Saturday, June 30, 2018

Books I Read in 2018, Part 2

Part Two beginneth now, with:
Sleepwalkers by Stephen King

Not technically a book, but I'm counting it, because it's book-length and I did, in fact, read it during 2018.
I wrote about it at considerable length here.  The short version: it's a readable screenplay that is kind of cheesy and nonsensical, but is nevertheless worth the time of any serious King fan.  It's mostly the same thing as what you seen if you've seen Sleepwalkers, but there are a few significant differences, including a very different ending.
Date of completion: March 6
Grade:  B-
The Listener by Robert McCammon

I wrote about Robert McCammon's new novel The Listener here, and not in any spoilery detail.
It's about a kidnapping, a telepath, and my determination never to go to a swamp.  It's quite possibly one of the best books McCammon has ever written, and that's high praise.

Date of completion:  March 10
Grade:  A
And NOW, for something completely different...

Life With Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse 

My brother gave me this one for Christmas this past year.  He's a sophisticated sort, if sophisticated is the word I am looking for, and I've always enjoyed whatever books he's given me.  So it was with this one, which was a bally good time from beginning to end.

It's an omnibus edition that collects three of Wodehouse's Jeeves books: The Inimitable Jeeves (1923), Very Good, Jeeves! (1930), and Right Ho, Jeeves (1934).  If I'm making the correct assumptions, then I believe the latter of those is a novel, whereas the former two are properly considered short-story collections.  To be honest, I'm not sure.  To be further honest, it doesn't much matter; these tales are a hoot no matter what the designation.

By no means is this the entirety of the Jeeves canon of Wodehouse; there are evidently eleven novels and numerous story collections, and so Life With Jeeves can be said to be a hearty appetizer, but by no means the full dinner.  It was an appetizer I quite enjoyed; possibly enough to eventually track down and consume the remaining books.

Beyond this, I fear I have little to say.  I suppose an idea of the conceits of the books is in order, however, and that goes like this: Bertie Wooster, a spoiled upper-crust type in London, is prone to getting into scrapes of one sort or another, or  finding himself in the position of having to help some friend or relative out of a scrape.  He is assisted by his valet, Jeeves, a proper manservant who is famed for his ability to think around corners and get one out of a scrape in effective and thorough fashion.  Jeeves' abilities in this regard and famed, and they occasionally grate upon Bertie, who sometimes ill-advisedly attempts to outwit Jeeves at his own game by formulating scrape-removal actions of his own.  Practically the entire plot of Right Ho, Jeeves consists of a series of such efforts, and the increasingly calamitous effects they have upon Bertie, various relatives, various friends, et cetera.

Wodehouse's amusing prose is one of the principal delights of the book.  He tells the stories in the first person from the point of view of Bertie, who is a conceited and foppish type, prone to say things like "spoiled milk blows nobody any good."  He is perpetually attempting to wear some horrid bit of clothing of which Jeeves does not approve, and the valet typically finds a way to persuade Bertie of the error of his sartorial sense, or else he manages to lose, burn, or otherwise render unusable the offending articles.

Popping into the stories occasionally are a cast of recurring characters, such as Bertie's friends Bingo Little, Hildebrand "Tuppy" Glossop (!), and Gussie Fink-Nottle, his cousins Clyde and Eustace, his aunts Dahlia and Agantha, and so forth.

Among the splendid episodes found here:

  • Bertie, at Bingo's behest, pretends to be the author of a series of bestselling romance novels
  • Bertie, at Aunt Agatha's accidental request, becomes involved with a pair of jewel thieves and con artists
  • Bertie, in aid of Bingo Little, becomes mixed up with a group of Communists
  • Bertie, at the suggestion of his cousins Claude and Eustace, puts big money down in a length-of-sermon gambling ring  
  • Bertie and gang participate in a series of bets on childrens' sporting-day events 
  • any number of hijinks involving would-be romantic courtships and would-be engagements, most of which Bertie himself manages to stay blessedly free of
  • a delirious escapade involving puncturing a warm water bottle with a long needle fastened to a stick
  • a plot to get a play in front of a visiting American producer results in an accidental dognapping
  • Bertie's efforts to sabotage a good-conduct contest an aging gentleman has arranged (for his own ease of rest) between otherwise horrid children
  • Bertie's assignment by one of his aunts to sabotage an ill-advised courtship between one of his uncles and a waitress
  • a truly exceptional adventure ("The Ordeal of Young Tuppy") in which the Glossop finds himself caught in a rugby match with a bunch of local toughs
It's all quite droll, and if you enjoy a spot of aristocratic British tomfoolery, you may have a lot of fun with this.  All I knew about Wodehouse prior to this was that Hugh Laurie played the former and Stephen Fry the latter in the BBC series Jeeves and Wooster (which I now very much want to see), and that Alan Moore wrote a delightful Jeeves pastiche in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier in which Bertie and his valet have to fight Lovecraftian monsters.  The cheek!  I've gone back and read those four pages now armed with an actual knowledge of the characters, and my admiration for Moore has grown even greater.
As it has for Wodehouse himself, of course.
Date of completion:  April 10
Grade:  A

Gerald's Game by Stephen King

Detailed in further, uh, detail in four parts here, here, here, and here.

The bottom line: man, this is a great novel.  Great prose, great character work, some truly top-notch scares and grossouts ... an underrated piece of work, in my opinion.

Date of completion:  April 18
Grade:  A

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

Simply put, this is one of King's best novels.  I already kinda knew that in the back of my mind; a reread has made it plain as day.

For more of my thoughts, go here, here, here, and here.

Date of completion:  April 21
Grade:  A+

The Outsider by Stephen King

For a mostly spoiler-devoid review, click here.

The bottom line: it starts incredibly well, and peters out by the end.

Date of completion:  May 24
Grade:  B-

Communion by Whitley Strieber

In a recent post about the novel Gerald's Game, I covered some of the things that interested me about the "space cowboy," eventually revealed to be the acromegalic serial-killing grave robber Raymond Andrew Joubert.  Among them: the possibility that King was playing a sort of game with the audience wherein prior to the revelation of the space cowboy's true nature, the possibility of it/him being an actual alien was in the cards.  There are other possibilities, as well, but the very use of the phrase "space cowboy" (as well as "UFO") struck me as being deliberate on King's part.
From there, I speculated that he may have known people might have still had the Whitley Strieber book Communion in mind.  I did not in any way intend this as a suggestion that King was consciously riffing on Communion (with which Gerald's Game would seemingly have had very little in common except perhaps as a board King could bounce things off of so as to draw Constant Readers away from the truth about the so-called "space cowboy").
After this, I was seized by an urge to buy a copy of Communion.  I'd read the book years before, but had lost my copy of the paperback at some point.  So I bought a hardback, not with any active intent to read it, but primarily so as to have it on hand in the case of feeling some need to refer to it in a hypothetical further consideration of Gerald's Game.
Does that make sense to you?  It makes sense to me, so hopefully I'm not just dangling on some tree limb here; I suspect most readers know the feeling of wanting to get a copy of some book on just-coz basis.
In any case, once I got my used hardback copy in the mail, I decided to flip through it briefly to make sure it was intact.  Here is what I found on the very inside of the cover, printed on a page where most books have nothing:
If you've read Gerald's Game, or probably even if you've merely seen the movie, then you know that this quotation from Strieber has some powerful echoes in King's novel.  And again, I want to be clear: I'm not saying King was consciously riffing on the content of Strieber's book.  But I don't rule it out, nor do I rule out the possibility that he was subconsciously doing so; Strieber was, for some years during the seventies and eighties, a contemporary of King's.  I know of one convention panel (Knoxville, 1983) on which both authors appeared, and there are several anthologies that share stories from both King and Strieber.  So by no means would it have been odd for King to have read Communion, and in fact, since it was a #1 bestseller, I'd say the odds of King NOT having read it are slender at best.
This makes it possible to consider Communion as at least a potentially influential work upon Gerald's Game, wouldn't you say?  And if King was riffing on the book, he did so in an interesting and unique manner.  As I reread Strieber's book, I found little things here and there that caused me to think of King's.  For example, there is a good deal of emphasis placed in Communion on the idea that these visitors plant screen memories in humans' minds; or, possibly, that human minds develop screen memories of their own so as to cover the trauma of their experiences with the visitors.  I think if one were inclined to do so, one could undertake a reading of Gerald's Game focused on Jessie's own screen memories; this need have nothing to do with aliens whatsoever, but could instead be focused on her persistent ability to both talk herself into and out of believing things when she sees fit to do so.
And it's there that I'm (mostly) going to stop worrying about Gerald's Game and start considering Communion as its own thing.
One will likely find it impossible to come away from a reading of the book without having an opinion of its status as an alleged "true story."  If you have not read it, you may be surprised to learn that Strieber himself treats the topic in a very skeptical manner; he is -- and I refer to the vantage point he presents within the book itself, not to anything which has happened in the intervening years -- convinced something has indisputably happened to himself and to others, but he steadfastly refuses to make definitive assumptions about what that is.  Could it be extraterrestrials?  Sure.  But it could just as easily be another Earth-bound species of which we are officially unaware; or beings from another dimension, or time-travelers, or robots, or the result of unknown effects of the interaction between magnetism and the body's electrical field, or a mass illusion somehow given physical (or seemingly physical) form by currently unknown powers of the human mind.  In one fascinating suggestion, he wonders if these "visitors" might not be a true form of humanity, one which we take after we die: a suggestion that what we think of as humanity is merely a sort of larval state, and that "death" represents the opening of that cocoon onto the truer form that follows.
He is heavily resistant to the idea that it's just a bunch of made-up nonsense.  But I'm not sure you'd say he 100% rules even that out.
Let's have a look at a couple of things before we move on.  The first is a comment -- specifically, the one from Alejandro Omidsalar -- that I found on this Too Much Horror Fiction blog post:
Huh.  A prank, you say?
I didn't find that comment Omidsalar refers to on the YouTube page for the video, but I did find this one (allegedly) from a commenter you may have heard of:
About that, I will say this: (1) the video of that panel is great and is well worth watching; and (2) this might serve as a fairly interesting -- if not directly compelling, per se -- piece of evidence for anyone wishing to accuse Strieber of pulling a massive prank with Communion itself.
I do not rule this out.
The bottom line for me with Communion -- and in no way do I suggest that it need be your bottom line -- is that it is an entertaining and enlightening read.  I myself am fascinated by the notion of extraterrestrial visitors to our planet, and I'm just as fascinated by the idea that it could be any of those other possibilities mentioned above.  Plus there are plenty of other potential explanations Strieber never touches, I'd imagine; I can't immediately think of any, but they certainly must exist.
The gamut of possibilities would seem to stretch between two opposing poles: (1) something is physically happening that lies outside the realm of our conventional collective human knowledge or (2) it is a mass delusion, either of a witting or unwitting variety.
Either way, it's interesting.  If something paranormal is happening, then fucking duh, that's obviously fascinating and important.  If, on the other hand, there are actually that many people who are willing (consciously or unconsciously) to take part in an elaborate lie, then that's equally fascinating in a different way.  The former suggests a potential wealth of extra-human experience in the universe; the latter suggests a potential wealth of capacity for the human mind to deceive itself and others, and on a level we may heretofore not quite dared to believe ourselves capable of.
My opinion?  Glad you asked.  I suspect the truth is somewhere in between those two poles of possibility.  I find it impossible to believe that humanity is the only life in our universe; the odds seem good that our galaxy is crawling with it.  I have a harder time believing any of it is capable of (or interested in) visiting Earth for the purpose of putting stuff up the butts of humans.  But hey, who knows?
I've been interested in the subject almost as long as I can remember.  My favorite movie might well be Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which I saw on television early in life.  2001: A Space Odyssey is another favorite, and it's got similarities of a sort.  I used to check books about aliens and UFOs out of the library when I was in elementary school.
And that idea leads me to this.
I want now to offer up a very lengthy excerpt from a blog post I wrote in 2015.  It was part of a series of posts about the work of H.P. Lovecraft, and I got lured into this cave of memories by trying recall my first meaningful exposure to ol' Howard Phillips.
So as to delineate cleanly between this post ("Books I Read in 218, Part 2") and the excerpt from that post (the Lovecraft one), I am going to count down from 5 going into the excerpt, and then back up to 5 coming out of it.  Like a hypnosis session, dig?
I'm in roughly the middle of my middle age currently, and the notion of being able to remember stuff like that is growing more important to me.  It's a big part of the reason why I blog at all (as I know I've mentioned before).  I suspect that at some point in the future, when my memory has degraded even further, I'll be able to come back to some of these posts and read through them and feel as if I was undergoing a process of legitimate rediscovery.  As I suppose, in fact, I will be.

The subject is not one that is inappropriate to a conversation of Lovecraft.  I issued an easy out for people to skip this stuff, but in all honesty, if I didn't feel it was germane then I would exercise some self-editing and remove it.  The motion of memory is an important one within Lovecraft's canon, though.  A story like "The Shadow Out of Time," for example, is rife with it.  "The Quest of Iranon," "The Quest of Unknown Kadath," ditto.  And so forth; there'd be a fine essay for me to write on that subject, and if I ever start a Lovecraft-centric blog -- which I might well do some day -- then it's be a good fit there.  But I'd want to call it Blog-Sothoth, and somebody beat me to that name, so my enthusiasm is dampened.

Suffice it, then, to say that Lovecraft definitely uses the notion of memory and loss of same as a subtheme.

I'd like now to delve into a quartet of personal memories of mine.  They've got nothing to do with Lovecraft, but they do have a lot to do with things that I'm afraid of; and the notion of memory is important to this conversation in a major way.

Memory #1

I had several friends in the neighborhood where my parents and I lived from 1983-1991, two of whom were sleep-over-type friends.  you know, really good friends.  I remember one of their names; the other, it's utterly lost to me.  We weren't friends all that long, though, so that makes sense.
A few times, we went "camping" in the woods that surrounded the neighborhood.  This consisted of listening to music, eating snacks, farting, talking about movies, etc.  We were sitting out in the woods on one of these occasions, with a battery-powered lantern giving us a little light, doing our normal thing.  We heard a noise from a few feet away, looked toward it, and saw a two-foot-tall monkey-like animal with white fur, long arms, and red eyes coming toward us.  Its mouth was open and it was screaming at us.
Neither me nor my friend hesitated for even one second; we both jumped up, sprinted away from our little camp, and ran back home.  We'd ostensibly been spending the night at his house, but I actually ran all the way to mine.  The next day, I went over to his house to talk to him about it; he wouldn't admit that it had even happened.  I said, if it didn't happen then why did we get up and run away?  He said he'd been following me.  But, like, you could tell that he was lying.  He got mad about it when I kept bringing it up, and we stopped hanging out.  This was during summer break, and we actually became neighborhood antagonists.  We even got into a quasi-fistfight later on; he put me in a chokehold and totally incapacitated me, too.  Not much of a fighter, me.

The point is that to this day, I can remember what that fuckin' thing looked like.

Memory #2:

Same neighborhood, different friend (Brandon).  We were hanging out with his older brother and his brother's friends, and they were hanging out in a house that was under construction across the street from Brandon's house.  They were older, probably fifteen or so, so they were making out and drinking and smoking and all that stuff.  We were younger, so we were just farting around.

Everyone was in one room, the soon-to-be den of the house.  I was sort of on the edge of the group.  Brandon was doing something else, so I was kind of on my own, and I was looking around into the empty rooms surrounding the den.  In what I think was the kitchen, there was a guy standing there, by himself.  He was smoking.  He didn't have a cigarette; he was just . . . smoking.  He was staring straight at me, and he had red eyes.

I turned around to try to get Brandon's attention; I wasn't scared, I just wanted to point the guy out.  But I couldn't get Brandon's attention, and when I turned back around, whoever it was was gone.

Memory #3:

I had been hanging out at Brandon's one night, but wasn't sleeping over.  I was walking back home, and when I got within maybe a hundred yards of my house, I looked up the street and saw a very pale white man standing in the middle of the street in an enormous shaft of light.  He was looking at me.  At some point I realized he was not there any more, but I never looked away from him; yet somehow, I didn't see him disappear.  It was just like he'd never actually been there at all.

Memory #4:

A few years later, while I was in high school, I'd gone to spend the weekend at my grandmother and grandfather's house in Clanton.  I'd gone with my parents and my brother; we used to go up there for a day or two pretty regularly.

My grandparents had been having a problem with somebody coming and knocking on their doors and windows at certain points of the night.  Now, let me clarify: they lived in a very rural environment.  There was a house across the street (my aunt and uncle lived there at the time, I think; or that might have been later and my great-grandmother still lived there) and a house half a mile or so up the road, but otherwise, they were in the boonies.  So this isn't like the sort of ring-and-run pranks you get in neighborhoods; this is somebody purposely coming out into a rural area that barely has any streetlights, and knocking on somebody's window.

My Dad and I knew about this, and we were sitting around watching television that night.  In my memory, we were watching a network-tv broadcast of Manhunter (retitled Red Dragon for this broadcast), which would have been in 1991 thanks to the popularity of The Silence of the Lambs.  My Dad and I had been entertaining notions of how, if we heard the knocking, we were going to go beat the snot out of whoever was doing it.  Never mind that I'd never beaten the snot out of anyone.

The knock came.

I jumped to my feet with no hesitancy, ran out of the house, ran around one side of the house, and started running up the very dark road that led even further into the boonies.  I could barely see, but I could see just well enough to know that I was chasing someone.  There was a cornfield (not my grandparents', but a sort of community cornfield, I think) right behind the house, and I sensed whoever it was run into the corn.  I followed them, but I couldn't really see much of anything.  But I knew they were there.  I began screaming at the top of my lungs; not in fear, nor even in anger, but in challenge.

I was playing high-school football at the time, and I was in the prime physical condition of my life.  With that much adrenaline running through me, I'd bet you that I could have torn whoever this was from limb to limb.  So I screamed at him, and I literally beat my chest, and I told him to come out.  (I remember saying it like a mantra: "come OUT, come OUT, come OUT.")

There was no sound other than me and the rustling of the corn.  There was no moon; it was pitch black.  But I could see something, and, more importantly, I could sense it.

And I knew that it was not afraid of me.  It should have been, but it wasn't.  So I backed out of the cornfield and went back to the house.  I was never afraid; I wonder if I should have been.  A few years later, during one of my Creative Writing courses, I wrote a short autobiographical story/prose-poem that included this as a scene.  In the story, I gave the man/thing in the cornfield -- you guessed it -- red eyes.  But that was an invention of the story; no eyes, red or otherwise, were apparent.


Alright, now here's the thing.  I'm wondering something: do you believe any of those four stories?

I don't believe them, not a single one of them.  But, the thing is, I remember them.  I didn't make any of them up for the benefit of this post; I didn't exaggerate them.  I feel certain, however, that not a single one of them happened, or at least, that none of them happened the way I remember them.

And yet...

I know for a fact that my friendship from Memory #1 busted up as a result of the argument over this occurrence.  So, like, did something else entirely happen?  Did we both repress whatever that was in similar ways?  Did we both repress whatever it was in different ways?  I have no idea, but do I believe that a two-foot-tall white ape with red eyes came screaming at us out of the forest?  Sir, no sir.

But I remember it.
The red-eyed fellow in Memory #2 could have been some sort of optical illusion.  A teenager with glasses maybe?  Some sort of reflection in the glasses?  I remember him expelling smoke without having a cigarette, but that could have been a trick of the light.  So this one is less strong, but the memory does persist.
I think we all know what's up with Memory #3.  UFO, amirite?  I must have been abducted by aliens, and then dropped back in the street at some point later.  Except I really don't believe that.  There's never been anything else UFO-related in my life, except for two different occasions when I was out driving with girl friends (not girlfriends, sadly, in either case) and we thought we saw some sort of bogey in the sky and drove around trying to see it.  UFOs over Tuscaloosa, y'all!  I don't think we saw alien spacecraft in either instance.  Don't get me wrong; I don't discount the possibility, I just don't think that this was that.

As for the figure in light in the street, I suspect that was an optical illusion.  I genuinely don't believe anything or anyone was there.  But, again, that doesn't prevent me from remembering it.

This brings us to Memory #4.  It's possible that you read that harrowing little vignette and thought, jeez-louise, this dude is a nutcase.  Hulking out in a cornfield, what a loony.  what I'll say about that is this: it triggered some sort of primal defense mechanism in me, and I responded in the manner one might respond if you felt one's family was being threatened and one somehow reverted to instinctive behavior.

Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, and nothing like it has ever happened since.  I do have a temper, but it has never been directed at people; if I get mad, I like to yell and kick over chairs.  And I don't even do that much anymore.  But apart from this cornfield incident, the aforementioned "fight" in which I was put in a chokehold, and two very brief scuffles in school (one in elementary school and the other during football practice), I've never been in a fight.  I've never hit anyone (and that includes those various fights I just mentioned), and have never wanted to.

That night, though, was something else entirely.  It's the closest I've ever felt to being possessed by some other entity, except for the fact that I never felt any consciousness except my own.  It was all me; it was just . . . Me Plus, somehow.

But here's the thing: when I went back inside my grandparents' house, nobody else acted as if anything weird had happened.  You'd think my Dad would have run out after me, right?  Didn't happen.  Years later, around the time I wrote the short story, I asked my parents if they remembered the incident.  They didn't.  I asked my brother; he didn't remember it, either.

Does that make sense?  If you had discussed with your son the notion of delivering retribution on prank-knockers in the form of whoop-ass, and then such an incident (sort of) occurred, would that be a thing you would forget?  If you were eleven years old, as my brother was, and such a thing happened, would you forget it?  I can assure you that my screams would have been heard for quite some distance.  But even if they weren't, I got up and ran out to chase somebody who, for all anyone knew, might have been an armed potential home-invader.

And nobody remembered?!?

Here is where things get weird for me.  Because let me tell you, I can remember all of that clear as a bell.  I can even pin down the date it happened, because looky here at this article about NBC airing Red Dragon.


What gives here?  Something strange is afoot, no doubt about it.  Because either I am misremembering something that is an incredibly vivid memory (in which case I think questions about my sanity perhaps come into play), or, like, my family was visited by the Men In Black and their memories were erased.

Here's what I think: I think I probably did run outside.  I think I probably did run up the street.  I think whoever had knocked on the window had run in the other direction, around the other side of the house; I think, therefore, that I was chasing nobody except my own imagination.  I think I probably then yelled a little bit, but not enough to be heard over the television.  Consequently, nobody else in the house took it as seriously as I took it, and therefore the memory did not stick with them the way it has stuck with me.

It may even be possible that there was no actual knock; that I responded to some sort of phantom sound in my own brain.  So maybe my family thought I'd gotten scared of the movie or something and had run outside for a minute to get away from it.

Any of those things could be true, I guess.  But, as I must emphasize for one final time, I remember every bit of it happening in just that fashion.  And by the way, in case some of you have thought of this and are wondering if I haven't, let me mention that the notion of a red-eyed figure in the corn has certain echoes with The Stand and Randall Flagg.  I'd probably read that novel three or four times by the late spring of 1991, and while I have no memory of seeing anything with red eyes in the corn that night, I wouldn't be surprised if, when I wrote that detail into the short story I wrote in college, I didn't subconsciously get that detail from The Stand.

In case you were wondering, that possibility is certainly not lost on me.

Let me be clear: I do not think I am crazy.  I do not think any of these things happened the way I remember them; but neither do I think I dreamed them, or anything like that.  I just think that memory is maybe a much odder thing than many of us consciously realize.

The alternatives to thinking that are unpleasant.

Lest you think I am haunted by any of these incidents, or by the sum of them, I can only insist that I am not.  I rarely think of them; I occasionally consider trying to develop one of all of them into short horror stories (or maybe even a novel of some sort), but I lack the work ethic to actually do so.  The ideas pop up on occasion, though, and I'll think how strange those four moments in my life were.  But it's not like I wake up in a cold sweat, having dreamed of the red-eyed white ape.
I have few nightmares, and the ones I do have tend to be very trifling.  I kid you not, in 1998 I had a nightmare in which I dreamed that then then-filing new Star Wars movie had come out and had been terrible.  I kind of did wake up from that one in a cold sweat; I lay back down secure in the knowledge that it had, after all, only been a dream.  A prophetic one, as it turned out, but not an especially terrifying one.

Sometimes I even wonder if any or all of these memories might be especially vivid dreams that I somehow convinced myself later had actually happened.  Lovecraft wrote a number of stories about dreams, and in them, he posited that the dream world was not only just as "real" as the "real world," but that it was in fact more so.  Randolph Carter could tell you all about it; he might have some insights for me, too, who knows?

The bottom line to my experiences as detailed above is this: I think that they, taken as a whole, indicate that something about my reality -- those four moments of it, if nothing else -- does not quite align with conventional conceptions of what "reality" is.  It could be that I dreamed them, or it could be that I mentally revised whatever actually did happen.  If either of those things is true, then what does it say that unreality can become just as forceful an aspect of one's mental life as "reality"?  That's a troubling topic, isn't it?
Conversely, if neither of those things is true, then what is?  What if one or more of those incidents actually occurred the way I remember them?  What would that mean?  What if I've had a small handful of brushes with the extra-normal?  If that were true, then good lord, what else might be true that I'd previously assumed was pure fiction?  Vampires?  Werewolves?  Space aliens?  Bigfoot?  The Loch Ness Monster?  Time travel?  Heaven?  Hell?  Could Elvis Presley still actually be alive somewhere?

Man, I kind of doubt it.  But then again...

Not all of Lovecraft's fiction speaks to these ideas, but a lot of them do.  Many of his narrators are people who don't believe in the supernatural.  Not in any conventional, conscious sense, either; for them, it simply isn't even an issue.  But then they are confronted by the supernatural, and they can't quite bring themselves to face up to what is happening.  The protagonist in "The Whisperer in Darkness" will walk right into that house toward the end of the story; we know he shouldn't, and we think he's nuts for doing it (and, moreover, that Lovecraft is an unconvincing and sloppy writer for making him do it), but in the end, can we really blame him?

I think of that house in that story sometimes, and in my mind's eye, it is my grandparent's house in Clanton.  I tend to be frightened of rural settings in horror stories, because I can associate them with that actual house from my own past.  My grandparents are both dead now, and I have not been to that house in many years.  I'm unlikely ever to go there again, because it is no longer in our family; for all I know, it might not even exist anymore.

But I remember it.  I remember trying to fall asleep in the un-air-conditioned top-floor bedroom, with the sounds of the house creaking all around me.  I was never scared, because what was there to be scared of?  But if my mind got to working, I could invent things to be afraid of.  I saw some movie when I was a kid, a bit of it, at least; it was set in a rural setting, and some crazies were terrorizing people.  I remember a woman running outside, screaming while trying to get away; she runs into a hooded figure, which turns out to be somebody hanging on a hook or something.  The figure's head separates from the rest of its body, which slides to the ground.  I'm pretty sure, based on a bit of research, that this was Dark Night of the Scarecrow, and I'm too scared to watch it to find out for sure.  I'm not even positive the scene happens the way I've represented it; but that's how -- notice a theme here? -- I remember it.  (Nowhere near as strongly as I remember the other, actual memories I've described, though.)

So as I lay there in bed, the silent noise all around me, I could imagine that hooded thing creeping across the field, and up the steps, and to the door; and then coming inside, and its footsteps on the stairs, and then...

Or I could imagine werewolves in the fields, slavering and hungry.  Or aliens landing in their spaceships.  If I looked out the top-floor window, out at the empty and moonlit field, would it actually be empty?

So, yeah, when one of Lovecraft's narrators is lying in bed, listening to the sounds of the house around him and hearing something that ought not to be there, I can relate to that, and I picture that house as a house in which I spent a good bit of time.

And it may be that one night in 1991, I went running out of the house and into a cornfield.  It may be that for a brief span of time, I reverted to some primitive version of myself, and prepared to fight to the death with some unknown thing that lurked in the darkness.

Or not.  I've been blogging about memory off and on for a while now, but it's beginning to look as if memory might not be all it's cracked up to be.

If so, why does it seem like it's the only thing that actually does matter?
We've exited the excerpt, FYI. 
Having reread Communion now, I cannot help but consider the fact that in the foregoing exploration of my own memories, I was actually discussing screen memories for something else.
I am now going to reiterate something that I stated outright in that earlier post: in no way do I believe any of this represents supernatural or paranormal experiences on my part.  I don't rule it out, of course; but I rule out very little as a general rule.  (Things I rule out include willingly eating tomatoes, owning pet spiders, and ... well, that's about it.)  What I'm saying, though, is that I really don't believe it.
The idea began to rattle me somewhat as I reread Communion, however.  I wondered if there was any chance that this certainty was in and of itself a screen memory, so I decided to do some thinking.  Do I, for example, have any particular sense of dread tied to specific places?  The answer: no.  Not any of the houses I ever lived in, nor any of my relatives' homes where I spent the night, nor any friends' homes, nor any places where I have worked, etc.
I do, however, have a dread of the woods.  And this is a thing that has not always been with me.  Witness Memory #1 from the excerpt: my friend Brandon and I used to spend a good bit of time in the woods, at both day and night, with no fear whatsoever.  But you'd have a rough time convincing me to do so now; and while I'd tell you that this is purely a function of how much the movie The Blair Witch Project terrified me, the truth is that I went into that movie terrified.  Would I be terrified now, plopped down into the woods?  If I were with friends, I don't think so; if I were by myself, I think probably yes.
So where did this come from?
Given Memory #1 (which is not dissimilar to a couple of experiences Strieber describes in Communion involving a small white thing and a general rushing-toward-you form of movement), I think that seems obvious.  But in considering this, I unlocked a couple of other memories from about the same time.  In one of those, Brandon and I -- I think (I can't actually recall Brandon being there, but cannot imagine he was not) -- were walking in the woods in a direction we had never been before.  Suddenly, we found a fairly large house that we did not know was there.  Weirdly, there seemed to be no driveway of any kind; no path by which to reach the house by motor vehicle.  Beyond the idea of the house's existence, I have no further memory; I have a vague thought that we may have tried to find the house again at some later date and were unable to do so.
So that's pretty fuckin' weird, eh?  I don't mind telling you, my hackles were raised during the entire time I typed that paragraph.
In the second of my newly-remembered memories, I recall going with Brandon and several other friends on an expedition into the sewers beneath our neighborhood.  We accessed them via a sort of raised manhole that was in a barren lot on one corner of our neighborhood.  I wouldn't quite call it a standpipe, but close enough.  You may have noticed that I'm using language designed to remind you of It.  It was on purpose, because how can one talk about kids going into a sewer without going to that place mentally?
Anyways, this would likely have been in 1987, so it was three years before I read It.  Somebody else in our group may have read it, though, or heard about it.  What I remember is that the sewer access was reached by walking through a bunch of grey oatmeal-like smelly stuff that I can only assume was a complex blend of shit, piss, toilet paper, and fuck knows what else.  You'd have to kill me and reanimate my corpse in order to get me to do that now, but I did it then, and was happy to do so.  So we all crawled down into the sewer, presumably with flashlights (my memory is of no help here), and journeyed through it for a while.  I don't think we were in it long; we came out again basically on the other end of the block, I think.
What intrigues me about this is the idea that I would have done it at all.  I am further intrigued by the idea that my shoes, and probably my jeans (if I was wearing long pants, which I dearly hope was the case), must have been ruined.  I find it hard to believe that my mother wouldn't have torn my ass up for ruining clothes at all, and harder to believe that she would not have questioned me as to how they got ruined.  But I have zero memory of either thing happening.
This is the point at which the notion of "screen memory" rears its head.  Not to screen anything weird or malicious or unusual; but just as a possibility of it being a false memory.
I have sleep apnea.  As sleep disorders go, I gather that it's not as bad a one as others are: sleep paralysis, for example, which can (and apparently often does) bring on "delusions" of unearthly night-time visitors.  There's a whole documentary about it: The Nightmare, directed by Rodney Ascher, one of the directors of Room 237.  It's worth seeing; not great, but interesting.  If I remember correctly -- a common refrain, eh? -- there is a bit about how some cases of sleep paralysis and other such disorders involve the body/brain giving itself electrical shocks.
This is a thing that I believe I have recently begun to experience.  I associate it with trying to go to sleep when I am not particularly tired.  When I do that, I often have the worst trouble breathing, and consequently sleep very, very poorly.  It's a bad feeling, stopping breathing; add on what seems to be a mild electrical jolt of some sort on top of that, and ... well, I don't recommend it.
What interests me is the notion that some or all of these memories might somehow be connected to my sleep issues.  If they are, does that mean I'm going to be receiving "visits" of some sort as a next phase?
I doubt it.  I feel about 99.9% certain that if that sort of thing were going to happen to me -- in either a real or imagined sense -- it would already have done so.
Just to say I'd explored the possibility of it already having happened, and these screen memories having been thrown up to cover it, though, I spent some time considering any chance that there might be something to the idea.  Might this explain why I am so fond of staying up past dawn?  An aversion to going to bed explains itself if you've got sleep apnea.  (It's treated, in my case, by the way; in case you were wondering.  I'd jump off a building without that CPAP.)  But were there any more memories I could find that might point in that sort of a direction?  Missing time?  Memories of going some place I know I could not have gone?
Aha!  Yep, there's one of those.  I have a memory of going (at probably age six or seven) to a concert in some urban building that my mind associates with being Madison Square Garden; and while there, I saw Kiss.  Or, at least, I know that's the reason why I was there; I have no memory of a concert.  Now, I've never been to New York, so it certainly was not MSG.  And I didn't go to ANY concert that I know of until my parents took me to see The Pointer Sisters and Lionel Richie circa 1984.  So what's up with this?  I suspect I may have been taken to the Civic Center in Birmingham for a play or a circus or something, and it's even possible that Kiss might have been playing a later date there and there were posters or something.  Not at all out of the realm of possibility.  So why do I remember it as going TO SEE Kiss?
Aliens, obviously.  I kid.  But do I really?  (Yes, unless I'm not.  But I think I am.)
What else?  No missing time that I know of.  No instances of remembering flying over the roof of any place (a common refrain in Straub's book).  No weird vehicles or encounters with strangers.
In short, pretty much nothing.


There are a pair of recent-ish (from the past five years) things that might bear mentioning.  I sometimes go for walks along a walking trail near my apartment.  It begins across the street from my apartment complex, stretches through a small park, meets up with the Black Warrior River, runs alongside it for a ways, goes past a couple of restaurants, under a bypass, and ends ... well, not quite in the forest, but with a woodsy area surrounding it on either side and a gravel parking lot that connects to a street marking its end.

A couple of completely non-bizarre, but nevertheless noteworthy, things happened to me on occasions when I was walking that trail.  On one, I was out a little bit later than usual and found myself in the woodsy portion of the trail as day was turning to night.  I was listening to loud music of some sort -- probably John Williams, if I had to guess -- and heard nothing, but when I reached the gravel parking lot and turned around to begin making my way back, I saw that a number of deer were standing on the edge of the woods on both sides.  Just kind of standing there.

Now, there's nothing super weird about that.  I mean, deer do like to stand.  Typically they won't if people are nearby, but I assumed they were probably just waiting for me to bugger off.  Strieber in Communion mentions a number of examples of animal-based screen memories, though, often involving a number of animals doing things you wouldn't ordinarily expect them to do.  So while I 100% believe this is a thing that actually happened to me, I can't help but raise a quizzical eyebrow when thinking of it through the lens of Communion.
And that memory brings me to another one, which also involves walking, this late at night in the days when I still lived with my parents.  I'd bought The Blair Witch Project on DVD when it came out so that I could give it a second look.  (I'd seen it in a theatre but was so nervous during it that I kept getting up and leaving for periods of time when I thought shit was getting too intense.)  So I did, during the bright of day.  But then later that night, while walking around the neighborhood, I became steadily more and more creeped out, imaging the Blair Witch was going to emerge from between two of the houses and snatch me up.  And then, quite unexpectedly, a deer ran out from between two of the houses a few hundred yards away.  It ran away speedily, quite spooked by my presence.  I nearly passed out from the startlement.  Do I think it was anything more than a deer?  Of course not.
But it's kind of curious that those deer along the walking trail didn't bugger right off all those years later, isn't it?  Not placing any special meaning on the fact; just saying, it's a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.

Less eyebrow-raising: on a different day, I was walking near the same stretch of the trail, but earlier in the day, when several people came walking out of the woods.  Let's just say that they ... didn't look like nature-lovers, exactly.  They were carrying bags of some sort and looked like they might be meth-heads, or possibly meth-dealers; or possibly both.  Again, nothing unnatural about that; just a little weird.

And very near that spot where they came from, there's this creepy little fenced-off one-tombstone graveyard at the bottom of a hill.  I took a photo of it -- with my old flip phone! -- years ago.  It's a shite photo, but here it is:

Never have summoned up the nerve to walk down the hill to get a closer look at it.

And indeed, I haven't gone walking along this trail in ... good lord, probably a couple of years at this point.  I've been averse to it, and while I've been telling myself that this is part of a general ennui/downward-spiral-of-the-soul-via-the-body thing I've got goin' on, Strieber's book floats the possibility that something could have happened to me out there, and that I concocted screen memories to cover it up.

Do I think this?  Absolutely not.  Do I suspect it?  Absolutely not.  Do I think it is even possible?  Only in a marginal sense.  Still, Strieber's book put me onto that train of thought; it'd be silly for me not to embrace it.
It says something about either myself or about Communion that it prompted this sort of a response from me.  And I'm fascinated by the idea that the subtext of Gerald's Game -- which is actually the text of Gerald's Game, I should say -- might have subconsciously prompted me toward rereading Strieber's book.  The mind works in fascinating ways.
I considered devoting a lengthy post to Communion, by the way.  Whatever one thinks of the claim it is a true story, it's a fine book; or at least an entertaining one; or at least I myself was entertained by revisiting it.  There was a lot there to chew over, especially for a guy like me who enjoys entertaining the possibility that such things might be real.  Ultimately, I decided against it.  I'd probably have wanted to reread it a second time, and take extensive notes; and I don't currently feel I can spare the time.
But know that it would have been worth the doing, and I won't rule out the possibility of returning to the idea at a later date.  I might even decide to pick up the various sequels Strieber has written over the years.  I'm interested enough to do it.  But that might lead to buying and reading some of Strieber's novels, as well (I'd love to check out his early horror fiction like Wolfen and The Hunger), and I'm just not sure it's a good idea.  I've still got all this King to reread!
Well, plus this: I may at some point very soon be launching an entirely new blog.  Specifically, it will be a blog devoted to the works of H.P. Lovecraft.  My friend Trey Sterling -- you perhaps know him better as Xann Black, author of the blog Blackout and occasional commenter on this blog -- began an ambitious series of posts about Lovecraft's work back in December of 2017.
And Trey is currently dying.
I'd say the odds are pretty good that he'll be dead by the time this post is published, in fact.  Barring a literal miracle, that series of posts is never getting finished.
So I believe it is my duty to finish it for him, in his memory.  There will likely be many blog posts and series of blog posts that I undertake in Trey's memory, as the years roll on.  That'll be one.
And I find it very interesting that this is all coming back to Lovecraft in some way.  After all, my written exploration of my memories kind of began with my own Lovecraft posts.  And Trey's own desire to re-explore HPL and blog about it was prompted by that very series of mine.  His cancer got radically and quickly worse during the few days I spent reading Communion, too, it must be noted.  These things are unrelated.
But there's something there, all the same.
Grade (for Communion, in case this ramble has made you forget it!): B
Date of completion:  June 7
Date of Trey's Sterling's passing:  Friday, June 22, aged 31

Stories from the Twilight Zone by Rod Serling

Published in April of 1960, as the first season of The Twilight Zone was approaching its conclusion, this slim volume presents a quintet of Serling-penned adaptations of Serling-penned episodes.

"The Mighty Casey":  This book's contents are odd, to say the least.  This story is by no means one of the first season's more successful episodes (and hang onto that thought, we'll need a couple more times coming up soon), and it's a head-scratcher for Serling to have included it.  But it's perhaps a sign of his own feelings about the idea, and I have to admit, this prose version is a damn sight funnier than the finished episode.  Serling's wit is on full display, and the occasional "goddamn" and "sonofabitch" even sneaks in, which I appreciate.  If you love the episode, you'll love this short story based on it; and if you don't, you might still enjoy the prose version.

"Escape Clause":  Another not-quite-a-highlight episode from the first season that fares a bit better in prose form.  It's essentially the same story, but there are added details here, such as Bedeker getting leveled by a falling I-beam steel girder, and surviving.  There's also more to his trial, which is fun.  Not bad, all in all; superior to the filmed version.

"Walking Distance":  This one isn't superior to the filmed version, but in this case the filmed version is one of the best episodes of the entire series, so it's a damned high bar to clear.  This prose version is an admirable adaptation; Serling's prose is both to-the-point and languid, and while it's not quite Bradbury, it's very good.  There's a prologue that depicts Martin's existential funk in New York which sends him on a temporary exodus, looking for peace.

"The Fever":  Yeesh.  The episode selections, Rod...!  Why?  "The Fever" is one of the worst first-season stories, and while the prose version doesn't fix any of my concerns, I will allow that I enjoyed it on the page quite a bit more than I did on the screen.  Franklin seems even more loathsome here than in the episode itself, which is fun; but the major selling point for me is that Serling's prose is quite good.  It's the closest of the stories (at least so far) to sounding like an extended version of his opening/closing narrations.  Ah, if only there were a Serling-narrated audiobook version!  That'd be wonderful.  But it's solid on the page, too, and here helps turn a shabby episode into something palatable.

"Where Is Everybody?":  The pilot episode for the series is a good, surreal episode; and this prose adaptation follows it pretty closely (with one key detail added toward the end).  Serling's prose here is spare and restrained, and does not entirely feel like the work of the same writer as the one who wrote "The Fever."  One wonders: was a ghostwriter haunting this book?  Perhaps multiple ghostwriters?

 "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street":  This episode is a first-season standout, and it carries with it the apparently timeless message that humans are small-minded, prone to suspicion and paranoia, and inclined to act upon their worst instincts.  Yay!  I like the episode, but this prose adaptation didn't grab me.  It's decent, but the ending is even more ludicrous on the page than it is on film, and without the excellent performances and direction to give it all a push, I find that it is a bit limp on the page.
Final thoughts on the book as a whole: well worth reading if you're a fan of the series.
Grade:  B-
Date of completion:  June 30


  1. 1. Wodehouse' Jeeves is something I've known of , but never took the time to look into. Maybe I'll have to remedy that someday.

    2. The irony is, when you first mentioned sleep apnea, I decided to look it it up in relation to memory loss. Let's just say I'm glad you mentioned CPAP. Hope you're holding up okay.

    As for whether Streiber himself has a form of that, who knows? I will admit though that your review did give me an uncomfortable thought. If Streiber has a mental screen, what if it's covering the worst kind of physical abuse?

    I know how that sounds. Like I say, it's just an uncomfortable idea that popped into my head while reading.

    3. I've listen to both "Mighty Casey" and "Maple Street" on tape. While "Casey" is nothing special, "both print and film versions of "Street" work pretty damn well for me. Ditto "Walking Distance".

    4. Looking forward to your take on the "Sleepwalkers" screenplay.


    1. 2. Thanks, Chris! I'm alright. Never sleep without my CPAP. Tried it one time because I was stuck someplace without it unexpectedly; ended up just staying up all night, it was so bad.

      3. "Walking Distance" is the definite champion of that book, in my opinion. Great episode, too, obviously.

  2. I enjoyed reading those Bryant's Tomb of Mystery memories again! Those are freaky.

    Holy moley that photo of the ancient graves! That is a Black Sabbath cover and a half.

    (45 minutes of terrifying baby-screaming later)

    Sorry, bro, all I have this evening. I look and feel like the guy in that PTSD painting of shellshock from WW2.

    1. I need to go walking that trail again -- for any number of reasons, but particularly to get a better photo of that lonely tombstone.

      Sorry to hear about the tense baby screams!

    2. Have you seen both cuts (US and International) of The Shining? Is one cut better than the other? I'm currently watching the US cut after living off the International Cut all my life.

    3. I don't *think* I've ever seen the shorter international cut. There is nothing in that film I'd want to be without, so unless it's for research purposes at some point in the future, I can't imagine ever watching it in shortened format.

      I hope you enjoy the longer version!