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Tag Archives: Psychological Horror

Review: “The Haunting of Hill House (1959)” by Shirley Jackson (5 Stars)

A place of nuanced genius where psychological suspense meets the supernatural highlighting the lulls of reality in which we deceive ourselves while we all slowly tilt toward an inevitable yet unpredictable whizz-bang ending!

The story told by Jackson gives a loose account of the protagonist’s experiences at an alleged haunted house. The premise feels droll and full of artifice and the author paces the narrative in even fashion as we literally drive with the main character, Eleanor, to the story. However, the nuanced prose in which this story is wrought is delivered to us in a much more thoughtful manner than what initially appears.

We are first introduced to the protagonist and given clever details and insights into her personality and life experience before she walks past the guardian’s gate of supernatural terrors. All of this is done quick enough in this shortish book, but it leaves us with a very clear sense of who Eleanor is without the burden and weight of so much heavy prose. Perhaps this deft brevity is part of the genius of Shirley Jackson, for in counterbalance the elements which we come to readily expect in a tale of Gothic fiction bring about their own importance without unnecessary words or over-explanation. Of course, ambiguity is a classic tool in the genres of horror and weird fiction (a favorite element for me personally), though here none of it feels contrived.

The other aspect of writing carried through the narrative is the subtle way Jackson filters in the psychological elements of suspense for the protagonist which run in parallel to the rote pedantic educational expositions of the Doctor character and his wife, who serve more as checks on reality and sources of humor—another unsung element. Comedy and horror are sisters in their relationship of genre and they are often played against each other to great or ridiculous effect in film. Here, the comedy follows a sort of biting sarcasm to complement the evolving terror without jolting one out of the narrative, nor (and more importantly) as a cheap literary device designed to pull the emotional arc of the plot forward. Jackson’s use of humor feels original and different and in keeping with the characters. The absurd doesn’t feel so absurd or out of place. The laughs fit in with the growing dread and sense of helplessness in a sort of existential way.

The other characters occasionally tread near to crossing the danger line of becoming farcical and one dimensional, but we stay close to Eleanor in a ghostly sort of way. It is this unsettling closeness that breathes life and terror into the events that transpire. Our reader’s lens travels through Eleanor’s viewpoint and yet it somehow remains on the outside looking in. All of this fits together in the way that a picture might remain slightly out of focus, blurry enough to reveal all which needs seeing but also serving to make one feel uncomfortable—providing a sort of shifted-perspective on the story or on life itself. We acquire a genuine familiarity and relatability to Eleanor even as things go dark for her.

This story is heralded by many critics as the best haunted house story that ever was. Reading it in later times, after having read or seen or heard other efforts of horror in both literature or film or even in radio plays, one wonders who else might have drawn from this well. And then one reads along, nodding at the seemingly familiar mile posts expected along the way. However, as the narrative continues, we realize that the mile posts stopped following the highway somewhere a ways back and that now the path has transformed from the asphalt and straight lines of civilized society into the crooked and roughshod dirt of the untamed wilderness. By then, there is no choice but to meet doom’s end and seek the shrine of old and ancient divinities to find out just what’s become of oneself.  Suddenly, the familiar is not really as familiar as one suspected.

Don’t skip this one…get wholly lost in the darkness…and the terror inside.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/10/15/review-the-haunting-of-hill-house-shirley-jackson

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Posted by on October 15, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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Review: “Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories (1952-1960)” by Charles Beaumont (4 Stars)

Even though I know there’s going to be a twist, I still wonder how the author is going to flip things at the end.

Beaumont was one of the main writers contributing stories to Rod Serling’s scifi/horror anthology television series “The Twilight Zone.” In this select collection there are a number of short stories that were originally published in various magazines and then later adapted for the television series. There are also other non-twilight-zone stories, which reflect the author’s other interests including his love of cars and jazz music. It’s a fairly eclectic collection from an author who died too young from a strange ailment, but who put noteworthy material during his relatively short career.

Beaumont’s writing is decidedly perfect for the Twilight Zone. It’s no wonder that he fit into Serling’s vision so well. He has short straightforward pose that seeks out an inevitable twist to tie off its conclusory or sometimes ambiguous ending. While reading this book I came to expect things would be flipped on their head at some point, yet I thoroughly enjoyed wondering and waiting in anticipation for the author to perform his magic. The narratives ultimately did not feel predictable as I read them, despite my expectation.

Another thing of note, was that despite the age of these stories they all seemed fairly contemporary and relevant for the most part. This was probably due in part to the author’s inclination to skim deeper into areas of social commentary as he sped us along with his prose. These stories felt ripe for adaption into Twilight Zone episodes even though they were written for magazines first. This tendency to explore themes like environmentalism, colonialism, conforming versus individualism, spirituality and doubt, nostalgia, and dying with dignity–make the narratives more universal and timeless. It also made the twists at the end feel less like clever tricks and more a complimentary part of the greater theme being touched upon. Yet, for the most part everything was done in an entertaining way and without coming across as preachy. Beaumont was probably a bit of an adrenaline junkie and full of get up and go (on a personal level)—it seems he expected no less from his stories.

While most of the writing moved along in an entertaining way with occasional reflective views about the greater human condition, there was also more subtle efforts of craft. Beaumont was able to build and maintain with expert control, an impending and faltering sense of dread or fear in some of his characters which made for authentic and lasting pieces that were memorable after having consumed them.

These stories were a joy to read. The collection is fairly varied, but does glow with a certain Twilight Zone nostalgia through much of the writing. It’s also very easy and a pretty quick read. Highly recommended for those looking for some thoughtful entertainment, and doubly so for those of familiarity with the iconic television show that this writer was a part.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic), this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space.” The podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

Episode Link: http://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/03/19/review-perchance-to-dream-charles-beaumont

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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