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Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones [Jun. 2nd, 2019|06:24 pm]
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Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your BonesScary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The stories in this third volume of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series are definitely a step up from the second volume, and include a handful of stories that are on par with the first. They’re a little more advanced, too — a little longer and a little more complex, but still great for kids. My favorite is “Maybe You Will Remember,” a story about a girl on vacation with her mother in Paris when her mother falls ill and the girl is sent by the hotel doctor to fetch medicine for her. But when she returns, no one at the hotel recognizes her, no one, including the doctor, remembers her mother, and the hotel room they were staying in looks completely different. There’s an air of Robert Aickman’s “strange stories” to this one — that is, until Alvin Schwartz posits a rational explanation involving a city-wide conspiracy, which saps all the fun. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are more on point than ever in this volume, perhaps the best he’s done for the series. Some of them are truly frame-worthy.

I’m very glad I finally got to read these books, even if I came to them forty years too late. It’s a treat to read the stories that were so formative for so many of my friends. On a more academic level, it’s interesting to see what scares young readers compared to what scares adult readers. There’s not a lot of atmosphere or detail to these stories, for example, but there are lots jump-scare climactic surprises and recurring tropes like cemeteries, unexplained noises, and vengeful spirits looking for items that were stolen from them. I will leave what this might mean up to greater minds than my own. All in all, I found reading Schwartz’s trilogy to be a charming and rewarding exercise.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark [May. 31st, 2019|11:42 am]
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More Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkMore Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found the stories in this second volume of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories series to be less memorable or interesting than the stories in the first. Still, one story stood out above the rest for me, and maybe even above the stories in the first volume: “The Drum.” It’s about two little girls, sisters, who find another little girl in the middle of a field playing with a drum, out of which come a little mechanical man and woman. The sisters are so taken with this drum that they ask if they can have it. The girl tells them she will give it to them only if they act really bad at home, which they do, drawing on the walls, breaking dishes, even beating the dog with a stick (monstrous!). Their mother begs them to stop, threatening to abandon them to “a new mother with glass eyes and a wooden tail” if they don’t. But the girls don’t stop, the other girl never gives them the drum (“I never meant to give it to you. It’s just a game we were playing. I thought you knew that.”), and of course waiting for the sisters at home at the end is their new mother. There’s something so eerie about the dream logic (or really, nightmare logic) of this story that it got under my skin and stuck with me.

As for the other stories, they’re easily read and quickly forgotten, at least by this reader, who is admittedly way too old to be reading these books. But as a friend of mine pointed out, the books are really about Stephen Gammell’s beautiful, creepy illustrations. If I were a small child, those illustrations would scare me a lot more than the stories would. Anyway, on to the third and final volume!

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark [May. 29th, 2019|08:42 am]
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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Scary Stories, #1)Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was surprised to find that SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK was a collection of folk tales and campfire tales from around the world rather than the original stories I was expecting, but that turned out to add to my enjoyment whenever I recognized a story. For example, I read Helen Creighton’s BLUENOSE GHOSTS in college, so I recognized the story “The Thing” right away.

The stories are very short, so they (often amusingly) get right to the point. Consider this opening line from “Me Tie Dough-Ty Walker!”: “There was a haunted house where every night a bloody head fell down the chimney.” They don’t write ’em like that anymore! But while the extremely short lengths make them perfect for small children, they make it difficult for adult readers like myself to become invested in the stories. Granted, I should have read this book 40 years ago instead of now!

Still, this is a charming and fun book. On to the next volume!

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Summer Appearances 2019 [May. 28th, 2019|04:31 pm]
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Here is where you’ll be able to catch me this summer:

July 18th – 21st, Necon. I will be appearing on panels along with Writer Guests of Honor Linda Addison, Grady Hendrix, and John Langan, Artist Guest of Honor Reiko Murakami, and Toastmaster Kristin Dearborn.

August 2nd – 4th, Scares That Care Weekend. This is a charity horror convention where I will be one of the author guests, selling and signing my books, appearing on panels, and doing a reading. Click here to see the other author guests. Click here to see the celebrity guests.

August 22nd – 25th, NecronomiCon Providence. I don’t know yet if I will be on any panels or doing a reading, but I will be there either way. Click here to see the Guests of Honor.

I hope to see you at any or all of these events!

Please note that I will not be appearing at two of my usual haunts this summer/fall, Readercon and the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival, due to previous commitments.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Brian Hauser Talks About MEMENTO MORI: THE FATHOMLESS SHADOWS [May. 28th, 2019|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Brian Hauser, whose debut novel is Memento More: The Fathomless Shadows. Here is the publisher’s description:

Underground filmmaker Tina Mori became a legend in the late 1970s with a stolen camera, a series of visionary Super 8 shorts (The Eye, The Stairs, The Imperial Dynasty of America) and a single feature film, heralded as her masterpiece, Dragon’s Teeth. Then she disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Was it foul play, or did Tina Mori go somewhere else? And if so, where? Could it have been the otherworldly Carcosa so often referenced in her films?

Through many layers, including letters, a ‘zine made by a teenage horror film fan, and a memoir written by Mori’s college roommate and muse, film historian and debut novelist Brian Hauser delves deep into Tina Mori’s life and legacy, exploring the strange depths and fathomless shadows situated between truth, fiction, fantasy, and the uncanny.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Brian Hauser:

Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows is about many things that have the power to make me shudder in terror or stare into the distance, frozen with anxiety. It’s about the sometimes blurry lines between fiction and reality and how it feels when we no longer have solid ground beneath us. It’s a book about how the accretion of information can winnow away certainty and security. It is also about The King in Yellow and nightmare-haunted Carcosa and powers beyond our merely human ability to grasp. There’s a lot going on; I won’t lie. But all of that was well inside my comfort zone. Maybe that is a completely different blog post. (Dude, this is your comfort zone? Huh-uh.)

I’m here to tell you about the scariest part, though, and for me the scariest part was finding three of the four voices that tell the story. The narrator I didn’t have any trouble with was me, Brian Hauser. Memento Mori is a faux non-fiction story which is framed by a horror film scholar named Brian Hauser (hi), who is setting out to present the story of an obscure underground horror filmmaker from the late-1970s named Tina Mori. Writing in Brian Hauser’s voice is what I do. It’s my day job. No sweat. But this not-quite-Brian Hauser is claiming to have gathered together a series of documents that, together, weave a chilling tale about Tina Mori, the people whose lives she touched and influenced, and that dreadful place where black stars rise. The other three narrators in the novel are all women who have led very different lives from my own. Finding those first-person voices required not just imagination, but also empathy, and I knew that they would undergo a certain understandable scrutiny as a result.

The most harrowing voice was not actually Tina Mori or C.C. Waite, her college roommate. I connected with them as a filmmaker and professor, respectively (though they are both more than those things). The scariest part was trying to see the world of 1996 through the eyes of Billie Jacobs, 15-year-old suburban Riot Grrrl horror fan. There is a lot of me in Billie, despite the fact that in 1996 I was in my first year of active duty with Army intelligence. When I was 15, though, I was a crafty kid who was just as likely to be building and painting plastic models or lead miniatures as I was writing stories, but I was not into anything like punk. I liked music, but I didn’t have any kind of taste, genuine or affected. Billie found Bikini Kill and Babes in Toyland and Bratmobile, bands who grabbed her by her core and shook her into a frenzy of awareness. Punk music and zines made her feel like she belonged to something she recognized and that recognized her, too. Trying to empathize with Billie and understand her hopes and dreams, her anxieties and her fears, was the scariest part, because I wanted to do her justice, and the gap between the two of us felt the biggest.

I want to do all my characters justice (at least artistic justice), and for Billie that meant letting her do most of the writing in her zine. I needed to be able to articulate her own childhood memories from her perspective in 1996 rather than my own. I had to report her nightmares as faithfully as I could. I confronted her yearnings and listened quietly for the things that made her catch her breath. I thought for a long time about who Billie would admit to being in public versus the person she could be in her zine, Final GrrrlIn perhaps the most dizzyingly terrifying moment, I wrote two punk songs that she could copy lovingly into the pages of her zine. It felt right to risk artistic failure to give Billie’s fandom a chance to live and thrive more than reportingly.

Whether or not I succeeded in doing right by Billie is largely up to you. She gets to tell you her part of the story, and if her nightmares intersect with yours, if her anxieties resonate with yours like a tuning fork, then I’ll feel like the two of you have met. Maybe you’ll meet in a used-record store, or in the horror section of a local video store, or maybe across the counter of her uncle’s copy shop. You might be ready to dismiss her as a punk girl out of central casting until you see the curious symbol inked into her denim in half a dozen different spots with a ballpoint pen, the figure that seems to be a letter but from no alphabet you have ever seen until now.

Have you seen it? Have you seen the Yellow Sign?

Memento Mori: The Fathomless Shadows: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound / Word Horde

Brian Hauser: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Brian Hauser is from Carter-era Rust Belt suburbia. He grew up during the first generation of Dungeons & Dragons, the satanic panic, and classic 1970s horror films. He wrote his first novel thirty years ago, but he abandoned it, horrified at what he had done. This book would later track him down and demand a companion. When Hauser refused to comply on moral grounds, the novel stalked him, destroyed his life, and then disappeared onto an arctic ice floe. It was a whole thing.* Later, he spent quite a few years in and around The Ohio State University and Columbus, Ohio and has never really gotten over it. Hauser is one of those people who writes his first drafts on a manual typewriter (a 1956 Smith-Corona Silent-Super), because there is a time for Delete keys but that time is not during the first draft (and scanners with OCR are his friends). He has been a professor of film and literature, a filmmaker, and a soldier. He currently lives north of the Adirondacks with his partner and their two cats.

* h/t Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Clockworm and Other Strange Stories [May. 19th, 2019|01:06 pm]
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The Clockworm: and Other Strange TalesThe Clockworm: and Other Strange Tales by Karen Heuler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another exceptional collection from Karen Heuler, a fantastic writer — and writer of the fantastic — whom I wish more people were reading. If you like the short fiction of Kelly Link, Robert Shearman, and Helen Marshall, I think you’ll really enjoy Heuler’s work as well. Her stories are whimsical, surreal, and flavored with a sense of humor that often masks something dark hiding beneath.

The nineteen stories in THE CLOCKWORM AND OTHER STRANGE STORIES include some of Heuler’s best work yet. My favorite among them is probably “Figaro, Figueroa,” in which an author becomes obsessively jealous when two of her fictional characters get together romantically. It may sound like a comical premise, but it’s actually one of the darkest stories in the collection. Because it’s more to my taste, I find myself drawn to Heuler’s other dark stories as well, like “The Reordering of Tonia Vivian,” in which a young girl forms a competitive relationship with the unborn twin she absorbed in utero, and “The People in the Mirror,” which, at least structurally, is the most like a classic horror story, focusing on one family’s descent into madness and tragedy, ostensibly because of a cursed mirror.

I own the Tartarus Press hardcover edition, which is beautifully produced and printed on high-quality paper, but it’s also quite expensive. A much cheaper e-book edition is currently available, and I hope there will be a reasonably priced paperback edition soon, so that more readers can experience the magic of Heuler’s stories. After working quietly and steadily in the science fiction and fantasy genres for decades, mostly under the radar, she’s an author who deserves your attention.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Meghan Holloway Talks About ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH [May. 14th, 2019|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Meghan Holloway, whose new novel is Once More Unto the Breach. Here is the publisher’s description:

For readers of The Nightingale and Beneath a Scarlet Sky comes a gripping historical thriller set against a fully-realized WWII backdrop about the love a father has for his son and the lengths he is willing to go to find him, from a talented new voice in suspense.

Rhys Gravenor, Great War veteran and Welsh sheep farmer, arrives in Paris in the midst of the city’s liberation with a worn letter in his pocket that may have arrived years too late. As he follows the footsteps of his missing son across an unfamiliar, war-torn country, he struggles to come to terms with the incident that drove a wedge between the two of them.

Joined by Charlotte Dubois, an American ambulance driver with secrets of her own, Rhys discovers that even as liberation sweeps across France, the war is far from over. And his personal war has only begun as he is haunted by memories of previous battles and hampered at every turn by danger and betrayal. In a race against time and the war, Rhys follows his son’s trail from Paris to the perilous streets of Vichy to the starving mobs in Lyon to the treacherous Alps. But Rhys is not the only one searching for his son. In a race of his own, a relentless enemy stalks him across the country and will stop at nothing to find the young man first.

The country is in tatters, no one is trustworthy, and Rhys must unravel the mystery of his son’s wartime actions in the desperate hope of finding him before it’s too late. Too late to mend the frayed bond between them. Too late to beg his forgiveness. Too late to bring him home alive.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Meghan Holloway:

The scariest part is the beginning. I mean that in both senses of the word: fashioning the opening hook that will engage readers and setting pen to paper for the first time.

More important than a phenomenal cover, more pivotal than an engaging back cover synopsis, the first sentence, first paragraphs, first pages are often the deciding factor for readers. Readers are investing their time and money in an author’s work, and we have limited space in which we can make our sales pitch. We have to grab the reader on the first page to ensure they read to the last.

It can be a daunting task. When I finish a manuscript and begin my revisions, I inevitably find that I have begun the story in a place that does not have the impact I am aiming for. A close friend who has the dubious honor of being my critique partner read the roughest draft of Once More Unto the Breach and said, “Cut out the first chapter. It’s boring, and even though it’s nicely written, I don’t care. Chapter two is the beginning.” And he was right.

The beginning has to have the perfect balance of emotional resonance and intrigue. Preferences in style are subjective, but the writing itself has to be engaging. That opening segue into the story must leave the reader wanting to know more. Otherwise they will not continue turning the pages. And each time I finish a manuscript and begin the revision process, I keep in mind that where I have opened the story may not be the most gripping beginning.

My background is in library and information science, so to say that I love research is a bit of an understatement. But as much as I love research, I recognize the pitfall an author can become ensnared in. It is incredibly easy to become so bogged down in research to the point where you cripple yourself. I was hesitant to write a period piece once I began researching, because I realized that I could spend the rest of my life researching the WWII era, and I would still not know everything. It is easy to doubt your ability to portray an era authentically when you become mired in the research.

I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachians, in a region of the south where the landscape undulates in rolling hills and steep ravines, where rivers score the green forests and lakes are deep and cold. When I was a child, I was frequently on the water, and in the center of the lake near my home was a craggy island with a sheer cliff face. The island appeared prehistoric and atmospheric when we would paddle out to it. The climb up the cliff to the jagged cusp sixty feet above the water was daunting. The view from that high perch was even more so, and I found the longer I stood there contemplating that soaring drop I was about to launch myself into, the more frightened I became.

I felt that same tightness in my throat, that same flutter in my chest as I sat before an empty notebook with my research material spread out before me. I was stepping off into the unknown. I had made the climb; I had spent two years doing research. I had my lifejacket; I was prepared and had resource books and primary sources collected about me. I knew that it would be an exhilarating rush; the story was one I could not wait to tell and could not wait to share with readers.

In the end, despite the fear, all I needed to do was what my father yelled up at me from the boat as I was standing on the edge of that cliff: “Just jump!”

Once More Unto the Breach: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Books-A-Million / Powell’s / IndieBound

Meghan Holloway: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.​​ She now lives in the foothills of the Appalachians with her standard poodle and spends her days as a scientist with the requisite glasses but minus the lab coat.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: J.L. Delozier Talks About BLOOD TYPE X [May. 7th, 2019|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author J.L. Delozier, whose new novel is Blood Type X. Here is the publisher’s description:

Mysterious photos of the world’s most wanted killer, Dr. William Blaine.

Coded letters luring Persephone Smith to Spain.

A little girl who is not what she seems.

Criminal psychologist Persephone “Seph” Smith is back on the hunt for Dr. William Baine, a scientist who murdered half the world’s population with his Type O virus. Now, he plans to rebuild the world in his own image — starting with Seph. When the hunter becomes the hunted, Seph must rely on her genetic gift to outwit Baine — and his shadowy accomplice.

Blood Type X is the third installment of the Persephone Smith series, which includes Storm Shelter (“An unconventional mystery that’s smart and unpredictable” – Kirkus Reviews) and the Thriller Award-nominated Type & Cross.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for J.L. Delozier:

Blood Type X, like most thriller/horror novels, has its share of tense, scary moments. Serial killer on the prowl? Check. Terrorist bomb attack? Check. Uber-intelligent mad scientist conducting terrifying human experiments? Check, check, and check.

But the book’s scariest moment comes not with a blast but via a whisper from its seemingly most innocent character — an orphaned Basque child named Sorne. Sorne’s smart, savvy, and fiercely determined to better her miserable life — admirable qualities for the average little girl. Sorne, however, is anything but average. When our heroine, Dr. Persephone “Seph” Smith, is kidnapped, she throws a kink in the child’s plan with an attempted escape. The girl’s response is swift and brutal.

In this scene, Seph is trapped in a coffin-like closet of a subterranean prison with no hope of escape. No one knows where she is — except Sorne. Seph, a psychologist by training, attempts to manipulate the child into freeing her, with this chilling response:

“You’re nothing. So was Marta. Why would Master think you’re special — worth altering his plan for?” The bottom shelves shuddered as if a petulant Sorne had plopped against the door on the opposite side. “You could ruin everything. I’d have to go back to living in that hotel’s stupid lobby. But if I can make you go away…”

The lilting notes of a traditional Basque folk melody filled the frigid air. The child drowned out Seph’s pleas with a serenade, celebrating her misery with a song.

The final notes faded away. Sorne spoke, her voice once again distant and ethereal. “A song for the lamiak. Do you know about them in America? You call them fairies, I think. They live underground, too, just like you, or in rivers, sometimes. I can tell you their story while you die. My sister and I learned it from Mamá when she was dying from theizurria — the plague.”

Sister. Seph grasped at the one thing she and her tormenter shared in common. “Sorne, I have a sister, too. Her name is Grace, and she would be very sad if I disappeared.”

“You already have.”

Here, true horror arises from a child’s casual cruelty — her breathtakingly blatant disregard of Seph’s suffering to insure her own success. Blood Type X has other villains with their own nefarious and terrifying pursuits. Remember our mad scientist? He wants to change your blood type. In real life, it can be done. In Blood Type X, Sorne is living proof. But our little orphan is not content to serve as our mad scientist’s lab rat, his success story. Instead, she becomes the scariest villain of them all.

Blood Type X: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / WiDo Publishing

J.L. Delozier: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon Author Page

J.L. Delozier has practiced rural and disaster medicine for 25 years. For inspiration, she turns to science that exists on the edge of reality — bizarre medical anomalies, new genetic discoveries, and anything that seems too weird to be true.Her first thriller, Type & Cross, debuted in April, 2016 and was nominated for a “Best First Novel” award by the International Thriller Writers organization, of which she’s a member. Storm Shelter followed in June, 2017: Blood Type X released April, 2019. Her short fiction has appeared in the British crime anthology, Noirville: Tales from the Dark Side, in NoirCon’s official journal, Retreats from Oblivion, and in Thriller Magazine (upcoming, July issue.) Her first sci-fi short story won the “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” prize of the Roswell Award and will appear in Artemis Journal later this year. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three rescue cats.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Scares That Care Charity Weekend [Apr. 29th, 2019|11:29 am]
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Where can you find me selling and signing books alongside authors like Josh Malerman, Jonathan Maberry, Maurice Broaddus, and Paul Tremblay? At the sixth annual Scares That Care Charity Weekend, taking place August 2-4 in Williamsburg, VA!

Click here to see the full list of author guests!

Click here to find out more about Scares That Care Charity Weekend, including which charities it supports and how you can attend!

I hope to see you there!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Wolf in White Van [Apr. 24th, 2019|04:11 pm]
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Wolf in White VanWolf in White Van by John Darnielle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s hard to know what to say about this novel. It’s the kind of work that makes you want to ruminate afterward, to ponder meaning and meaninglessness, and to wonder if either matters in the end. Darnielle’s prose is beautiful, and Sean’s voice comes through with almost virtuosic precision on every page. WOLF is more a character piece than a plot-driven tale, and as Sean narrates his life story it flips back and forth in time, at times confusingly, to the point where sometimes you don’t know if he’s relating something that has just happened or something that happened years ago, although that is undoubtedly part of Darnielle’s design. Some reviewers speak of the hopefulness of Sean’s journey, of how he recovers from his accident through the power of imagination and the role-playing game he creates, but I don’t necessarily agree with those reviewers. Without getting into details that might spoil the journey for those who haven’t read the book yet, I’d venture to say that Sean ends up where he started.

But this novel is in many ways about meaning, or the lack thereof. When the boy in the playground in Chapter 1 asks Sean why he did what he did, Sean replies that he doesn’t know why. The boy doesn’t believe him, but Sean isn’t lying. There was no meaning to what he did, no reason that can explain it away. The novel takes its name from words ostensibly discovered by playing a rock record backward, “wolf in white van,” a phrase that, tellingly, is supposed to mean something profound but actually doesn’t mean anything at all. The epigram at the start of the novel, from Robert E. Howard’s “The Thing on the Roof,” talks about how there was no treasure to be found at the end of the adventure, nothing that could be taken away from the events preceding it. In other words, no meaning. There is no reason for what Sean did. There is no meaning behind what happened to Carrie and Lance. Nothing has meaning, meaning is nothing, and nothing is everything.

WOLF is beautifully written and, despite its moments of joy and revelation, bleak as hell. I need many more days to ruminate on its themes, observations, and epiphanies. Darnielle has written a deep, philosophical novel that I suspect I will have to read a few more times before I have peeled away all its onionlike layers.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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