Thursday, August 8, 2013

Locke & Key!!!!

            Ok, first thing to say about this series is that even if you’re not a comic book person (which I am not necessarily, despite the growing number of graphic novels in my bookcase) you might love this as I do! If you like fantasy/whimsical/horror-type stuff, this is definitely for you. Honestly, it took me a while to get into the graphic novel format. I’ve always been a reader, and illustrations are fun, of course, but I’m not a big superhero person and most of the superhero stories are so developed that I felt like I couldn’t jump into the stories without knowing soooo much background, and that kinda turned me off. However, when I discovered these alternative comics with more fantasy-type stories that I could read from the beginning or that were one-offs, some of which had really amazing art, I started to get into them more and more. I can thank my friend Dannie for that, and for introducing me to Locke & Key specifically, which is one of the very best GNs I’ve read, and one of my favorite stories, period.
            The basic premise is that there is a place called Keyhouse, a mansion on an island off of Massachusetts, in which there are magic keys that can make certain things happen when turned in a lock. Now, keys are just cool to start with, both because of their symbolism and their aesthetic beauty, and the designs of the different keys in this series are sooo neat! Check these out:
And of course, you can buy physical keepsakes of these keys, too. Sweet, sweet merchandising!
            The series starts with an attack (this is where the horror/gore part comes in a bit) on Rendell Locke and his family in their west coast home. He, of course, is a member of the ancient Locke family who designed and made the keys of Keyhouse. Eventually the story brings us to Keyhouse and reveals the backstory while unfolding the conclusion in the present. I think the story is really well balanced with action/gore, psychological intrigue, mystery, and emotion.
            It’s also really suspenseful. In fact, readers are currently anxiously awaiting the last two issues of the series!! Yes, that’s right, the series is ending. So for those of you who (like me) don’t know where to start (or end) with Spiderman or Batman or a longstanding series like that, this series might be good for you in that way. I was interested to hear Joe Hill (the writer) make much of this at the panel where we heard him speak at Boston Comic Con last weekend. He specifically mentioned Spiderman as an example (which I found interesting considering that he sold some of his first writing to Marvel for Spiderman) and argued that when you have a series that doesn’t end you lose all stakes for the characters. You know that they’re going to come back somehow, some way, and go on, so the emotional impact of all of their tragedies and victories become reduced over time. I totally agree. And I think it’s just easier for me to read. (Maybe I’m a completist. Is that a thing? My word processor doesn’t seem to think so, but I mean that I don’t like to miss parts of a story. I like to start at the beginning and read to the end and let it be over. Hard to do that with Spiderman.) Anyway, JH said the he had always planned for this series to have an end in the not-too-distant future.
            I’ve read (and own) the graphic novels 1-5 as shown above, and the first issue of what will be book 6, which is the cover with the keys. There are 3 or 4 more single issues out, and I may have to go buy those instead of waiting for the book because I’m so excited about the end of the story right now. That’s something that Joe Hill talked about in the BCC panel as well-the challenge of a good ending. I couldn’t help but think of Stephen King’s Gunslinger when Joe Hill was discussing endings, because I’m sure he heard about that kind of thing from his father (didn’t I mention JH is SK’s son? Quite a shadow to work under, hence the alias, I assume, but he’s really a good writer in his own write, er, right if this story’s any indication, and a bit more comfortable in the spotlight if that panel was any indication. Actually, seeing JH with his kids at the booth made me think about stories that SK sometimes told about his early life when his kids were small, and they look quite a bit alike, so it was almost like time traveling watching them.)
            Anyway, there’s not much else to say because I don’t want to give anything away for those who might read the series, and there is a lot to spoil, but read these, seriously. The story is great and the art is beautiful. Gabriel Rodriguez, the artist, is really talented. He was also at the panel, and it was cool to hear how much they had collaborated on this project. Apparently they wrote a Locke & Key Bible for themselves to get the backstory straight. THAT is something I’d love to see in print someday!
Sigh… waiting…

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cluck: Murder Most Fowl


Ok, I found this book on clearance at the River Run bookstore in Portsmouth, and honestly, how could I not have bought it???? If the punny title doesn't sell you, listen to the review from the back cover:

"The Best Undead Chicken Novel of All Time" - Lloyd Kaufman, director, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead

See what I'm saying? The BEST undead chicken novel of ALL TIME!!

Also it was apparently made into a play in Denver last year...

So...pretty amazing, right?

I kind of wish I had seen the play because I wonder what tone they took with it and how it came off. The book was funny, quite funny in parts, but based on the cover I thought it was going to be more goofy funny and it was actually quite a bit darker than I had thought it would be.

The basic story is of a bunch of undead chickens who are haunting a farmhouse (and tormenting the farmer who torched them-hence the cover art) and the "Exorciste de Volaille", or chicken exorcist, Arnold/Armand, who comes to release them into the afterlife.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the story was The Order (of undead chicken exorcists, of course), which were portrayed as constantly smoking, disdainful French caricatures. They actually remind me a lot of the Watcher's Council on Buffy in their role in the story, except that in Buffy they were non-smoking, uptight Brits.

To me, the most hilarious bits were the explanations of chicken logic. For example, floating images of tomatoes to lure humans in, because apparently chickens can't resist tomatoes, so it will definitely work on humans too. They are confounded when it doesn't really work, and yet they keep trying it again, and again, and again. And apparently food takes up a big portion of chickens' attention because when the farmer sprinkled gasoline to burn down the coop, they didn't realize it wasn't food until they tried to eat it. Then, when they found that "it tasted acrid and smelled strange...they only lapped up a little bit of it." Also, when the farmer lit the coop on fire, the chickens jumped into the coop because the coop is a safe place...every chicken knows that. Etc.

On the other hand, it was really pretty gross in parts, like the descriptions of the undead chickens. Consider this scene: 

"In the middle of the pavement, the chicken squelched once more, moving further from the upturned crate and the pair of near-forgotten Nikes. A limp neck, unnaturally long, was exposed. A broken eggshell of a skull topped it, a cracked beak and two lifeless black pits for eyes were exposed. Everyone was watching as it moved again, and then turned. A wet, rubbery spasm rippled up the thing's neck. It looked up at them...First swelling, as if with the intake of breath, the thing grew huge, and then in a long putrid sigh it deflated, shrinking with the acrid hiss of expelled gases. The chicken, now flopping about in its newly deflated sack of rotting skin, hobbled forward as it began to draw power into itself."

Maybe I just have a weak stomach, but...yuck. Not saying I didn't enjoy it, just...ew.

I found the plot a tiny bit overwritten. Maybe it was partly that the author jumped around temporally and topically in each chapter, which I don't particularly dislike, but which made it a little hard to put all of the pieces together in the end.

However, I think the characters are awesome, very enjoyable to get to know, including the personifications of the house and Arnold/Armand's car, which was an unexpected bit of fun. Arnold/Armand himself is pretty kick ass, sort of a down and dirty type who doesn't over-think his job as a chicken exorcist, just gets to it, but also has a heart.

That makes me think of the ending, which I don't want to give away, but which had a nice little twist to it and was satisfying to me.

I know that most people who read this are going to want to borrow the book, so I'm going to make a rule about first messaged, first served, but if you all wait patiently I can get it to you in time. =)

Monday, January 7, 2013


Hey, so I know I haven't written in a while. If there are any faithful readers out there, I apologize. Life got busy. But I have been reading, of course! A few things I probably won't get into in the blog, but some I hope to. 

I started Shipley's outdated In Praise of English, and though he seems to be an English Nazi, in the sense that he seems to think that the entire evolution of human language has led up to and culminated in English and it should dominate all others... in spite of that I am enjoying the word nerd aspect of it, thinking about etymology and how words have changed over time. I inevitably learn something from that, even if it's just about one particular word, and I can share that with my students too. I may or may not blog about this one, but I'm not that far into it now anyway.

I also started reading the Anne of Green Gables series because when I got engaged and started planning my wedding I wanted to read Anne and Gilbert's love story again. I don't know that I will have anything to blog about that, but if so it will be after I finish the series.

I've read a couple of others that won't show up here, but one that I hope to get back to is the Illiad, which I read for the first time in an edited translation from like the 70s. I wasn't expecting to be so into it and I'd really like to discuss it and get other people's reactions.

Happy new year, all! I hope to write again soon!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Separate Peace


First of all, I love this cover. It’s from 1959, and it’s so gorgeous and of that time. I think it’s great that the Google image of this cover was also cracked in the same places that mine is. I got mine from the dollar bin of used books at our local Hannaford store, but it could easily have been the version that my parents used. I actually read this several weeks ago but was too busy to write about it. But it seems like a perfect time now, on this immaculate fall day when the sun is shining in a blue sky and the yellow maple leaves are as bright as they’ll ever get and constantly swirling through the sky on the autumn breeze as they fall…this book makes me poetic.

I hadn’t read this book since high school, and I didn’t really have many memories of it except the vague idea of some boys in a tree, one who breaks a leg, and one who goes to war and comes back crazy.  I wasn’t prepared to actually love this book and I’m not sure I can fully articulate why I did. But a big part of it was definitely it being set in New Hampshire. Despite all my grumbling about the cold, I love New Hampshire and I always had to come back here. Knowles really captures the beauty of NH and makes me love it even more. Maybe that’s a gift of people who weren’t born here, like Knowles and Frost, because they can appreciate it that much more.

I also love that the setting is based on a real place. Knowles is from West Virginia, but he went to Phillips Exeter academy as a boy. And even though it’s a place that I’ve never been, except to drive by, and I never went to boarding school, everything about the landscape and the seasons and the people that he describes is so familiar that I felt like the story could have been about me, or my parents if they had grown up here. It’s easy to love NH on a gorgeous day, and the way Knowles tells it, every day of that golden summer was gorgeous. It helps me get how they could be in the midst of war and still be almost oblivious to it.

So there’s Gene, the narrator. Gene is the guy who represents you and me. Aside from doing that horrible thing and bouncing Finney out of the tree, or maybe because of it (I’ll get to that) he’s a pretty average guy.  I guess he’s our access to the story-our window. He’s not a New Englander, but he’s part of the community so he’s both inside and outside. And for some reason Phineas chooses him for his best friend. They become so close that Gene actually begins to see the world through Finney’s eyes, even when he knows better. He accepts Finney’s truths over his own.

I’ve never known anyone like Phineas. I don’t know if anyone has, outside of fiction. There’s something so Peter Pan about him. The way he tries things that no one else would dare, and succeeds. The way he gets so lost in his own thoughts that he literally doesn’t hear people when they talk, and yet he lives so much in the moment. Of course, Finney’s story was heartbreaking, and of course it’s a symbol-for loss of innocence, coming of age, etc.-but there is something so palpable and real about him in that moment when he finally admits to all the things that he had been trying so hard not to acknowledge. When his spirit is finally broken. His literal fall is also a fall from innocence. And I can’t help but relate to it because don’t we all try so hard every day to keep down our fears and not let people know what we know? Don’t we all wear masks to avoid facing dark truths?  

What really drove Finney over the edge was not being able to fight in the war because of his injury, which I’m not sure how I feel about. I don’t ever want to fight in a war, and I don’t want other people to either. But Finney was so disappointed that he couldn’t fight that he pretended the war wasn’t even real, just so he wouldn’t have to face the reality of his own disability. Or was it just that the situation of the war made his disability more poignant to him? He demonstrates his patriotism early on, even as he orchestrates the golden summer for the boys not yet old enough to enlist. But was he really that brave? What would it have been like for him if he had made it to the war?

We see the contrast of how this generation views war with the previous generation when the father of one of the students comes to the school. His attitude toward war is that it is not only a duty, but it’s a life experience that is necessary and in some ways even pleasurable. This is the time of your life. Don’t blow it by being afraid or sissy. How much of that is machismo, and how much of it is selective memory-not allowing yourself to remember how terrifying and brutal it was, and what you lost? I guess there’s a necessary bravado involved in facing something terrifying and unknown and inevitable. I imagine it’s a way of coping, but I wouldn’t really know. There’s no way of knowing how you would react to something like that until it happens.

Which brings us to Leper. Poor, gentle, Leper. He tried to be so brave. He accepted his fate, but he couldn’t handle the reality of it. I relate a lot to Leper, actually. He’s sort of the weirdo loner. I always had friends, but, ok, think about this. You know that Gene and Leper are acquaintances, but at one point in the story, toward the end, it becomes clear that Gene and Leper were actually best friends, at least until Phineas came along. I’ve had close friends who “moved on” from me before and I know how that feels. I think it’s a natural part of relationships, but it still hurts. And when Gene moved on Leper was left on his own to deal not only with school life, but with his impending draft. He did his best to face it, but it was too much for him. So if you’re in the Hating Gene camp, consider his apparent desertion of Leper as well.

And speaking of Gene-what kind of jerk is he anyway, knocking Phineas off of the tree branch in the first place? What does it mean? I think this act in its literal form is the equivalent of that feeling when you look over the edge of a bridge and think about jumping off. Except you don’t jump. But the narrator did jump and it was Phineas who fell. Metaphorically, I think it’s about the dark places that we go in our minds, mostly because we are afraid, and the consequences of that darkness, and how uncontrollable it is. Bad things do happen to good people. And we are powerless to stop them, even though it seems like we should be able to. We should be in control of our own minds and limbs, just as nations should be able to control their circumstances enough to avoid war, but they can’t or won’t or just don’t. And there are always innocent victims.

On that cheery note, I guess I’ll end. But I have to say this is one of my favorite “war stories”, which I generally cannot stand. Because it speaks the truth that I feel, which is that war is meaningless, mindless, and endless, and I can understand losing my mind if I had to face it.

Here are the last few paragraphs of the book. Enjoy if you wish.

I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there.

Only Phineas never was afraid, only Phineas never hated anyone. Other people experienced this fearful shock somewhere, this sighting of the enemy, and so began an obsessive labor of defense, began to parry the menace they saw facing them by developing a particular frame of mind, “You see,” their behavior toward everything and everyone proclaimed, “I am a humble ant, I am nothing, I am not worthy of this menace,” or else, like Mr. Ludsbury, “How dare this threaten me, I am much too good for this sort of handling, I shall rise above this,” or else, like Quackenbush, strike out at it always and everywhere, or else, like Brinker, develop a careless general resentment against it, or else, like Leper, emerge from a protective cloud of vagueness only to meet it, the horror, face to face, just as he had always feared, and so give up the struggle absolutely.

All of them, except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way-if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy.