Saturday, March 31, 2012

Countdown Recap

Oddity guaranteed:

#10.Edward King

#9.Wing Biddlebaum

#8.Doctor Parcival

#7.Reverend Curtis Hartman

#6.Alice Hindman

#5.Wash Williams

#4.Elmer Cowley

#3.Enoch Robinson

#2.Jesse Bentley

But who is the most grotesque resident of Winesburg, Ohio?  That dubious honor will be bestowed next weekend here at Macabre Republic.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Gothicism of American Gothic: "The Plague Sower"

[For the previous entry, click here.]

In this episode, American Gothic hearkens back to the work of Charles Brockden Brown, by setting its story against a backdrop of terrible plague.  A mysterious illness has been leveling the people of Trinity, who end up bleeding out from their mouth, eyes, and ears.  Naturally, panic is burgeoning in the as-yet-uninfected, but Sheriff Lucas Buck tries to calm down the nervous masses by discounting the reports of bloody demise. 
"In a small town," he tells reporters and concerned citizens, "rumors can act like a cancer."

Meantime, Lucas is using the situation to his advantage.  When local hardware store owner A.E. Tippett comes to him complaining of bloody visions, Lucas offers to help the desperate man out--but only if Tippett will frame his own brother for the crime of vehicular homicide.  Later, in a wonderfully ghoulish scene, Lucas moves to steal a plasma bag from a would-be transfusion recipient lying on a gurney in the hospital, just because the man had refused to do "business" with the sheriff in the past.

"The Plague Sower" is ripe with disturbing images, none more so than when Tippett falls victim to the bloodshed.  A basic act of bathroom hygiene transforms into an uncanny incident: as Tippett brushes his teeth, the froth in his mouth is suddenly stained crimson, and what he ends up spitting into the sink looks like the product of the most gruesome case of gingivitis ever.

The source of all this Old-Testament-type unpleasantness?  Merlyn Temple, in the role of avenging angel.  Determined to protect the righteous and punish the wicked, she preys on anyone who has fallen in with the devilish Lucas (including her own lust-filled cousin Gail).

One minor but memorable moment from the episode perfectly captures the eponymous Gothicism of the series.  Dr. Billy Peele, an investigator of the plague sent to Trinity from the CDC, goes door to door questioning the townspeople.  When he asks one of the local yokels if he has noticed anything odd about his neighbors, the man's superficially innocuous response rings with suggestiveness: "No, no more than usual." 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Beelzebub Tweets

  BLZ, Bub

[For previous tweets, click here.]

He is: The Most Sinister "Man" in the Underworld.  (Stay thirsty, Tantalus.)
--12:58 A.M., March 27th

He plays Styx's "Too Much Time On My Hands" for everyone along the riverfront...
--12:57 A.M., March 27th

He considers the Ninth Circle an upscale neighborhood...
--12:55 A.M., March 27th

He thinks of Swift, not Gerber, whenever he hears the phrase "baby food"...
--12:54 A.M., March 27th

He insists that the originator of the slogan "Thin is In" had a lisp...
--12:53 A.M., March 27th

He assures all prospective immigrants that it's a dry heat...
--12:53 A.M., March 27th

Sunday, March 25, 2012

QuickList: The Best/Worst Stephen King Novel Titles

Something that's occurred to me as I've been re-reading Stephen King's The Stand: what a bland (albeit thematically relevant) title for such an epic narrative!  In and of itself, the title suggests a simple piece of bedside furniture, or someplace you might stash an umbrella.  So this led me to consider: what are the best and worst titles that King has come up with for his novels over the course of his illustrious career?  I submit the following as my choices:

The Best
*Bag of Bones: deftly packages mystery and the macabre
*The Dead Zone: polysemously ominous: does the title reference something apocalyptic, something supernatural, or both?
*Pet Sematary: the strategic misspelling makes the concept even more intriguing
*'Salem's Lot: alliterative, cleverly misdirecting (the book has nothing to do with America's witchcraft capital), and portentous of ill fortune

The Worst
*Cycle of the Werewolf: sounds like a case of lycanthropic menstruation
*Dolores Claiborne: inevitably, I hear echoes of "Liz Claiborne"
*The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon: a title that fails to resonate outside of Red Sox Nation
*Rose Madder: color me uninterested

Do you have a different choice for best/worst King novel title?  Feel free to list your selections in the Comments section below.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Countdown: The 10 Most Grotesque Residents of Winesburg, Ohio--#2

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#2.Jesse Bentley

Like many characters in Winesburg, Ohio, Jesse Bentley exhibits physical distortion (his left eyelid twitches from the time "he had been threatened with paralysis"), but his true grotesquerie stems from a twisted mentality.
Jesse--the central figure in the four-part tale "Godliness"--is a bona fide "fanatic"; a would-be Presbyterian minister (and now farm overseer) who goes astray by adhering too closely to Biblical typology.  He seeks to emulate his Biblical namesake, "to rule over men and to be the father of sons who shall be rulers!"  His religious zeal leads him to believe "that something like a halo of Godly approval hung over him" and his business endeavors, but his rampant egotism has some ugly consequences.  For instance, Jesse's total "absorption in himself and his own destiny" blinds him "to the fact that his young wife was doing a strong woman's work even after she had become large with child and that she was killing herself in his service."

The wife ultimately dies giving birth to a daughter, after Jesse had run through the countryside at night clamoring for God to "send me a son to be called David who shall help me to pluck at last all of these lands out of the hands of the Philistines and turn them to Thy service and to the building of Thy kingdom on earth."  This is but the first of the darkly ironic results of Jesse's religious devotion.  When his daughter later
delivers a boy named David, Jesse walks through the woods with his beloved grandson, suddenly clutches the boy, and beseeches God for a sign of His presence.  David, though, ends up tearing free and fleeing in terror from a figure he deems "dangerous and brutal," while Jesse stands there wailing to his maker, "What have I done that Thou dost not approve of me."

This incident foreshadows the climax of the tale, which in turn hearkens back to the opening designation of Jesse as an "odd sheep."  His religious mania certainly not on the wane, Jesse decides "that like the men whose stories filled the pages of the Bible, he would make a great sacrifice to God."  Jesse's intent (in the hopes of finally receiving some divine message) is to slaughter a lamb and then anoint David's head with the blood, but when the man draws a long knife the grandson mistakenly believes that he himself is in mortal danger.  This time, though, David doesn't just run for his life but turns and sling-shoots a stone at Jesse, striking the ghoulish Goliath in the head.  Unfortunately, the blow fails to knock any sense into Jesse, who is humbled but still insists on filtering modern reality through a Biblical lens.  When asked to explain his wound and his grandson's flight, Jesse asserts that a "messenger from God had taken the boy" because Jesse "was too greedy for glory."

In his obsession with Godliness, Jesse Bentley forms the perfect picture of grotesquerie as framed by the book's prologue ( recall the posited "notion that the moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood").  Based on his warped mindset and crazy behavior, Jesse Bentley warrants the label "grotesque" not just in the prologue's established terms but in every sense of the word. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Inside the Most Ominous Garage in the Macabre Republic

Back in August, I published photos of The Most Ominous Garage in the Macabre Republic.  At the time, I joked about what might be lurking behind those blood-red doors.  Well, now one of those doors has been thrown open to the world, and I have to say that I was not expecting what I spotted inside (for starters, who knew that the garage was actually as backless as an old movie-set facade?).  The arrangement of objects (e.g. that strange, centrally-situated device) inside the space is nothing less than creepy.  It's not comforting to think that this place stands just a few doors down from where I live.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dead Lines

[For last week's quotable quotes, click here.]

There was more shooting than talking in the first half of last night's season finale ("Beside the Dying Fire"), but by episode's end a bevy of great lines had been delivered:

"This is my farm.  I'll die here."
--Hershel, prepared to make a last stand

"Look at me.  Hey, we're alive.  We made it.  Ok, I'm sure they are, too.  Right?  [beat]  I love you.  Maggie, I love you.  I should have said it a long time ago, but it's been true for a long time.  We're gonna be all right.  Ok?  We'll be all right."
--Glenn to Maggie

"I can't profess to understand God's plan.  Christ promised a resurrection of the dead.  I just thought he had something a little different in mind."
--Hershel to Rick

"Saw this guy's [Glenn's] taillight zigzagging all over the road.  Figured he had to be Asian, driving like that."
--Daryl, jokingly to Rick

"We're all infected.  At the CDC, Jenner told me.  Whatever it is, we all carry it."
--Rick's belated revelation to the group

"I am doing something.  I'm keeping this group together.  Alive.  I've been doing that all along, no matter what.  I didn't ask for this.  I killed my best friend for you people, for Chrissake.  [beat]  You saw what he was like, how he pushed me.  How he compromised us.  How he threatened us.  He staged the whole Randall thing, led me out to put a bullet in my back.  He gave me no choice.  He was my friend, but he came after me. [beat]  My hands are clean.

"Maybe you people are better off without me.  Go ahead.  I say there's a place for us, but maybe, maybe it's just another pipe dream.  Maybe, maybe I'm fooling myself again.  Why don't you go find out for yourself?  Send me a postcard.  Go on, there's the door.  You can do better, let's see how far you get.  No takers?  Fine, but get one thing straight.  [If] You're staying, this isn't a democracy anymore."
--Rick's season-ending speech to the group

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Farm Fatale

Tonight's season finale of The Walking Dead centers on the siege of Hershel's farm, and (following the loss of Shane and Dale in recent weeks) further casualties can be expected.  Who stands to join the ranks of the ravenous undead?  Leaving out the main protagonist Rick and incidental figures like Jimmy and Beth, here's my ranking of the individual characters from the most likely to the least likely to survive the episode's carnage:

Lori/Carl: Fans might be unhappy with these two right now for their roles in the respective demises of Shane and Dale, but Rick's protection of his family is so integral to the show's dynamic that it is hard to envision either of these loved ones being killed off.

Glenn: Simply put, he's too likable a character for the show's writers to hand him his Walking papers.

Andrea: Similarly, she forms too interesting a figure: is she poised to become the next Dale or the next Shane?

Daryl: It concerns me that Daryl does not appear in the original Robert Kirkman comics (which, I should mention, I have not read, and so do not know where the plot of the TV series is headed).  But with Shane gone, the show is going to need another alpha-male character to offset Rick.

T-Dog: He's faded into the backdrop this season, but I want to believe that there's a subplot involving him in the offing.

Maggie: Her sassy personality would certainly be missed, but her death would instantly solve Glenn's stay-or-go dilemma.

Carol: She seems to serve little dramatic purpose now that Sophia has been put down.

Hershel: The type of man who would die defending his home.  Plus, it's hard to picture the old-timer out on the road with the other survivors in Season 3.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Countdown: The 10 Most Grotesque Residents of Winesburg, Ohio--#3

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#3.Enoch Robinson

Enoch Robinson is the type of guy who walks down the middle of the road reading a book, oblivious to the passing traffic.  Not surprisingly, he was "once hit by a street car and thrown against an iron post."  He was rendered lame by that accident, but what makes Enoch a true grotesque is not his physical handicap or his walking about carelessly but the fact that he is caught up in a world of his own device.

The story "Loneliness" concerning Enoch Robinson recounts the man's young adulthood amongst a bohemian clique in New York City.  Enoch is a painter during this period, but comes to believe that his pictures inadequately express his feelings.  Incapable of articulating his artistic intentions to his peers, Enoch forsakes realism: "With quick imagination he began to invent his own people to whom he could really talk and to whom he explained the things he had been unable to explain to living people.  His room began to be inhabited by the spirits of men and women among whom he went, in his turn saying words."  According to author Sherwood Anderson's narrator:
They were an odd lot, Enoch's people.  They were made, I suppose, out of real people he had seen and who had for some obscure reason made an appeal to him.  There was a woman with a sword in her hand, an old man with a long white beard who went about followed by a dog, a young girl whose stockings were always coming down and hanging over her shoe tops.  There must have been two dozen of the shadow people invented by the child-mind of Enoch Robinson, who lived in the room with him.
A "child-mind" in an adult body: there lies the essence of Enoch's grotesquerie.  The man's infantile belief in the power of fantasy prevents/distorts his relationship with real, living people.  Even after getting married and moving into an apartment with his family, Enoch keeps his old room on Washington Square secretly rented; eventually he abandons his wife and children so he can stay in his old haunt with "the people of his fancy."  Enoch later meets a violinist who visits him periodically in his room, but the would-be relationship ends disastrously.  As Enoch confides to George Willard: "One night something happened.  I became mad to make her understand me and to know what a big thing I was in that room.  I wanted her to see how important I was."  But Enoch changes his mind in the middle of the attempt, and instead decides to chase the woman off with screams and curses and stamps of his foot.  Unfortunately for Enoch, though, "all the life there had been in the room followed her out.  She took all of my people away."  So that is why Enoch now lives as a lonely old man back in his hometown of Winesburg, Ohio.  There Enoch is widely "spoken of as a little off his head," yet it's unlikely that his fellow residents quite realize the extent of the man's eccentricity.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Doubt of a Shadows

I've been keenly anticipating the new Dark Shadows movie ever since the Tim Burton project was first rumored, but now that the film's trailer has been released, I'm starting to wonder if I'm setting myself up for disappointment.  Judging from the clips, the new DS seems to favor drollery over melodrama, the comic over the Gothic.  And as much as I love the macabre oeuvre of Johnny Depp, I'm not sure the actor is the right choice for the role of Barnabas Collins (the urbane vampire immortalized by Jonathan Frid in the original TV series).  Still, I'm not giving up hope yet, and will be scurrying to the the local multiplex when the film premieres this May.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Silent House (Film Review)

Silent House (Open Road, 2012; Directed by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau)

Silent House is an American remake of the 2010 Uruguayan horror film La Casa Muda, but plays like a combination of The Strangers and The Haunting [of Hill House].  Lead character Sarah has joined her father and uncle in the attempt to renovate the secluded and decrepit family lake house, but things soon begin to go bump in the night (or rather, the late afternoon).  Do the ominous noises that Sarah hears signal the presence of home invaders?  Is the house haunted by a disgruntled ghost, or is all this apparent strangeness the product of Sarah's unreliable viewpoint?  Such questions keep the audience guessing throughout most of the film's runtime.

If you've seen the movie poster or trailer, then you know Silent House purports to have been filmed as a single, 88-minute-long take.  While the technique does create some interesting angles of perspective, it ultimately comes off as gimmicky.  And in some scenes, the camera grows so nauseatingly shaky, it makes The Blair Witch Project seem like soothing viewing in comparison.

The best part of the directors' decision to present their story this way is that it keeps the focus on Sarah, played by the naturally beautiful and abundantly talented Elizabeth Olsen.  Olsen excels here in the use of physical gesture, expressing sheer terror through various acts of clenching, sobbing, and silent, jaw-stretching yowling.  Her effort represents genuine acting, not the aping of hackneyed Scream Queen maneuvers.

Unfortunately, not even Olsen can save this vehicle from derailing in its last act.  An intriguing premise yields to a disappointing payoff, as the explanation for the events that have just taken place in and around the house is neither very original nor terribly moving.  In retrospect, the film might have had a stronger impact if it structured itself to end on a note of persistent ambiguity (a la The Haunting).

Perhaps the most damning thing that can be said about Silent House is that the film's title doubled as an apt description of the theater in which I viewed the movie.  Granted, the screening was attended by a sparse, older crowd, but nowhere were there cries of fright, giggles of nervousness, or even groans of dismay over the film's conclusion, to be heard.  Such audience apathy speaks volumes; as a horror film, Silent House falls flat in its failure to elicit a visceral or intellectual reaction.  So I'm afraid that this one, Twisted Citizens, is a wait-for-DVD at best.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dead Lines

[For last week's quotable quotes, click here.]

The drama has heightened as the second season of The Walking Dead draws to a close, and last night's episode ("Better Angels") was filled with terrific speeches.  For example:

"In the end he was talking about losing our humanity.  He said this group was broken.  The best way to honor him is to unbreak it.  To set aside our differences and pull together.  Stop feeling sorry for ourselves, take control of our lives.  Our safety.  Our future.  We're not broken.  We're going to prove him wrong.  From now on we are gonna do it his way.  That is how we honor Dale."
--Rick's graveside eulogy

"This is real.  And we can't keep it at bay; it's already got us.  And it just keeps coming, doesn't it?  [beat]  I made a mess of things.  And put you and Rick at odds.  I don't even know whose baby this is.  I can't imagine how hard that is on you."
--Lori to Shane

"Yeah.  Yeah.  Feels like there's a lot of that [i.e. death] going around.  That's why I need you.  No more kid stuff.  I wish you could have the childhood I had, but that's not going to happen.  People are going to die.  I'm gonna die.  Mom.  There's no way you can ever be ready for it.  I try to be, but I can't.  Best we can do now is avoid it as long as we can, keep one step ahead.  I wish I had something better to say, something--something more profound.  My father was good like that.  But I'm tired son.  Please, take it [Daryl's gun]."
--Rick to Carl

"What you know about what I have to live with?  You got no idea what I can live with, what I live with.  You talk about what I can do, Rick: how about what you can do?  Here I am [lowers gun].  C'mon man, raise your gun....What happened, Rick, I thought you weren't the good guy anymore?  Ain't that what you said?  Even right here right now you ain't gonna fight for her?  I'm a better father than you, Rick.  I'm better for Lori than you, man.  'Cause I'm a better man than you, Rick.  'Cause I can be here and I'll fight for her.  But you come back here and you just destroy everything!  You've got a broken woman.  You got a weak boy.  You ain't got the first clue on how to fix it.  Raise your gun."
--Shane's last words to Rick

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Flash Flood

Flash Flood
By Joe Nazare

For many, the storm had assumed seriously biblical proportion within two days and nights, and any facetious talk about needing to build an ark was scuttled once the rain-swollen Sabine slipped its yoke and ran wild through the town.

The sudden flood washed out the grid of civilization, made flotsam of mailboxes and fence posts and so much else.  In both its surging nature and fecal color, the river gave the area the look of an open sewer, and even a hundred feet up in the Channel 7 Skywitness chopper, Ian could detect a fetid stench.

Awed by the fury he witnessed, Ian aimed the video camera he shouldered.  The flood waters had nearly engulfed the neighborhood’s single-story dwellings, whose roofs now suggested wedge-shaped rafts.  From Ian’s panoramic viewpoint, the scene below exemplified paradox: inundated, and yet starkly desolate.  Except—yes, over there...

Ian turned to signal to his partner, but Charlie had already seen for himself and moved to pilot the helicopter accordingly.  The object of their attention: a slender, middle-aged man—apparently one of the few who’d lacked the wisdom or the initiative to evacuate—squatting on the apex of his roof.  Barefoot, wearing a sopping, sleeveless T and a skewed toupee reminiscent of a drowned rodent, the man sat hugging his blue-jeaned knees.  Chin tucked to chest, he slowly rocked on his haunches, no doubt meditating on the extent of his property damage.

The man sat there so huddled, he didn’t even notice the shadow cast onto him by the helicopter as it hovered overhead like some outsized dragonfly.  Finally, the rhythmic thunk of the propellers drew him alert.  After craning his neck, he unfolded his gangly frame and stood gesturing.  But the upraised arms weren’t scissoring, Ian realized.  Rather than beseeching attention, the man was waving them off.  Silently urging them to leave him be for the time being, to go search out others who might be caught in more dire straits at the moment.

Awash with admiration of such utter selflessness, Ian kept recording.  His thoughts flashed to tonight’s news; this captured footage would make for a great human interest story.

He quickly nixed the idea, though, when he saw the first of the bodies come floating out the various apertures of the swamped home.  The corpses—none of which were fully clothed or limbed, and all of which had long since ballooned and blackened—moved as leisurely as the faux boats in an amusement park Log Flume.  Ian expected them to be swept up by the current and sent racing down the submerged street like entrants in a grotesque regatta; instead, the bodies all ended up snagged by tree branches or folded around telephones poles.  The unruly Sabine proceeded to roll the corpses onto their sides, until the baker’s dozen all appeared to lay facing toward the same roof-bound figure.  Sunken, unblinking eyes stared distantly, leaving the stranded man cowering, and Ian wondering if the deluge of the past few days hadn’t in fact brought an end to a terrible reign.

This piece of flash fiction was previously published in Issue #3 of Untied Shoelaces of the Mind.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Countdown: The 10 Most Grotesque Residents of Winesburg, Ohio--#4

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#4.Elmer Cowley

Young merchant Elmer Cowley is so preoccupied with "public opinion," is so self-conscious about his family seeming "queer" (i.e. odd) in the eyes of the townspeople, that he unintentionally transforms into a figure to gawk at.  When chased out of Cowley and Son's at gunpoint, a traveling salesman pronounces Elmer (who is ashamed of his bumpkin father's lack of business acumen) "crazy."  The sentiment is echoed (after listening to Elmer rail about his parents' shabby habiliment, and the "queer jumble" of goods cluttering the family store) by no less an authority than Mook the half-wit (a man given to conversing with barnyard animals).

Still friendless after a year of living in town, the insecure Elmer wallows in a sense of ostracism.  For all his concerns about being marked off as different, though, Elmer proves a typical resident of Winesburg, Ohio in his inability to express himself.  Like many a character in Sherwood Anderson's story collection, Elmer is denaturalized by a frustrating inarticulateness.  On more than one occasion, Elmer tries "to declare his determination not to be queer" to George Willard, but stumbles each time in the attempt.  In a climactic confrontation, Elmer aims to make an impassioned speech to George, yet only manages to spurt "I'll be washed, ironed, and starched"--the despised catch-phrase his father Ebenezer always spouts.  With this, Elmer is sent into a fit of rage; he snarls and flails his arms in the air before proceeding to pummel the innocent George.  Jumping aboard a departing train, Elmer says to himself in the story's final line: "I guess I showed him I ain't queer."  The author Anderson, of course, has just demonstrated the exact opposite about Elmer in this tale well-fortified with irony.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Zombie Nominee

Just found out that The Zombie Feed Volume 1 (which includes my story "The Last Generation") has been nominated for a 2011 Mail Order Zombie Dead Letter Award.  The competition in the Best Anthology category looks to be stiff (yet ambulatory).  Undoubtedly, the folks at M.O.Z. know their undead, and the awards ballot oozes ghoulish fun (e.g., Best One-Liner in a Zombie Movie; Best Bromance in a Zombie Movie), so click on over and cast your votes today.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dead Lines

[For last week's quotable quotes, click here.]

Dale was the dramatic centerpiece of this week's episode ("Judge, Jury, Executioner"), so it's only appropriate that he get the spotlight here.  Some of his best lines, as he makes his impassioned plea to the group to spare Randall's life:

"So the answer is to kill him to prevent a crime that he may never even attempt?  If we do this, we're saying there is no hope.  Rule of law is dead, there is no civilization."

"This is a young man's life.  And it is worth more than a five minute conversation.  Is this what it's come to?  We kill someone because we can't decide what else to do with him?  [To Rick] And you saved him.  Now look at us.  He's been tortured.  He's gonna be executed.  How are we any better than those people that we are so afraid of?"

"But don't you see, if we do this, the people we were, the world that we knew, is dead.  And this new world is's's survival of the fittest.  And that's a world I don't want to live in."

"Are you going to watch, too?  No, you'll go hide your heads in your tents and forget that we're slaughtering a human being.  [Shakes his head vehemently]  I won't be a party to it.  [To Daryl, before exiting]  This group is broken."

Sunday, March 4, 2012


[For the previous game of Hangmany, click here.]

Can you solve the following puzzle within 20 seconds, or are you going to choke?


___     ___     L     ___     ___     M     ___

___     ___            M     ___

___     I     ___     H     ___     M     ___     ___     ___

MISSES: B, D, F, P, S, U

HINT: Go ask Alice

Answer appears in the Comments section of this post.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Countdown: The 10 Most Grotesque Residents of Winesburg, Ohio--#5

[For the previous entry on the countdown, click here.]

#5.Wash Williams

Sherwood Anderson begins the story "Respectability" by comparing Wash Williams to a "huge, grotesque kind of monkey."  The local telegraph operator is "the ugliest thing in town.  His girth was immense, his neck thin, his legs feeble.  He was dirty. Everything about him was unclean.  Even the whites of his eyes looked soiled."  Wash's very name is thus drenched in irony, denoting an act of personal hygiene apparently alien to him.

The man is both misanthropic and severely misogynistic, shunning the company of his fellow townspeople and denouncing all women as bitches.  "There is something rotten about them," Wash asserts.  "I was married, sure.  My wife was dead before she married me, she was a foul thing come out a woman more foul."  These bitter comments are telling, pointing to "the thing that had made ugly the person and the character of Wash Williams."  Wash eventually shares his story with George Willard, revealing that he had been cuckolded countless times over by his beloved wife.  Learning of the adultery, Wash simply sent the woman home to her mother.  Soon, though, he aches "to forgive and forget," and when he receives a summons from his mother-in-law, he travels to her home with the intent of reconciling with his wife.  Upon arrival, he sits waiting in the parlor, until his superficially "respectable" mother-in-law pushes her daughter into the room, stripped stark naked yet cloaked in shame.

Wash's outraged reaction to this lurid peace (or should I say "piece"?) offering forms the clincher of Anderson's tale.  "I didn't get the mother killed," Wash says.  "I struck her once with a chair and then the neighbors came in and took it away.  She screamed so loud you see.  I won't ever have the chance to kill her now.  She died of a fever a month after that happened."  The frustration of Wash's murderous impulses has twisted him into hideousness.  Wash Williams might not fraternize with the other residents, but this grotesque figure is right at home in Winesburg, Ohio.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Magazine Review: Cemetery Dance

Cemetery Dance #65

Weighing in at 144 pages, the latest edition of Cemetery Dance is officially the magazine's largest issue ever.  It is also a special Graham Masterton issue, featuring a lengthy interview (conducted by J.A. Konrath), appreciative and analytical essays, and two (entertaining, if predictably plotted) stories from the author himself. 

The crop of stories in CD#65 is the strongest of the past half-dozen issues;  each piece makes for a good read, and several of the stories are outstanding.  The always-reliable Glen Hirshberg offers a speculative tale for the e-reader generation with his haunting, atmospheric "After-Words."  Michael Koryta--a writer who has received plenty of buzz in the past year-plus--certainly justifies the hype.  His entry, "Winter Takes All," serves up a delicious slice of American Gothic, involving a boy's struggle to come to terms with his undertaker/coffin-maker father (whom he overhears holding conversations with corpses).  The stand-out selection, though, is the issue's final story, "The Town Suicide" by S. Craig Renfroe.  The narrator's deadpan detailing of incidents from a bizarre, community-wide epidemic of self-destruction is absolutely harrowing in its effect.  This short tale, which packs a novel's worth of story, reminded me of the more arresting scenes from M. Night Shyamalan's film The Happening (i.e. the scenes not including panning shots of rustling trees).

A pair of original features published in this issue are worth noting.  First, the normally-avuncular Peter Straub waxes sardonic in "What About Genre, What About Horror?"--an essay that attacks genre snobbery and the zealots of literary classification.  The second feature is an interview with CD contributor Ellen Datlow that takes readers behind the scenes of (theme) anthology compilation; aspiring editors--not to mention writers hoping to someday crack one of Datlow's volumes--will relish this transcribed conversation.

The Usual Suspects make their regular contributions to the magazine, and once again Michael Marano's "Mediadrome" constitutes the issue's finest column.  Marano's always astute, and occasionally acerbic, film criticism is not only informative but makes for enjoyable reading in and of itself.  Here's a sample of the verbal treats Marano serves up:
The movie [Repo Men] as a whole is cinematic roadkill, as badly shredded and not-so-stitched-back-together as the schmoes in the movie who cannot pay for their new livers. 

Those 'roided up dramatic notes I mentioned are heaved around onscreen by Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro (a primo choice to play someone with lycanthropy, as he looks like a guy recovering from a bout with rabies).

The glee with which Romero deconstructs other movies is like when punk bands do covers of classics.
The fact, though, that Marano is covering movies such as Repo Men, The Wolfman, and Survival of the Dead leads me to my only real criticism: the irregularity of the magazine's publication (I long for the days of a bimonthly schedule) results in reviews of films and books that oftentimes were released well over a year earlier.  Nonetheless, it's a pleasant surprise whenever the latest issue shows up in my mailbox, and CD#65 no doubt proves worth the wait.  Fans will easily be reminded why Cemetery Dance is the premier periodical in the horror field, and they will be left eagerly anticipating the next chance to go gamboling in the graveyard.