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Review: Maplecroft

September 21st, 2014 | Category: Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

In 1892 Lisbeth “Lizzie” Borden allegedly picked up an axe and hacked up her father and step-mother. Her trial was an event, a media circus, one of America’s first. She spent some time in jail, but was ultimately acquitted of both charges. The motive was supposed to be money, she did inherit a large sum after the dust settled, but even now, nobody really knows what exactly happened.

Lizzie always wanted to be a member of high-society, she bought a giant house on a hill, named it Maplecroft, she tried to host lavish parties, tried to be accepted. Try as she did, the people of Fall River, Massachusetts, never grew to accept Lizzie, and she spent most of the rest of her life in seclusion, caring for her medically frail sister, Emma. Sadly, Lizzie would eventually die alone, abandoned by Emma after an argument of unknown cause. This is the story that is part of America’s grimmer history, taught in class-rooms to this day.

The tale of Lizzie Borden has so many unknowns, leaves so many unanswered questions. Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches by Cherie Priest is the first novel in a series that aims to fill in these blanks, to tell the whole of the life of Lisbeth Andrew Borden.

Maplecroft might be best described as a spectacular work of historical horror fiction; historical people, places, given a heavy dose of horror. Cherie Priest is one of today’s best historical fantasy/horror fiction writers, she so deftly blends fiction with American history that the fiction tends to feel more real than it otherwise might. Maplecroft could be her best work.

The story of Maplecroft is told through journal entries, letters and news clippings, all popular forms of communication in the 1800s. Much of what we know about that period of American history is through found documents, people put their thoughts to paper, they kept journals, diaries, sat down to write correspondence. Unlike today’s glut of shaky-cam “video diary” films, Maplecroft only feels more authentic through the use of this device. The story never seems forced or cliche.

We learn that strange things are happening in Fall River, that the Borden family spent many weeks wracked with illness before Lizzie took up her axe. We learn that at its worst, aside from nausea, vomiting, a strange glazing of the eyes, a sort of madness occurs, violent madness that touched the Borden parents. When Lizzie took up her axe, it was an act of preservation, not just for herself, but for Emma, her defenseless elder sister. This illness is confirmed in the journal of town physician, Doctor Owen Seabury, who attempted to treat the Borden’s, but to no avail. He knew something was very wrong, something he’d never seen. After the murders, he was Lizzie’s strongest defender, not because he felt she was necessarily innocent, but because of an incident during which he witnessed the feral transformation in Lizzie’s step-mother. He felt something unnatural, even dangerous, especially dangerous. That was in 1892. In 1894, the Borden sisters have taken residence at Maplecroft, with Doctor Seabury as their only regular visitor in the role of Emma’s personal physician. With this ominous beginning, the stage is set for the horror to come.

The Problem, as it is often called, re-surfaces and begins to spread, Doctor Seabury sees symptoms around town. Strange shark-like creatures attack Maplecroft, Lizzie grows quite adept at killing. Lizzie and Emma spend their days trying to understand the creatures, The Problem, hopping desperately to stop it before it consumes them, before Fall River is overrun, before it spreads across the entire country, maybe the entire world. Lzzzie pours over strange arcane books, trying to find facts buried in lore and myth. Emma tackles The Problem through pure science, studying nature, marine biology. Both Lizzie and Emma have reason to believe that the sea is the source of the taint that’s infecting Fall River. Doctor Owen Seabury struggles to maintain his sanity, his years of medical training feeling utterly useless. Each character’s writing feels more desperate with each passing day, the journal and diary entries show their stress, their fear, with such clarity. Reading the book is often an intimate experience, as if reading the private thoughts of actual people, not fictional characters.

I haven’t read everything Cherie Priest has ever written, but I’ve read most of it. In terms of pure craft, Maplecroft is probably her best work so far, her prose often gorgeous. Whenever I read, I love highlighting beautiful passages, writing margin notes. While Priest’s stories are always well-written and absolutely a blast to read, I’ve never highlighted any of her writing until Maplecroft. There’s one really outstanding passage that has stuck with me ever since I read it…

“We crawled primordial from the water, our grand-ancestors times a million generations; we escaped the tides, the sharks, and the leviathans of the deep, only to find ourselves on land—where we became the things we’d sought to escape, and we invented gods to blame. Not gods of the ocean, for we’d been to the ocean, and seen that the water was empty of the divine. Not gods of the earth, for we have walked upon the dirt, and we are alone here.

So we install our gods in the sky, because we haven’t yet eliminated the firmament as a possibility.

Next, I suppose, we’ll send them into space—where I expect they will live a very long time indeed, for it shall take us another million generations of descendants to reach them, and learn that they are projections of light and story, cast into the heavens by us alone. And we will be alone again (unless by then, we discover some more distant place in which to hide our image).
Over and over again, we lift God out of our reach. Over and over, push Him beyond our grasp, yet still we stretch out our fingers and seek to touch Him.

But find nothing.”

That passage has such lush imagery, captures the writing of a Christian woman struggling with her faith. Crisis of faith is a common theme from character to character throughout the novel, an interesting theme for a time in history when people were supposed to be God-fearing church-goers, who could never voice their doubts aloud. One’s private diary or journal was the only safe place to put such thoughts. The passage also captures the writing of a strong-willed woman of intelligence, again, at a time when women were not on equal footing with men in matters of intellect, of opinion.

The Borden women are both shown as strong women living against the grain, fierce protectors of a town full of people who failed to see Lizzie hanged and now are content to just quietly hate her, and Emma by association. Maplecroft is a novel about strong women (one in particular not mentioned in this review) fighting against evil that’s deep and dark as the sea. They fight bravely, vehemently, but not without fear, not without mistakes, not without human failings. It’s not a story of super heroes slaughtering monsters, it’s a story regular people just trying to hang on against malevolence beyond human understanding. They fight and not without losses, grave losses.

If you’re looking for a beautifully written story of horror, genuine stuff of nightmare, Maplecroft is the story for you. Cherie Priest did her homework on Lizzie Borden and the time in which she lived. Combine such research with her vivid imagination, and she delivers a truly unique macabre masterpiece of fully realized characters given weight through historical accuracy.

For fans of the weird, Maplecroft is a must read. I can’t wait for the next of the Borden Dispatches.

2 comments

Something never done

September 14th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions

So, today I did something I’ve never done before… I read an entire book in one day. I’ve stayed up a few nights to read a few books, but I’ve never read an entire book from early morning to early evening.

I’ve been a fan of Jonathan Carroll for a long time. Way back in 2006ish he was kind enough to send me a copy of one his books, White Apples, when ebooks were kind of, not really, but maybe, a thing. Of the not a bunch of ebooks available, White Apples wasn’t among them, I’m not one to wait around for an industry to catch up with my desires, so I asked and he sent. A few writers have done the same for me over the years, I’m always a little surprised and a lot grateful.

Anyway, this morning I was looking for something just to start reading after finishing Maplecroft (which was spectacular, review forthcoming) last night, and I decided on Kissing the Beehive by said Jonathan Carroll. I went a few pages and I just didn’t stop, I read until it was done. I think part of it was because for Carroll, it was such a strange book, strange in that it had absolutely no elements of magic realism. His books start out real enough, then all of a sudden the main character’s dog starts talking to a ghost, yet the talking dog and some ghost don’t make the story feel any less “real.” He writes with such confidence, the introduction of the weird is so matter-of-fact that you just accept, oh, of course, dogs talk… to ghosts. In Beehive, there’s a found corpse, a grouchy dog, but the corpse’s ghost doesn’t show up to have a conversation with the dog. Some odd things happen, you think, the dead girl’s coming back, just a few more pages… but no. I’m not saying it was a bad book, I was obviously engaged, I was simply surprised that it was really just a small town mystery. A solidly, sometimes beautifully written story about a thirty year-old small-town mystery.

At any rate, if you’re looking for an entertaining Sunday read, try Kissing the Beehive.

2 comments

Goings on…

September 11th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions

So, though it appears that I’m badly missing my five hundred words per day, I’m not. I’ve written a few things that I haven’t published here. I’m trying for print publication, so I’ve written a few things, submitted them here and there. I’ve already had one rejection, it won’t be my first, or my last. I expect rejection and hope for otherwise. That’s how it goes.

In other news… I’m so enjoying Maplecroft by Cherie Priest, it’s one of those “just one more page,” promised sixty times books. I just can’t put it down, it’s nothing I expected. I won’t say much more, I should be posting a review in a day or two. Still, if you like historical fiction that’s married to horror, Maplecroft is the book for you. Don’t wait for me, just buy it! I barely use exclamation points, that should say something about my veracity.

What else? I’m marathon-watching American Horror Story: Coven, again… I love the show, I just keep getting distracted. I want to experience the entire story, not a few episodes here and there over too much time apart. No, this time I will see the end, thirteen episodes by Saturday’s end. Personally, I’ve enjoyed every season. A tv show has never so deftly blended all the popular horror tropes, always keeping the blend unique. Though, what really sets the show apart from the general trash heap that is horror is the acting, Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, award-winning actresses with top-notch supporting casts. American Horror Story is where horror should be, shows us how high the bar should rest.

I mean, let’s face it, we expect nothing from horror, literature, tv, movies, we expect waste. We expect shitty writing, or shitty acting, or shitty writing AND shitty acting. Oh, or we settle for, “That book/movie/tv series is so bad it’s good,” which is such cop-out. Little annoys me so much as low expectations. Horror can be brilliant. Writers like Michael Cisco, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Cherie Priest, Jeff VanderMeer, brilliant writers telling brilliant stories, horror stories that transcend genre and become macabre works of literary art. Films like Bug, Dawn of the Dead (2004), Interview With the VampireMaySevenThe Signal, they’re the transcendent brilliance that can and should be expected from movies. American Horror Story is the standard for tv series, but not the lone standard. We also have Hannibal, In the Flesh, Sleepy HollowThe Walking Dead, each standing tall beside American Horror Story. I expect a lot from horror, with good cause, it does deliver, if you stop and look.

3 comments

Timepieces

September 09th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Random Thought

I’ve always loved timepieces, clocks, watches, they can be so beautiful. I enjoy them more as art than just a utilitarian way to measure time. I have this pocket-watch in my travel bag, I can’t physically use the thing myself, but I love watching other people use it. I really just love knowing it’s with me, I’ve had it over ten years. Pocket-watches aren’t exactly “in,” but I’ll take elegant over “in” any day. Smart watches are in, but I wouldn’t take to carrying one, even if I was paid to carry it. Sure, they’re all running shoddy operating systems, that’s awful enough, but even worse, they’re flat out ugly. There’s no sophistication, no sense of style. They’re too clunky for fitness-wear, or too gaudy to be worn by a used-car salesmen, let alone a high-end executive. Smart watches aren’t smart, and are hardly passable as watches. At least, such was the case before today.

Today saw the announcement and impending release of the Apple Watch, and it’s spectacular. No, I’m not some Apple snob, but I’m absolutely a watch snob. If Apple happened to give us a hideous, stupid smart watch, I’d totally say so. The Apple Watch is gorgeous, and it’s running on iOS 8, the world’s most advanced mobile operating system. I’m excited, I want one in my bag.

2 comments

Review: Acceptance

September 08th, 2014 | Category: Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer is the final book in The Southern Reach Trilogy, and it’s a perfect closing curtain.

Acceptance brings back the intensely ominous feeling introduced in Annihilation, the series’ first book, but on a much grander scale. Much of the story takes place in flashbacks, we’re taken back to the events that took place before Annihilation, to everything that led up to the disastrous Twelfth Expedition into Area X and the subsequent shifting within the Southern Reach. We also go back to a little place called the Forgotten Coast, a place where misfits, outcasts gathered to make a home. A quaint costal village complete with a lighthouse and its gruff, but kind keeper. A rustic place, but a good place, a nice place to live until something turned it into a nightmare, a biological disaster; Area X. In this final book, by way of glimpses into life on the Forgotten Coast, we see the horrific creation of Area X.

Acceptance begins with the death of a character, a death that occurs toward the end of Annihilation. We learn about her life through flashbacks, yet we also know that she is damned. We know that the Forgotten Coast is damned, that the people we learn about, grow to care about, will be lost. The horror of the book, and really, the trilogy as a whole, is witnessing this slow fall and knowing that no matter what, it won’t be stopped. Though, we get to see points at which maybe if different decisions were made, Area X might not have been made. Knowing that so much loss wasn’t inevitable, that it could have possibly been avoided, makes the loss that much more painful. We keep reading because we want to know the whats and the whys that birthed Area X, but also, there’s still the right now, the world after the creation of Area X. That part of the story is completely uncertain, it’s ultimately why I kept turning pages until a late night became an early morning. I wanted to know if our world would survive, or if Area X would envelope everything. I know, but I won’t say. I don’t want to say more, I don’t want to make reading Acceptance pointless while trying to convey why it’s so spectacular.

The Southern Reach Trilogy is a masterpiece, it is brilliantly conceived and written. Acceptance is what seals the deal, it’s a truly remarkable end to a beautiful, sad, scary as all Hell work of fiction.

2 comments

A new look…?

September 05th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Random Thought

So, I’ve been using this totally antiquated theme (the way a WordPress blog looks) since 2008, since Day One. On the one hand, it’s home, it’s become me. It’s so obscure, I’m probably pretty much the only person using it, I don’t think it’s even available anywhere anymore. On the other hand, it really is old. Themes are so much more lush now, cleaner, fancier layouts and what-not. Behind-the-scenes, the blog gets more sophisticated, while its public face doesn’t. Then again, there’s something to be said for consistency, it’s kind of soothing to have at least this one thing as a constant. I’m torn.

A few months ago I dropped fifty dollars on a “pro theme,” I actually saw it on Cherie Priest’s blog. I started looking for header/footer images, and at color schemes, but as I got into it, no matter what, it always looked like Cherie Priest’s blog. Sometimes it was just the skeleton of her blog, but still, it was always and would always be someone else’s blog. I’m not out to copy someone else’s look, especially another writer’s. After that failed experiment, I’m done buying “pro themes.” I mean, if some design firm sells ten thousand copies of a theme, you have ten thousand blogs that look like cousins.

I’m thinking, IF I do change my look, it’ll have to be to some obscure freebie theme, or… I’ll invest in a totally unique theme… right after I sell my unicorn farm (yes, farm, unicorns aren’t stabled, they’re more of a free-range animal).

1 comment

WordPress 4.0, yay!

September 04th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Random Thought,Thoughts on Music

So, after much waiting, we are now running WordPress 4.0! The update is pretty interesting, it mainly centers around making adding media to posts a much better experience. Basically, I never used to know how an embedded video or music clip would look in a post until I actually posted it. I don’t post a ton of media, but at least now, doing so will be way less annoying.

Let’s try…

Nice! It worded…

Wake Up, off of Jagged Little Pill, is one of my favorite Alanis Morissette songs, I always think of it when I’m doing something that really scares me. It helps me remember that it’s always easier not to do that scary thing, it’s easier not to risk anything, but if you don’t go and do and risk, you’ll never have anything that’s worth anything.

Anyway, this is WordPress 4.0.

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A song for no reason

September 02nd, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Random Thought,Thoughts on Music

This song just came up in my mix after a really really long time. When you’re shuffling four-hundred songs that suit a melancholy mood, you get surprises.

It’s amazing how a song can take you to an exact moment, can make something that happened years ago feel like it’s happening right now.

Let Me Know by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is one of those songs…

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New Book Tuesday! (September, 2nd 2014)

September 02nd, 2014 | Category: Opinions

So, two books that I’ve really been looking forward to are out today…

Acceptance: (The Southern Reach Trilogy: Book 3) by Jeff VanderMeer: I’m totally excited about Acceptance, given how spectacular Annihilation and Authority are, this third book should close out the Southern Reach Trilogy splendidly. I’ll be posting a full review soon, but just go buy it. You won’t be disappointed (if you are, you can personally come by and punch me in the face).

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest: Cherie Priest is a master of taking true places and events, twisting them around in her brain, and making them turn out totally creepy. Maplecroft should be absolutely no exception. For those unfamiliar, after Lizzie Borden was acquitted of brutally hacking up her parents with an axe, she inherited a bunch of money and bought a mansion on a hill, a mansion called, Maplecroft. Little is really known about Borden’s life in that mansion on a hill. She hoped for true happiness as a member of society’s elite, but died achieving neither. The real story is disturbing by itself, I’m excited to see what Priest spins. I’ll post a full review, but again just go buy it. Maplecroft should be a scary fun read (the face punching again applies).

1 comment

Tattoo #79

August 21st, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Tattoos,Thoughts on Books
Tattoo by Kyle, Doc Dog's Las Vegas Tattoo, Ybor City

Tattoo by Kyle, Doc Dog’s Las Vegas Tattoo, Ybor City

So, this tattoo, number seventy-nine, doesn’t follow my usual leanings toward song lyrics. Instead, I went with a book quote, a not-so-not-lengthy book quote. It’s from the last paragraph of Dermaphoria by Craig Clevenger. If you haven’t read either of Clevenger’s books. The Contortionist’s Handbook, Dermaphoria, you’re really missing something., they’re gorgeously sad books. I’m not at all ashamed to admit that the end of Dermaphoria had me crying at 4 am. Anyway, this is definitely my largest tattoo, it covers pretty much my entire right side. It’s there and almost nobody will ever see it outside of this post, but that’s not the point. It’s a memory made external, one that affected me so deeply that I want to physically carry it with me.

Again, since I’m running really low on space, it’s kind of awkwardly placed. It reads…

“…and in the moment

before the angels turn

off my universe, God’s

own clock quicksand

slows to an ice

whisper quiet and I

could sit here beside

you and watch the

twilight wither for

days on end.”

I don’t want to give away anything about what the words mean in the context of the book, but in the context of me…

No passage in any book has ever felt so familiar.

I was with someone I love, and we were lying together watching gorgeous twilight fade away, and I never wanted it to end. I never wanted to be without her, ever. Not ever.

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