions Oates creates, comes not just from the concern that the girl makes it home alive, but also by showing us the trauma inflicted on other characters because of Jude, the abductor’s delusional actions. The implied guilt of the girl’s mother and the complicity of the teacher make them more than the cliched roles we are all aware of from abduction stories in the media and the true dread comes as much from hoping the girl will not be killed as it does from wondering how reputations and lives, once publicly soiled, can ever be put back together.

Oates’s skill at characterisation means that we can see our own complicity in how we conspire with the media to create recogniable characters – the single mother, the unmarried male teacher – yet she induces empathy for her characters, which builds the sense of dread to a nerve-shredding climax with incredible skill and control.

Nicolas Guerin/Contour/Getty Images

Nicolas Guerin/Contour/Getty Images

 
The rest of the stories in the collection might not quite live up to The Corn Maiden, but all give chills in their own way. In ‘Nobody Knows my Name’, the only story that may, or may not have a supernatural twist, a nine-year old girl feels forgotten following the birth of her baby sister, and her growing isolation and resentment has catastrophic consequences for the entire family. In ‘Helping Hands’ a 40 something widow meets a war veteran whilst donating her husbands clothes to his charity shop. She feels beyond widowed,

She felt like an amputee, uncertain which of her limbs had been severed.

Like the girl from the previous story, she has also been forgotten not because she has been usurped, but because she has been diminished and her need for companionship and self-worth cloud her judgement with horrifying results.

In the centre of the book are a grotesque siamese coupling of tales about dysfunctional twins who despise each other which were for me, the least successful of the collection. ‘Fossil Figures’ is a dreamlike, eerie tale and is the perfect example of the erosion of self that can come from need and dependance. The story opens in a terrifying fashion, told from the point of view of a baby in the womb

…the demon brother was the larger of the two, but with a single wish to suck suck suck into his being the life of the other, the smaller brother all of the nourishment of the liquidy-dark womb, to suck into himself the smaller brother about whom he was hunched as if embracing him, belly to curving spine, and the forehead of the demon brother pressed against the soft bone of the back of the head of the smaller brother

You just know that relationship is not going to turn out well. ‘Death Cup’, the twin tale of twin brothers, suffers in comparison, being a slightly melodramatic tale of filial jealousy taken too far, less horror and more soap opera.

‘Beersheba’ throws the standard revenge story on it’s head, as a young woman takes her revenge on the step father she blames for the death of her mother. The horror comes not from the violence, but from the fact that her step father is innocent and her anger and his suffering are ultimately for nothing.

In my mind, Oates saves the best to last. ‘A Hole in the Head’ is told from the delusional and fevered point of view of a plastic surgeon catering to the rich women of the New York suburbs. A failed neurosurgeon, we watch his life and mental stability fall apart as he agrees to carry out the unorthodox and ancienct procedure of trepanning, with disastrous results.

 
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This is by far the most physically gruesome of the tales in the collection, with it’s vivd, all too real descriptions of botched surgery, yet it is to Joyce Carol Oates credit that the real horror we feel is for the perpetrator himself as she allows the humanity of her character to come through despite the surreal and grotesque situation he finds himself in.

That, I think, is the main success of this collection. For a story to be truely horrifying, the reader has to care and this is where Oates really delivers. Even with a character like Jude, the unstable kidnapper from The Corn Maiden, Oates allows us glimpses of the humanity amid the madness and random violence.

All of the violence in this collection is random. There are no rules here, no morals. Just like the horror in nightmares. There is a sense that all these characters are being borne along to their fate by some unseen force, as if they have lost control.  As one of her characters says,

As a young man he’d never considered time as anything other than a current to bear him aloft, propel him into his future, nowche understood that time was a rising tide, implacable, inexorable, unstoppable rising tide, now at the ankles, now the knees, rising to the thighs, to the groin and the torso and to the chin, ever rising, a dark water of utter mystery propelling us ever forward, not into the future but into infinity which is oblivion.

And like all nightmares, Oates ends her stories on moments of ambiguity, as if we have been awoken from them, with no explanation. And like nightmares, she leaves us with a lingering sense of unease that is almost impossible to shake.

This is my second book for the RIP IX Challenge and my next spooky read will be Joyland by Stephen King.

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Read on: Kindle
Number Read: 47
Number Remaining: 699

The R.I.P IX Reading Challenge

I love Autumn; it’s my favourite time of year. I love the back to school feel of it, the nip in the air. I’m too pale to be a summer kind of girl. Maybe that’s why the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge over at Stainless Steel Droppings has caught my eye, the notion of welcoming autumn in by reading spooky books certainly appeals to my nature!

PicMonkey Collage

Never mind that I haven’t quite finished the 20 Books of Summer Challenge yet, we’ll get to that later in the week!

So, from 1 September through to 31 October, the challenge is to read books from the following genres:

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Dark Fantasy
Gothic
Horror
Supernatural

 

ripnineperilfirst

I’m planning to participate in Peril The First, where I read four books of this nature over the next two months. You can join the challenge at differing levels; you can even just watch spooky movies! Head on over and check it out to see if you’d like to join the fun. Or, more appropriately, join the fear!
I had a look through the remaining books from the 746 and have chosen to read these beauties:

1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

2. Joyland by Stephen King

3. Your House is On Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye

4. The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates

Not exactly a barrel of laughs, right? But I’m really looking forward to getting the fire lit, curling up under a blanket and scaring myself silly!

Has anybody read any of these? Anybody brave enough to join me?!

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Owned Authors

Top Ten Tuesdays

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is the top ten authors I own the most books from.

Now, if I was being really honest, the top two would probably be Enid Blyton and Francine Pascal (I was OBSESSED with Sweet Valley High when I was young!) but since those books are all packed up somewhere safe and cannot be counted, I thought I’d go for the more grown up options! I’m not sure this list is indicative of my favourite authors of all time, but they have all been my favourite at some point in my life!

I’m also glad that the title for this week says ‘own’ and not ‘read’ because, as we all know, I have quite a few unread books in my collection!

So here goes.

 

1 - 5

1. David Mamet – 28
He’s in at the top spot with a grand total of 28 books/ plays read. I adore Mamet’s work, including his essays and novels, and although his latest plays haven’t been just so exciting, I will forgive all for the wonders of Speed The Plow, Oleanna and American Buffalo
Favourite Mamet? Glengarry Glen Ross

 

2. Joyce Carol Oates – 24
I’m actually surprised that Joyce here was pipped to the post for the Number 1 slot as she is my favourite author ever and incredibly underrated in my opinion. A wonderful, accessible and incredibly prolific writer.
Favourite JCO? Blonde

 

3. Don DeLillo – 17
I first read Underworld 15 years ago and it totally changed what I felt fiction could be. From the epic to the intimate, DeLillo explores the American way of life like no other author.
Favourite DeLillo? Underworld

 

4. Martin Amis – 14
I was surprised to see Martin Amis in my top five, as it has been a long time since he has written anything I have enjoyed, however I studied his work at University and his early novels are astonishingly clever. Lionel Asbo is waiting in the 746 so we’ll see if he can have a return to form.
Favourite Amis? London Fields

 

5. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – 13
The wondrous, magical world of Gabriel Garcia Marquez has enthralled and astounded me since reading Love in the Time of Cholera as a romantically inclined twenty year old. His was a true loss this year.
Favourite Marquez? One Hundred Years of Solitude

 

6 - 10

6. Chuck Palahniuk – 13
I know I posted a rather scathing review of the last Chuck Palahniuk I read, but his earlier books really are unique. And scary. And hilarious. And often disgusting. But I’ve read 13 of them, so he didn’t manage to put me off!
Favourite Palahniuk? Survivor

 

7. Margaret Atwood – 13
A joint entry with Chuck, I actually thought Margaret Atwood would have been higher on my list. While I’ve read most of her novels, I’ve yet to try her short stories and poetry. From science fiction to historical, Atwood never misses.
Favourite Atwood? Alias Grace

 

8. Henning Mankell – 12
Forget Steig Larsson, for me the Master of Scandi Crime has always been Henning Mankell with his Wallander series. Never just straight crime novels, his books examine issues of immigration, international politics and economics and feature one of the most interesting lead characters in Kurt Wallander.
Favourite Mankell? One Step Behind

 

9. William Faulkner – 11
In my final year at University, I took a course in the Literature of the American South on a complete whim and my love affair with William Faulkner began. The use of form in books like The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay dying has been often imitated but never bettered.
Favourite Faulkner? Light in August

 
10. Paul Auster – 11
Joint last place goes to that magician of reality Paul Auster, with his beautiful cover jacket photograph and his tales that mingle existentialism, detective stories, magic realism and coincidence. Always questioning the nature of identity and always hitting the spot.
Favourite Auster? The Music of Chance

 

So there we have it, my top ten. Special mention should also go to John Irving and Armistead Maupin, both with a score of 10 who nearly made the cut.
Do any of these authors appear on your lists? Who is your number one?