Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Ligotti, on Tolkien, John Updike, Jonathan Lethem

I think i finished the Ligotti book. If not i'm pretty close. (I love falling asleep reading)

Most of the short stories in Songs of a Dead Dreamer are good but only barely. A few i'd skip. And a few are existentially creepy like nobody's business. Among these really good ones, which i'd recommend to anyone, are:

* Alice's Last Adventure
- the story of a now late-middle aged authoress of a series of popular spooky children's adventures. alice is now cynical and alchoholic and when small things start to stand out to her as extremely strange, nobody (neither us nor she) knows if she's just going nuts or if the demons are coming for her. this story is a *masterpiece of understatement*. if there's one thing i can't stand it's an author with a sledgehammer in his hand, and here ligotti is with his lightest touch.

* Dream of a Mannikin
- This unfortunately can't be done anything remotely like justice in, i think, fewer words than the story itself. Ligotti is real good at imparting the yes, you may in literal fact be dreaming right now and awake at any moment or worse. This is a crisp, powerful, and deeply haunting short story. Essentially it's the story of a psychologist who receives a patient who is recommended to her by her lover & professional rival, who has often tried to make the psychologist interested in Other Planes of existence and such, and the upshot is that this patient is having deeply disturbing multi-level dreams wherein she first dreams that she is a little girl putting clothing on puppets (shades of her real-life job as a dresser of store-window mannequins) but then in the dream she falls asleep and dreams that she is a puppet, being none-too-kindly dressed and walked about the stage by some unseen god figure. She then wakes up from this second-level dream not to the first-level dream, but to reality which is attended by much disconcertion exaggerated by a conviction and glimpse of a mannequin's head receding into the headboard of her bed. Naturally when our hero tracks down the place of work of the patient, she finds nobody is employed there by her name or description, but there is a mannequin in the shop window which is dressed in the clothes the young patient was wearing. Meanwhile this is only the groundwork for the layered relationship between our two psychologists, and it really goes from there and gets creepier and creepier.

* Notes on the Writing of Horror
- Pretty skillfully done, this takes a pretty obvious idea and does it very well so that in the end you really are somewhat disturbed. It's not going to sound good here, but it is. Ligotti writes as a famous writer of horror composing a small article on the topic of how to write horror. He begins with a simple horror story and demonstrates how it can be rendered in various flavours: Realistic, Gothic, Experimental. (The story is one of a man about to go on a Big Date, but unfortunately buys a pair of haunted trousers which necrotise his legs in the middle of the ghetto.) However after the three traditional styles he moves on to "another style" and "the final style" during the course of which the article begins to be really scary in itself.

Am reading Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. If you're not a Tolkien fan, this will bore you to tears. If you've read The Book of Lost Tales or The Lays of Beleriand etc, it's pretty interesting stuff. It's the most detailed biography of Tolkien i've read so far, which isn't really saying much as i haven't read any straight-up biographies of him, but it certainly casts light on some stuff in the Letters which were a bit foggy at the time.

Am about halfway thru John Updike's The Poorhouse Fair. I think this is the first Updike i've read (readen?) and it's pretty good. It's a close-up portrayal of old people and regular people at a Poorhouse in New Jersey, circa 1950. Am enjoying it immensley.

I bought Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude a while ago, but after thumbing through it i don't think i'm going to read it. Which is strange because i loved As She Climbed Across the Table and of course Motherless Brooklyn.


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