Friday, June 14, 2013

Because the hell-hound is adorbs.

You've read Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, right? You know, the comedic novel about Armageddon that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett coauthored and published 23 years ago? You've read that, right? I assume pretty much everyone except me has read it, and I just finished it, so I assume now everyone's read it.

But if for some reason you haven't gotten around to it yet, here are some reasons you might enjoy it:
  • Gaiman and Pratchett apparently loathe Queen as much as an approaching-middle-aged Midwestern woman—that is to say, me.
  • The vicious hell-hound sent from the underworld to accompany the preadolescent Antichrist has no choice but to become a lovable family pet—or else the Antichrist's dad won't let him keep it. "It had always wanted to jump up at people but, now, it realized that against all expectation it wanted to wag its tail at the same time."
  • It's got a lot of Sunday Morning theology beat (and Friday Night and Saturday Afternoon, for that matter). The young Antichrist wonders, "I don't see what's so triffic about creating people as people and then gettin' upset 'cos they act like people." Yeah, me neither.
  • An entire room of telemarketers is consumed by a huge demonic maggot consisting of millions of tiny demonic maggots. Seems okay, yeah? 
  •  A witch being burned at the stake manages to blow up her entire village in the process. Serves 'em right.
  • The Antichrist is unusually practical for an 11-year-old, not to mention astonishingly polite: "I don't want any more world than I've got. Thank you all the same."  
Here are some reasons you might not enjoy it:
  • There are so many references to Queen that you'll catch yourself singing "Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Will you do the fandango?" under your breath to yourself at least twice. And then you'll probably have to pay royalties to BMI or somebody.
  • That's really all I've got. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Next Stop: Amish Romance Novels

Letting your reading life be determined by your library holds queue makes for an interesting, if sometimes disconcerting, reading experience. There I was taking a leisurely and enjoyable stroll through Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, when NOS4A2, a story by Joe Hill about a vampire named Manx who feeds on children, showed up. It's a new release and therefore a two-week checkout with no renewal, so I dropped Agnes and found myself speeding down inscape highways and through mysterious covered bridges with Vic "Brat" McQueen as she tries to rescue her son from the evil Manx and his dominion, Christmasland. Talk about whiplash.

I can't say I particularly enjoy gruesome horror stories anymore, and certainly don't normally seek them out. But I had read an article about Hill and NOS4A2, and was curious enough to give it a shot. I wasn't going to beat myself up if I didn't finish, though. 

But here's the thing: Joe Hill is an excellent storyteller. It might be in his genes, since his dad is Stephen King. It's clear that Hill learned his craft by reading and re-reading and re-reading his dad. Would the similarities of style and tone have occurred to me if I hadn't known about the relationship? Probably. It really is very "Kingish." Hill acknowledges as much when he writes in the acknowledgments of "cruising [King's] back roads my whole life," and even said in an interview that he thought "it would be fun to goof on Stephen King a bit."

And here's another thing: Hill is better than his dad—or at least, shall we say, fresher. It's sort of like the difference between drinking the same iced tea you've been drinking your whole life, which is perfectly fine, and drinking raspberry iced tea with lemon—the same, but better, if you like that sort of thing.

But here's a third thing: The horrifying bits, unfortunately, are pretty much rote. You know in a book like this there's going to be a pretty fair amount of gore for anyone who inadvertently crosses Manx's path. And there is. When a dog is introduced midway through, you just know that dog isn't going to make it out alive, and it's probably going to be a pretty gruesome death. And it is. And that's where I lose patience. Yes, because it's a dog, and it shouldn't be any secret how I feel about thinking mildly hard-hearted thoughts about an animal, let alone actually hurting one, but also because there's plenty of real-life horror all around us, and fictional horror feels less like an escape and more like something that shouldn't be permitted to take up anymore space in my brain than absolutely necessary. That guy in Cleveland who kept those three women locked up for years? There's a child-eating vampire for you.

So, yes, Hill is a helluva writer and a helluva storyteller. By all means, check him out if you haven't already. I'm glad I did. But in general, although I'm not quite to the point of taking up Amish romance novels for my escapist reading, I think I'm past wanting to read about bone mallets and intestinal gristle for fun on rainy Sunday afternoons.