THIS FINER SHADOW – It’s an unusual title, often included in the cannon of gay lesbian novels as a definitive pulp classic, by texts such as Truly Pulp and Queer Pulp. Refer to my Goodreads bookshelf for further information on these non-fiction texts. The forward explicitly states that McIntosh was not a homosexual. Although that is debatable, he was frustrated by multiple rejections from agents/ publishers, suffering years of revisions when he committed suicide, in the midst of a full-blow mental breakdown. After he met his death, by plunging from the top of his apartment building, his wife posthumously published the novel. Similarly to another book that I’m reading right now (The Third Sex by Artemis Smith), This Finer Shadow by Harlan Cozad McIntosh draws upon the Freudian/ psychoanalytic theory of homosexuality as ‘inversion’, which was conventional wisdom in the 30’s. The novels (Finer Shadow and Third Sex) draw striking parallels in terms of setting (Manhattan near Washington Square), gender roles, labels: butch/ queen/ femme/ macho/ nelly and explores turmoil these characters faced. In many ways, both books describe a common experience, which feels familiar. In Finer Shadow, the protagonist is a sailor who finds himself in a big city full of confusing possibilities. While it is not a book I would normally read, I appreciate the experience. I will always wonder … what it must have been like ‘in the life’ before Stonewall?
AMERICAN PSYCHO - American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is one of my favorite books. It’s a work of true genius, about a sadistic murderer who is self-obsessed. The thing that’s great about this author is his strong voice - several of his other novels convey similar themes. The reader is transported into the protagonist’s shallow, depraved and violent thoughts and actions.
TELL-TALE HEART – We’ve probably all read one of Poe’s masterpieces. If you haven’t, then the Halloween season is a perfect time to do so. The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings by Edgar Allan Poe is chockfull of mystery, horror, prose and poetry. The Tell-Tale Heart (Poe’s best work) describes the obsessive thoughts of a maniacal paranoid violent criminal in the florid effusive language of the day. In The Black Cat, the narrator imagines a slight by his favorite pet cat and is overcome with perverseness, rage and violence; when he’s under the influence of alcohol. All of Poe’s works are in the public domain; available across the internet, he is the father of American fiction.
THE LOTTERY SHORT STORY REVIEW - Love it or hate it, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery is indelibly etched on the American subconscious. It’s on every high school and college reading list. When it first appeared in The New Yorker in June of 1948, the magazine received an onslaught of complaint letters and subscription cancellations. The reactions were widely varied, from mild confusion to strong dislike. Since then the story has won just about every major award, has been adapted into multiple formats (radio, television, film and theater) and is oft cited as one of the best horror short stories ever written. The author was frequently questioned about its meaning. Her husband, a literary critic in his own right, stated the following. “She consistently refused to be interviewed, to explain or promote her work in any fashion, or to take public stands.” She is also the author of the much lauded novel, The Haunting of Hill House.
SUDDEN FEAR – A playwright fires an actor as she workshops her play prior to opening night. Sudden Fear by Edna Sherry inspired the movie starring Joan Crawford in 1952. Myra Hudson becomes embroiled in a tangled web of a murder plot, a double cross, jealous rivals, a frame job and a counter attack. With her husband, a bourgeois girl she saves from drowning, her secretary and her financial advisor. This classic novel of psychological suspense novel keeps the reader guessing as the author lets the elaborate plot unravel. This is a must read!
A DIFFERENT KIND OF IMPERFECTION SHORT STORY REVIEW - This short story was published in the New Yorker--but, is part of the author’s longer work titled ‘Seduction Theory’--with a college student whose father dies of cancer. In A Different Kind of Imperfection by Thomas Beller, the protagonist returns to his mother’s home for Christmas vacation from university, after recently breaking up with his girlfriend. There are inanimate objects scattered all throughout the apartment that remind him of his childhood, about his mother as she is now, as well as piles of his father’s books. In particular, he zeroes in on ‘To the Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf with a business card, pencil marks and paper scraps found inside the book. The imagery is somber and restrained, reminiscent of Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, which also makes an allusion to Virginia Woolf, as she descends into hysteria and madness. Cunningham’s book titled ‘The Hours’ (also a major motion picture) famously deals with Woolf’s suicide as she filled her coat pockets with rocks and drowned herself. The short story is a comment on what we leave behind when we are gone.
THE VIEW FROM CASTLE ROCK - The short story, titled The View from Castle Rock, is also a collection. In this review, my focus is the short story, not the book. The Laidlaws emigrate from Scotland to Canada in 1818. For the first time in their lives, family members board the ship: Old James (father), Andrew (son), Agnes (son’s wife) their infant son (Young James) and siblings (Mary and James). They depart on a sea passage: Agnes gives birth to a girl, Walter documents the voyage in his journal, Young James becomes lost and after a frantic search, Mary finds him. The ship full of emigrants reaches Nova Scotia; amazed by groves of trees, clear shining sky, fresh air and a profusion of sea birds. The sailors fire shots at the birds, point out a whale ship side, passengers break out a fiddle and everyone dances with joy. Near the conclusion Walter has become a close companion to Nettie, a rich girl suffering from tuberculosis. Mr. Carbert, her father, offers Walter a position in Montreal. He refuses, since he means to work the land with his family. The short story and collected book of stories, under the same name, follows Munro’s family history.
THE MALTESE FALCON - In his best known book, Dashiell Hammett pens the stylish Sam Spade, protagonist of The Maltese Falcon. He’s tough enough to stand up to thugs or the police. He smells trouble when a buxom dame breezes into his office. Soon enough, his entire world will be turned upside down. Hammett wrote about detectives because he had been employed as one after responding to a vague classified ad. He had a notoriously short writing career, publishing four novels and all of his short stories within nine years. His poor health, struggle with alcoholism and community party membership led to his decline and eventual imprisonment in McCarthy era hysteria. In the final years of his life, he was hounded by the IRS for back taxes, dying penniless.