Ok, I’m just going to be a bitch for a minute – I recently read the YA short story collection Love is Hell, which managed to fall short of my expectations in pretty much every way possible with the exception of Justine Larbelestier’s tale “Thinner than Water.” The rest of the collection was comprised of work that felt unfinished, unpolished, and at times, just downright poorly written. I have to assume this collection was a cash grab, that the editor, if there was one, fell asleep when he was supposed to be working and didn’t actually do his job. What should have been a collection of smart short stories featuring supernatural YA romantic horror are instead a sloppy mish mash of stories, sometimes supernaturally related (one of them is just sci-fi).
I am a bit angry, to be honest – the authors who theoretically wrote (I’m not going to rule out that there could be ghostwriting) the stories in this collection have careers and make a living by writing when something this mediocre is associated with their name is… baffling.
So my response?
I want a decent collection of YA romantic horror short stories, so for all of the stories in this collection that I don’t like, I’m going to re-write them.
… care to join me? Use the tag #loveishellrewrite if you also want to re-write at least one of the atrocious stories in this disappointing anthology, or leave a comment below if you have similarly done a re-write of something that had a promising premise that was, unfortunately, not fulfilled, so I can check out your rage re-write.
In the mood for a spooky read, I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Tales from the Darkside: The Repeater Book of the Occult, edited by Tariq Goddard and Eugene Thacker.
I really like the concept of this book – an anthology of lesser-known stories featuring the supernatural. Each story is selected and introduced by an author published by Repeater Books. Released in February of this year, October is a fitting month to read through it. Unfortunately, the rambling introduction was a harbinger of the let-down to come. Many of the stories in this collection are very well-known, and an avid reader of horror short stories has probably already read them. In addition, the introductions to the stories, if you have not already read the story, is really an essay for why the particular author selected it, and generally includes spoilers.
Here is my review, on a story-by-story basis:
Squire Toby’s Will by Sheridan Le Fanu
Decent read. Not amazing, but appropriately spooky. Includes a family of some of the worst men ever and demons.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I’m just going to assume you have read this. Great story, and one I am always up for re-reading.
On Ghosts by Mary Shelley
An essay by the authoress of Frankenstein, this essay doesn’t necessarily advocate for ghosts so much as lament the lack of magic in a world that insists on rational explanations. I did enjoy reading it, and would recommend.
Par Avion by Marlene Dotard
Yuck. This story was… not good. The glowing essay talking about how this weird chick was friends with other authors who are well known and how Marlene was so smart, and insisted on trying to draw relationships between science and belief in the supernatural is better than the story itself. Do yourself a favor, skip this story, which has generally not been well-known for a reason.
The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
Also assuming you’ve read this one. It is well-written, and the essay beforehand includes multiple interpretation, which are interesting to read as well.
A Haunted House by Virgina Woolf
I guess this one was inspired by a stint Virginia and her husband spent in a haunted house, which… of course it is, because wasn’t Virginia always writing about herself? It’s fine. Didn’t love it, didn’t hate it.
Green Tea by Sheridan Le Fanu
The essay before this one mentions how popular this story is, although I myself hadn’t actually read it. It’s fine. I actually didn’t much like it, but it definitely involves the supernatural.
Punch, Brothers, Punch by Mark Twain
Short, punchy, funny, and a little spooky. Very good short story, that again – you have probably already read. If you haven’t, ignore the essay and just read the story.
Unseen – Unfeared by Francis Stevens
A weird detective story that also deals with fear of “other-ness” and indicates that perhaps the monsters are created by us because we are all awful. Not terrible, but don’t know that I would recommend, either.
The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
Great story that you have probably already read. In my opinion, the best short story in the collection, but also, like… it’s Poe. Like, of course it’s good… in fact, it feels a bit cliche to include it in this collection.
The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
This story is one of those naturalist things where the author is like isn’t nature amazing and fearsome? I actually don’t much like naturalist things, so I didn’t finish this one.
In summation, 4 good stories you have probably already read, a short essay by Mary Shelley that is enjoyable and that you can probably also find pretty easily on-line. Unless you want these particularly short stories in a collection, I would not particularly recommend.
What about you – have any spooky reads to recommend this Halloween?
For some reason, I have been watching haunted house movies recently. Specifically, I watched Aftermath and Things Seen and Heard. Aftermath has so many good elements… But it’s about 30 minutes too long, and the ending is so terrible, they should just use this movie as an example in writing class of why you need an appropriate ending for your work. Things Heard and Seen was great – the spirituality stuff and attempt to provide resolution didn’t really work for me, but the unfolding of the full horror of what Seyfried’s character Catherine goes through is so well done. So today I am going to analyze what made one of these movies so terrible I was angry when I was done watching it. Next week, I will analyze what made one movie so great, I was able to ignore the stuff I didn’t like. Because both movies had positive and negative features – so why do I only consider one of them to be a good work of art?
Aftermath is almost good. A young couple is struggling in their marriage, and as a last resort, decide to start over in a new house when they happen upon a good deal (which the husband has discovered through his work, and because something absolutely terrible occurred in the house). There is a loss of trust between the husband and the wife – she has been unfaithful at some point in the past, and he is not sure if he can trust any longer. But she’s Ashley Greene, and even though she probably doesn’t possess her Twilight character’s psychic powers, she is hella pretty, so… you know, he’s trying to figure out if he can keep that ass on tap, so to speak. (Also, they love each other and all that mushy stuff. #cooties)
So they buy a house — because nothing helps a couple bond like entering into an investment they probably can’t afford even though it is a really good deal — and immediately, shit starts happening.
The primary witness to the weird shit is Ashley Greene, a fashion designer who works from home while her husband is out cleaning up murder scenes during the day and taking night classes at the local college. So a good part of this movie hinges on the concept of whether or not the house is actually haunted or Ashley Greene is going crazy, as well as, if she’s not crazy, will her husband eventually believe her, given that they already have trust issues and there is no evidence to support her possible hallucinations.
For those who are not aware, the inspiration for this movie comes from a real terrorization of a couple who purchased a home in San Diego. If you are aware of this real-life story, a lot of the things happening to the couple will seem familiar – though that doesn’t mean that the movie won’t make the source of the crazy shit different. I would say the first 90 minutes of the movie are solid. There’s drama from the couple’s marital tensions, there’s drama and terror from what is happening in the house, and there’s the question of, since I assume something is actually happening because this is a horror movie, is it supernatural or is it man-made?
I was really enjoying this movie, with it’s good actors and solid build-up. And then the last 28 – 30 minutes happened, and I. Got. Pissed.
[Seriously – I’m going to delve into specifics of Aftermath that could adversely impact your viewing if you decide to watch this shitshow, because you will know where it is headed. Read at your peril! #duhduhduhn]
*SPOILERS BEGINNING* So – it turns out that the couple was suffering from more than one tormentor. One was doing more mundane torture, like ordering magazine subscriptions the couple didn’t want and trying to get the wife raped and shit. The other was pulling a creepier-than-Edward-Cullen that included lurking over Ashley Greene to watch her sleep. The first was just some dude with debt who was relying on his wife taking longer to sell the house and allowing him to get out of the hole he had dug himself into with it. The second – a dude named Otto, who is only semi-explained, is completely unnecessary, and is illogical as well as slightly insulting to the viewer.
To explain this shitshow of an ending further, I guess I’ll have to delve into some of the backstory. Because while no one *loves* exposition, it is absolutely necessary to how they decided to end this story, despite the fact that the way they did it doesn’t really make sense.
The house was built by the couple who die at the beginning of the movie. Jay, the husband, built the house based on his wife Erin’s design. Jay and Erin also suffered from infidelity issues – basically, Jay didn’t know how to keep it in his pants, which pissed off Erin, so she ran off and slept with someone else to “get back at him.” This is all explained to Ashley Greene by Jay’s heartbroken sister, the lovely lady who sold them the house, who ends her tale with: “That bitch was up to something.” According to sister, there was something different about Erin’s affair, but she wasn’t sure what it was.
It turns out that what was different about Erin’s affair was that she decided to build a secret room in the bowels of their house where her lover, Otto, would live under her husband’s nose. Which is weird, because, like – if you’re that pissed off, can’t you just get a divorce like a normal person, and not turn this into a weird scenario that makes people question your viability as an actual adult? How did this woman successfully interact with the world?
Especially when you meet Otto – a painfully thin man with skin paler than brand-new white bedsheets and nails that are sharp as claws who towers over other people. If you were going to cheat on your husband, shouldn’t you be going after some young guy with a six-pack? Otto is a very unusual man, who ends up kidnapping Ashley Greene and chaining her to his bed (which supposedly Erin was doing to him, I guess?). He seems to have extremely limited verbal skills – like, worse than my children’s speaking ability at 1-year-old. He is freakishly tall, and also crazy strong. I just don’t understand where the attraction there is – he’s not super hot, you can’t have a conversation with him, and he’s potentially mentally ill if that wasn’t the result of this chick Erin chaining him to a fucking bed to keep him hidden in the walls of her house so she could have sneaky sex with him while her husband is gone?
It’s also really unclear – why did Erin chain him to a bed? The premise seems to be that she needed to do that to keep him in the house, in which case, you have to ask yourself, what part of this affair is consensual? Then again, from the creepy picture collage Otto managed to put together, it also seems he was obsessed with Erin, making it seem he would have stayed in the house without being chained. This idea is corroborated by the fact that he continues to stay in the house after he has killed the married couple there previously (because Erin “chose her husband” over him), presumably pining after his lady love until he found a new pretty lady to obsess over.
So Erin definitely had an inappropriate reaction to not liking her husband sleeping with other people, which ranged somewhere between taking advantage of a mentally ill person to kidnapping and raping that person, who happened to get Stockholm syndrome.
This line of thinking is dumb and convoluted. It makes me think extremely poorly of Erin, whom I would normally presume we are supposed to feel sympathy for since she is brutally killed at the beginning of the movie, but… given this backstory the writers give us, honestly, I have no idea what they’re going for here. It’s hard for me to feel sorry for Erin, who has done horrible things. Basically, Otto defended himself against someone who was torturing him in one way or another. Do you feel sorry for John Wayne Bobbitt? Only if you’re a monster or don’t know the whole story.
Then, there’s the question of what the fuck is going on with Otto? It seems that he’s supposed to be a real person, given that Ashley Greene and her husband kill him in self-defense at the end of the movie. And like, yeah, they had to stop him – he was going to kill them. But also – I still kind of feel bad for him. It’s not his fault that he has limited speaking ability, or that he’s super tall and super thin. He also probably didn’t ask to be tortured by Erin, who seems to have been taking advantage of someone who is mentally ill in a best-case scenario. What is the point of Otto? It feels… insensitive, like the movie goes about systematically destroying a mentally ill person. Maybe all Otto needs are some drugs or some positive attention (because I’m not going to call whatever Erin was doing positive attention). Or maybe he needs to be institutionalized, because he doesn’t get the way the world works. I don’t know. I do know that I don’t think he deserved to get kidnapped, raped, psychologically tormented, and then stabbed with scissors.
My final point, and the reason I think so poorly about this ridiculousness that the writers hurled at us is that it is completely unnecessary. The average running time for a movie is approximately 90 minutes. If you had ended the movie with the husband and wife discovering that something was, indeed, happening, and it was due to the all-too-real broke-dude, that would have been a good movie. Then, you just need to give us some closure about this marriage, even if it’s Ashley Greene going: “Dude, you didn’t trust me, and I don’t think this is going to work. I need to find myself a fresh dick that won’t leave me alone in a house to be tormented and nearly raped.” Just closure – I’m not necessarily asking for an HEA here. You could end the movie like that, and have a complete movie with a solid ending. But no, instead we get this sordid soap opera which basically seems to involve mocking a mentally ill person. *SPOILERS ENDING*