The Darkest Part of the Forest

Awright, so I can’t remember where I saw this book and what compelled me to read it in the first place… I think I just liked the cover to be honest.  And I liked the blurb on the back talking about kids having an absolute sense of justice.  That blurb was intriguing and gave me… a completely different impression of what the book would be like.  Or about, really.

I went into this book expecting it to actually be about kids (the characters are more teens than kids), and thinking it was gonna be about kids’ cruel, absolute sense of justice.  IE, viewing the world in total black and white.  Here’s the blurb in full:

“Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.”

So I thought this was going to be a more morally ambiguous book where kids get violent thinking their doing the right thing but their black and white view of the world ultimately just turns them into monsters themselves (figuratively).  I mean, come on, “CRUEL, absolute justice.”  “kill a monster and feel proud of themselves.”  That’s some ominous shit right there.  There’s something nefarious, something not right about that.

Turns out the book isn’t quite about that at all.  Actually, if I remember right, turns out that blurb is really just an extract verbatim from the novel and is actually the main character’s musings on her younger years.

That the little blurb didn’t at all capture the tone or meaning of the book was a small disappointment but ultimately didn’t matter too much when I began reading the book, because the actual concept of the book is pretty damn cool.  There’s a small town near a forest, and strange things happen in said city; namely, because the forest it’s near is home to scores of Fae.  This takes place in the “real world”, so the concept is that only the residents of this town know about the Fae, and even then some don’t believe they actually exist.  The town survives off of tourism, the main sight being a glass, unbreakable coffin  not too far in the woods with a horned boy sleeping inside, dressed in regal prince clothes.  The highschool kids of that town often party in that clearing of the woods, and it’s not uncommon for people to dance on the coffin, or occasionally even try to break it open (though that usually leads to bad things happening).  The story goes that the boy in coffin has been sleeping there for over a hundred years or something, and nobody is quite sure who he is or how he got there.

The opening is really cool because it shows a lot of really well-thought out characters and social dynamics.  And it’s just a great concept that this human town is borderline enmeshed with the Fae world, yet the highschool kids still act so… highschoolish, having parties at the coffin and whatnot.  The beginning really showed a lot of potential for the rest of the book.  And honestly I thought the writing was pretty good.  It was enjoyable, it flowed, it felt natural.

As the story goes on though, 90% of the opening charm fades away.  The inciting incident of the story is when one morning news spreads that the glass coffin has been smashed open, the horned boy is missing.  Once he’s free from the coffin, shit starts getting weird.  The Alderking, the Fae who rules that part of the forest, wants to capture the horned boy for reasons unknown.  Things happen, the protag and her brother get entwined in the mystery.  Basically once the inciting incident hits, the book’s appeal starts to fade away, slowly at first, and then faster.

I don’t want to spoil the story, but I’ll let a few things loose.  after the horned boy breaks free, he finds the protag and threatens her to help him or else.  Then he kisses her because “that’s what she wants” (her and her brother have fantasized about boning the horned boy since the dawn of time)

oh yeah, the brother is 100% gay which I thought was an awesome part of this book because it doesn’t treat him as a weird character for being gay, it treats him as a totally normal human and there’s only one point in his past where his sexuality was a burden on him but it doesn’t become the main focus of the novel.  I’m a huge advocate for including queer people as normal, everyday human characters because that’s exactly what queer people are – normal, everyday people.  There is definitely a need for and room for literature which focuses on the struggles of having a gender and sexual identity different from cis and straight, but there is just as equally a need to include characters of gender and sexual identities different from cis and straight in mainstream fiction as regular characters.  Both are necessary.  When their struggle is the focus of the novel, that’s great for people who don’t suffer their problems understanding what they’re going through and empathizing.  When their struggle is not the main focus and they are shown as normal characters coexisting with cis straight people, that’s great for normalizing them as people, and putting them on equal footing as cis straight.

Anyways, I mention him kissing her because this book devolves into a really badly written, sappy romance.  And this is where the book starts to go bad.  As it continues on, that really cool opening of all the highschoolers partying on the casket?  Turns out all that info wasn’t actually important at all, it was just setting up the normal (okay, mildly important, but there are so many ways it could have set up the normal, so why through THAT specific scene?)  All the characters mentioned and described are practically dropped from the face of the earth.  A few of them return later on for a moment and then the book realizes it’s making too much use of the social dynamics it set up in the beginning and quickly swipes them all from existence again.  Instead, the book becomes about four characters – Protag (Hazel?), her brother (Ben or something?), Jack (a changeling), and the horned boy (some weird name), and about their super melodramatic romance that ends in a contrived, happy pairing off at the end.  The mystery of the novel is okay but the book forcefeeds you the details and finer points of the mystery to make sure you know everything that happened and realize how oh-so clever the author was with that one.

This book has a lot of jumping from present to past which, actually, I didn’t mind, because while it interrupted the plot of the present quite a bit, the past segments were interesting themselves and did tie into the present-day characters and who they are.

Anyways, when I read this book, I really enjoyed it, started to lose interest about halfway through, and at the 3/4 mark I was ready to call it quits but, out of respect to the beginning of the novel (plus it’s not super long), I decided to stick it out to the end to see if it redeemed itself.

It didn’t.  At least, not for me.  For other people it might, it wasn’t a terrible ending, but I don’t think it was all too satisfying either.  The main mystery started to feel forced and there was an awkward imbalance between the mystery and the author trying to force feelings down our throats.  The dialogue just went out the window in quality and got overdramatic.  The plot was…. okay.  The execution of said plot was a little less okay but was ultimately drowned out by the terrible dialogue and characterizations that took over in the latter half of the novel.  The very very very very ending scene, actually, in theory, should have been satisfying, because it came full circle to the beginning, but the emotional arc of the novel was just garbled so much in that last half that that theoretical satisfaction was lost on me.

The social dynamic between the town and the Fae is really imaginative and well-thought out, but maybe a little underutilized because the characters in the town turned into flat, unimportant people who got blown out of the plot and existence at the slightest draft.

Anyways, I wouldn’t recommend this as a great book.  I think this is more YA and if you enjoy modern twists on fairytales and YA, I’d say it’s definitely a book worth looking into.  Reading the beginning quarter and dropping it is a little worth it, actually, just because that whole beginning premise is so cool.  Other than that, if I were to rate it, I’d probably give it 2.5/5 stars.

As always, Thanks for reading 🙂

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It Follows

Alright so I haven’t done a movie in a while, but recently I watched something that’s been getting a lot of hubbub around it for being the greatest horror movie in recent years.  Or, something like that.

Me being somewhat of a horror fan (I don’t generally go out of my way to watch horror movies, but I do go through phases where all I want to watch is horror), I thought I’d take a watch.  At 1 in the morning.  With the light out and headphones in, yadayadayada, whatever else you can dream up for the perfect horror-viewing setup.

Now, for some context, my experience with horror movies usually involved me “not taking anything seriously and laughing at all the contrived shit that tries to scare people.”  Paranormal activity?  Apparently scared a shit ton of people, I thought it was just ludicrously bad.  It’s a paramount example of people acting dumb in order to provoke the scariness.  The movie builds the expectation for scary shit to happen, and “scary shit” just happens EXACTLY as expected, which kind of makes it not scary.  Not to mention the main dude is a douche canoe and I think the most horrifying part of the movie is that the woman put up with his bullshit for so long rather than packing her bags and leaving him to the demon.

It Follows does a masterful job of not falling into a lot of shitty horror traps.  It plays with expectations, and it’s characters serve far more purpose than “provoking the monster.”  They are actual people with actual lives and feelings.  They feel so much more real than the douchebro whose only purpose in life is to be an asshole and provoke the monster so that the monster gets scarier and kills people.

The concept of It Follows is that there’s a monster who is always, always, always following a cursed person.  The monster can only be seen by those cursed, and it takes on the shape of either people they know or total strangers, but it is always walking towards the cursed victim.  If it touches the victim, it will kill the victim.  However, this curse can be transmitted sexually, and if the cursed person has sex, the new cursed person will become the target of the monster.  The monster will continue following whoever is the newest target until it reaches them and kills them, and then it will turn its focus back to the previous target and work its way down the line like that.

Now, one of the crucial limitations of this monster is that it walks.  It does not run, or drive, or teleport.  It walks, and because of that it takes time for the monster to get from one place to another, and so the characters make use of that and drive far away, giving them a few days to rest before the monster catches up, and then just drive back.  They do that a few times.

What I love about this concept is that it’s just so damn eerie.  Because the monster is not all powerful and not constantly present and immediate, the monster often lingers off-camera and creates a subtler, deeper sense of dread than a Freddy Krueger who you know will be there as soon as you fall asleep to kill you.  This monster allows the movie to play with your expectations more.

One of the best parts of how it handled the monster was the subtlety of its appearances.  Sometimes the monster was right in focus, looking bizarrely out of place.  Other times?  The monster isn’t even pointed out.  the characters will think they’re safe for the moment, but you see somebody in the distance walking in their general direction.  You don’t even know if that was the monster or not, but because of the way it’s shot, it lets you know that it could be.  Which is the beauty of this movie.  It constantly establishes and re-establishes that a character walking by in the background might not be the monster…. but it could be.  For 80 percent of the movie, this atmospheric trick worked brilliantly.

Aside from the monster, the writing was phenomenal for a horror movie.  The main cast of characters were very real with very real desires.  There was more to them than just being screaming murder-potentials and the previously described douchebro.

My main problem with the movie came near the ending.  I’m not going to spoil it, but I will say the monster changed its behaviour in a way that broke the tension of the film and kind of just made the monster overall seem ridiculous.  I’ve read some other peoples’ discussions online about the monster consistency, about how some people didn’t like the monster changing its behaviour, whereas others thought the inconsistencies added to messing with expectations.  All I gotta say is, the changing of behaviours to mess with expectations could have been done in a far more subtle way that remained consistent with the rest of the movie, instead of propelling the movie into trite, groan-worthy horror-trope territory.  Despite that, though, this movie is definitely worth a watch.

The Confabulist

Gol darn school will be the end of me.  My mind’s been getting overloaded and torn apart these past few months with the workload that’s just endlessly lining up, out the door and down the street, each assignment politely waiting it’s turn to snuff my life out if the assignment before it didn’t get the job done.

But I read a great book called The Confabulist by Stephen Galloway.  So there’s that.

In this novel, an old dude (Martin Strauss) has just been diagnosed with some sort of amnesia, wherein he’s losing his own memories, reconstructing new, false ones, and will slowly, but surely, lose his mind.

There are basically three perspectives told in this novel.  Martin Strauss as an old dude, who just got the news from the doctor and, knowing he’ll lose his mind, wants to tell Harry Houdini’s daughter Alice (whom he’s known for quite some time), the true story of how he killed Houdini.

Martin Strauss as a young college FRAT KID (not really), which is his recollection of the past when he killed Houdini.

Both are told in 1st POV

The 3rd is Harry Houdini, told in 3rd POV, which I believe is Strauss telling Houdini’s story based on what he had learned from his interactions with Houdini and what he read on the great magician.

I gotta say, out of the 3 perspective, Houdini’s was by far the most fun to read.  He’s an interesting character with an interesting relationship to his wife.  He gets pulled into a lot of internation political intrigue and is constantly on the lookout for his life (bcuz of intrigue and the life-threatening escapes he does for entertainment).

The Strauss perspectives can get pretty bland.  There’s far less personality in Strauss than in Houdini, far less conviction about who he is.  He’s just a timid fluff who, for whatever reason, does something completely out of character (I’ll get to that in a moment), then spends the rest of the book moping.

I don’t want to discuss the plot of this book because it is rather plot heavy and plot dependent, but I do want to talk about one plot point early on which is based off of Houdini’s real presumed death.

There’s a story, IRL, that two college age (i think) boys visited Houdini in a back room and asked him if he truly could withstand any punch to the stomach.  Houdini said he could, so long as he prepared, and the boy who asked immediately flew into battering Houdini’s stomach with his fists.  Houdini finally told him to stop after like 3 punches, saying he was not given time to prepare.  He was in a lot of pain for his performance that night, and over the next few days refused to see a doctor.  He died something like 3 days after from a ruptured spleen or summat.  Look it up, the story is quite available, and I’m an undependable reviewer 😉

Galloway uses that story as one of the plot points early on for young Strauss: this guy, who’s pretty timid and quietly, sees Houdini in a bar after watching his show.  Strauss’s friend (not strauss himself) asks Houdini the question about withstanding a punch, and then it is Strauss who, for no reason whatsoever and honestly I don’t think galloway did a good job justifying the action, stepped into a full-bodied punch against Houdini’s stomach.  Strauss finds out in the news Houdini died from his punch and he goes into hiding, because Houdini is “the most famous man in the world,” and people wouldn;t be happy with what he did, and rightfully so.  I know I wasn’t.

Now, although this book is based on a real man, it is entirely fiction and you should not go into it thinking any of the events you read about actually happened, although Galloway claims he used transcripts of real conversations or what people actually said where possible.

All in all, it’s a fun read and pretty well written.  It’s got a fairly controversial ending that may piss some people off, but i won’t talk about that or spoil it.  I’ll just say this book is an enjoyable read, but no where near as good as the Cellist of Sarajevo, another Galloway book I reviewed a while ago.