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Short Story Monday: R.I.P. Part One

September 14, 2009

rip4Even though I can’t take part in Carl’s Short Story Sundays (since I do Sunday Salon), I’ve decided to make my Short Story Mondays (hosted by John Mutford) R.I.P. themed for the next few weeks at least! I have an anthology checked out from the library: Poe’s Children: The New Horror edited by Peter Straub, and I’m slowly working my way through it. Today I have three stories to talk about: “The Bees” by Dan Chaon, “Cleopatra Brimstone” by Elizabeth Hand, and “The Man on the Ceiling” by Steve Rasnic Tam and Melanie Tam.

dan_chaon“The Bees” by Dan Chaon
This story happily falls into the haunting, scary-ghost category of horror. It begins with:

Gene’s son Frankie wakes up screaming. It has become frequent, two or three times week, at random times: midnight-3A.M.-five in the morning. Here is a high, empty wail that severs Gene from his unconsciousness like sharp teeth.

The story is at it’s strongest when slowly revealing more and more of Gene’s past. He’s currently a happy family man with a steady job, but he was a much different man when he was younger. Now, it seems as if the past has caught up to him, and he has to try to figure out how to thwart a ghost. While I enjoyed the story for the most part, I found the ending to be rather disappointing. And I don’t want to search out more of Chaon’s works-while his style is strong, it’s just not suited to my tastes.

Elizabeth_Hand“Cleopatra Brimstone” by Elizabeth Hand
This story is much more genre-defying, and I really liked it (which is good since it’s fifty pages long!). Jane has always been obsessed with moths and butterflies; she’s also very intelligent and finds herself at aln all-women’s college that

specialized in young women like Jane: elegant, diffident girls who studied the burial customs of Mongol women or the mating habits of rare antipodean birds; girls who compased concertos for violin and gaelan orchestra, or wrote computer programs that charted the progress of potentially dangerous celestial objects through the Oort Cloud. Within this educational greenhouse, Jane was not so much anorchid as sturdy milkweed blossom. She thrived.

But then tragedy strikes, and soon Jane finds herself in London housesitting for some friends of the family. This is where most of the story really takes place. Jane finds herself identifying more and more with butterflies; in fact, on the flight over she goes to the restroom and notices:

Above her eyebrows, the long hairs had grown back. They followed the contours of her brow, sweeping back towards her temples; still entwined, still difficult to make out unless she drew her face close to her relfection and tilted her head just so. Tentatively she touched one braided strand. It was stiff yet oddly pliant; but as she ran her finger along its length a sudden surge flowed through her.

I won’t tell you any more of the story, but you should be able to tell from the exerpts that the writing is simply beautiful. And there are so many themes touch upon: beauty, desire, identity, morality…while I don’t think this was a perfect story (the ending didn’t quite live up to the rest of it), I definitely want to read more of Hand in the future! (And she’s got lots of novels out-yay!)

“The Man on the Ceiling” by Steve Rasnic Tam and Melanie Tam
This is my favourite story of the three, but also the hardest to categorise. It’s written as a duet between husband and wife, and they use the same names as the authors. I have no clue how much is fiction and how much is memoir; I just know it’s genre-defying and wonderful. Here’s the opening:

Everything we’re about to tell you is true.
Don’t ask me if I mean that “literally.” I know about the literal. The literal has failed miserably to explain the things I’ve really needed explanations for. The things in your dreams, the things in your head, don’t know from literal. And yet that’s where most of us live: in our dreams, in our heads. The stories there, those fables and fairytales, are our lives.

This pitch-perfect tone is maintained throughout, as Melanie and Steve both discuss their fears and nightmares. It was creepy and human and so true; I’ll definitely be reading more of them in the future.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2009 1:26 pm

    I haven’t heard of any of these, but they sound great! I love anything genre-defying, so I’m ready to tackled a couple.

  2. September 14, 2009 1:58 pm

    I need to grab Poe’s Children … I wish it had been called something else though because I’m sure that very few of the stories will actually feel relevant to Poe’s interests and feel.

  3. September 14, 2009 3:41 pm

    I have been looking for a copy of The Man on the Ceiling to read for over 10 years!!!!! OMG you have just made my day, seriously!!!! I must get this book – I like Peter Straub anyway – but now I really. Must. Buy. It. :-D

  4. September 14, 2009 4:27 pm

    I have one of Elizabeth Hand’s novels on my RIP list – can’t wait to read it! I’ve read one of her stories before (on the Wizards aka Dark Alchemy anthology) and LOVED it.

  5. September 15, 2009 6:03 pm

    I’ve read quite a few of Hand’s short stories, and they were all really good. Her prose is worth writing home about.

  6. September 17, 2009 3:50 pm

    Andi, I think you’d definitely enjoy the two that I did!

    Kristen, in the introduction, Straub talks about how he sees these authors as embracing the ‘literary’ side of horror, so they’re like the heirs to Poe. Does that make sense?

    Susan, I’m so glad to have helped!!! It’s a great story, so I totally understand you wanting a copy. :D

    Nymeth, I think she’s marvelous!

    Memory, yay-I’m glad it wasn’t an abberation!

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