How about some horror fiction? Check out the November 15th edition of Tales to Terrify which features two chilling tales by Joe McKinney, narrated by me. If you like what you hear, leave a comment on the Tales to Terrify website. If you love it, you can support the ‘cast by picking up a printed anthology for the horror lover on your gift list.
My second novel annotation for September is a wonderful little angstfest that would be a great October read…if you enjoy squirming in your seat and–what’s the German word for ‘heebie-jeebies?’ It’s not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.
As always, these annotations are bound to contain SPOILERs, so if you haven’t read the book, I recommend you do.
Topic: The Effects of Multiple Narrators in Stephan Kiesbye’s Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone
Excerpt 1, Martin p. 72: Alex Frick’s Boyhood Crush on Anke Hoffman
Last year, Alex had fallen mortally in love with Anke and had tried to get her to unbutton her blouse, and she had declined. He’d tried the whole fall and enlisted Broder as the messenger for his lovelorn letters.
This passage serves as the ‘gun on the mantelpiece’ that later discharges in the form of Alex casually raping Anke in the back of a sedan. Without the knowledge that Alex had wanted Anke from childhood and been frustrated, the rape would have seemed disconnected and improbable. Knowing what we do from Martin’s account of Alex’s feelings, as well as other descriptions of Alex’s psychopathic behavior, Anke’s rape, while shocking, is no surprise.
Excerpt 2, Martin p. 73: Christian’s Atonement
“You didn’t bring me any luck with your sister,” Alex said.
“She didn’t like you,” Broder said brightly. We all laughed; it was the truth. Even quiet Christian laughed. He was a pale boy, his hair and eyebrows so light he looked naked. He had lost his father two years before, and when he changed his sports clothes at school, we could see the scrapes and bruises on his arms and back. But he never complained.
Having smothered his sister at the age of seven and willfully, if indirectly, caused the death of his father at age eleven, Christian’s passive behavior makes sense. Showing his acceptance of his mother’s constant physical abuse through another’s eyes deepens this character. It hints at a need in Christian to be punished for his crimes. He is no less an irredeemable monster, but at least he seems to have a sort of twisted conscience.
Excerpt 3, Linde p. 82: The Early Redemption of Martin
Then there was Martin, the Gendarme’s son, who’d asked me for a barrette I’d worn when we’d run into each other the previous week. Was he serious about me? He was only sixteen and owned no moped, only an old bicycle. Last winter he’d been with the other boys the day Broder Hoffman had drowned. But only Alex Frick had been found guilty and been sent to a correctional facility. Since that accident, Martin acted different, seemed older, more mature than even Torsten. Anke said that she liked Martin best, but that none of my admirers had a future and that her mother had admonished her that we should save ourselves for better men.
Linde and Anke liked Martin best of all the village boys, despite his relative youth and poverty in comparison with the others. Linde describes Martin as acting more mature and seeming older after Broder’s death. Seeing Martin positively changed by an experience casts him as the only person in Hemmersmoor who may not be a complete psychopath. Additionally, this passage shows Anke’s early lack of faith in Linde’s future prospects, which foreshadows Anke’s future rationalization for betraying her friend.
Excerpt 5, Linde p.105: Anke’s Desperation
“It looks like Rutger Kamphoff,” I said.
“He’s chasing after Anna.” Sylvia was the tallest of us and had been the first to get breasts. She’d kissed two boys, while neither Johann nor Torsten had ever asked me again if I wanted to kiss them behind the school or by the river at night.
“It can’t be,” Anke said, infuriated.
“Sure can,” Sylvia replied.
“He’ll never marry her. Never ever.”
“As if you stood a chance.”
Anke closed her book and pouted.
Linde first reveals more of her own insecurity about her looks, her prospects with boys, and the beginnings of a future disdain for all males. She then shows Anke’s desperation to win Rutger and live in the Big House, and a motive for Anke’s brutal betrayal years later after she drops Anna Kamphoff’s baby on the floor.
Excerpt 6, Martin p. 164: Linde likes it rough.
After dark the scars on her face vanished, and her skin glowed very white, and she wrapped herself around me and demanded that I slap her face or hit her with my belt. Only when I obeyed her did she permit me to unbutton my pants.
In this account of a typical sexual encounter with Linde, Martin reveals that her father’s disfiguring attack years earlier did more psychological damage to Linde than physical. We see through Martin’s experience what could never be revealed as effectively by Linde herself.
As in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Kiesbye’s Your House Is on Fire presents multiple narrators with chapters headed by each narrator’s name rather than a number. Kiesbye does not overlap narrations in the same way as Faulkner, who shows different narrators describing the same events. Instead, Kiesbye’s chapters are separate events, most of which can stand alone as separate and complete stories.
While Faulkner deepened each of his characters by showing individual reactions to shared events and internal thoughts from different points of view about those events, Kiesbye uses his separate and distinct story-chapters to reveal characters through the observations of one of four narrators.
Perhaps Kiesbye could have created a deeper empathy with his characters by adopting Faulkner’s method of overlapping narrations and showing how each reacts to the same events as the others, but Kiesbye’s choice to reveal characters through the eyes of his four narrators is nearly as effective. Kiesbye uses one narrator to show the characteristics of each of the others, providing motivation for and foreshadowing of each character’s later actions, or in the case of this novel, crimes.
The Great God Pan is mandatory reading for students of the horror genre. I recommend it for both its historical value as a horror piece and its glimpse into Victorian society from a point of view quite different than the usual ‘proper’ literature.
Unfortunately for me, I found The Great God Pan, to be so inhibited in its approach and so formal in its language as to be nearly inaccessible to me. Granted, it was written in Victorian England and, at the time, the sensuality and un-Christianness of the book scandalized London, so I forgive much and made a concerted effort to read between the lines. In the end, I found the visions of horror Machen imagined interesting, but his depiction of those visions, and his characters, too cold and sterile for my 20th Century taste.
I’m excited to announce my recent story, “Look Away,” is running on this week’s Tales to Terrify podcast. It’s ably interpreted by Jonathan Danz, whose smooth southern voice is, I think, perfect for the story. It follows “Bespoke” by Jessica M. Broughton narrated by Antoinette Bergin. I hope you’ll give both a listen.
If you like the story, you can find it on Amazon for a buck. If you really like it, please consider leaving a review.
Y’all come back and visit soon.
Please listen to Joe R. Lansdale’s “Fish Night,” narrated by Yours Truly, on the current online issue of Tales to Terrify.
I have another narration on the web , Renee Carter Hall’s “Horseman.” Check it out at Tales to Terrify.
Since I have no idea what to blog today, I’ll show you what I’m working on. It’s a piece of short historical fiction based on about one page’s worth of Sam R. Watkins’ Civil War memoir. There’s a section in chapter seven called “Wright Shot to Death with Musketry” that grabbed my imagination. Here’s the start of an extremely rough first draft. I’ll toss this thing at the wall to see what sticks and post more as it develops. Editing comes later.
If you have a thought or suggestion about this story in progress, please lay it on me.
[If you’re reading this, Larry Santoro, I’m considering attempting a horror-genre version of this once the original version if finished. There is, after all, a Confederate gravedigger involved. Anything can happen, right?]
Anyway, here’s the first chunk:
* * *
Sam Watkins paused in the grave digging to wipe August sweat on the rolled sleeve of his filthy red gingham shirt. He heard the wagon before he saw it and considered retrieving his brown slouch hat and gray coat from the branch overhead in case somebody important were in that wagon, but the late morning swelter convinced him to wait and see. Chest-deep in the hole, he leaned on the spade and scratched his dark beard. He wanted a chew from his knapsack, but was developing a headache and decided he couldn’t afford the moisture it took to spit.
The two-horse rig appeared around the bend a good musket shot down the tree-lined road to Shelbyville. No single horses. No gold braid shining in the sun. Silhouetted against the plume of brown dust trailing behind them, three straight spined men bounced toward the widespread branches of the lone oak where Watkins worked. The tree grew on a small hummock in the middle of a wide field. One house was visible a quarter mile away, beside a swaying field of tall corn. If any civilians were about, they kept out of sight. Watkins resumed his grim task.
That would be Private Wright in the back of the wagon. Watkins hadn’t met him, but everybody knew who the man was because of what he had tried to do, and his relation to the commander of Wright’s Brigade. Watkins stopped to watch the wagon’s progress. Chin up, seated on a pine coffin amid the racket of horses and rig, Private Wright comported himself more like a general reviewing the troops than a man about to be shot by musketry.
“Hole ain’t going to dig itself,” said the corporal in charge of the detail, who had been leaning against the tree. He cocked his head at Watkins. “Didn’t you bring you no water?”
“Ran out.” Watkins could just see out of the hole, on his tip-toes. “It’s all right. I’m fixing to be done.”
“Them yellow-dogs will have some on the wagon.” The corporal straightened his straw hat and went to check on the two men planting a twelve-foot pole in the ground twenty yards away. Watkins had it better than they did. He got to work in the shade, surrounded by the cool earth.
Watkins bent again to the task. He’d dug too many graves over the past year, seen too many men shot as deserters. We don’t need the Bluebellies. We do just fine at thinning our own ranks.
The gentle face of that court martialled private in Virginia intruded on his mind. Caught dead asleep at his post on a cold winter morning. No more than a boy, his eyes had been sky blue and wide as dinner plates before the blindfold went on. Watkins’ hands tightened on the spade handle. He squared his feet and attacked the hole with bared teeth. Digging was digging, he told himself. His calloused hands didn’t know the difference between earthworks and graves. That’s all a webfoot does day in and day out if he’s lucky, dig and march. It’s when the digging and marching stops that hell breaks loose.
The spade bit into the red soil, soft and aromatic. He liked the sound it made. Lift, toss, stick it in again. The corporal said digging graves was good bayonet training, that a man used the same muscles. Watkins didn’t know if that were true. His muscles felt like lead all the time.
The smell of the earth conjured the home place in Maury County with its cornfields and cotton and his sweet, sweet Jenny. He called on the memory of the last time he saw her, but his mind allowed only the face of that poor boy in Virginia. He paused at that and concentrated on seeing Jenny. He recalled the dress she wore, the last squeeze of her hands, but he could not reproduce her face.
He dropped the spade and braced his hands on either side of the grave, fighting to slow his breathing. It’s just the grave. There’s no place for Jenny here.
On the firing detail that day, he had clapped his eyelids shut before squeezing the trigger, relying afterward on black powder smoke to screen him from the result of his work. He’d kept off shooting details since by volunteering to dig. There was always a grave digging detail.