Author Wrath James White’s reputation precedes him. More often than not, when I see mentions of his work, they’re within close proximity to some variation of the same signifiers: “extreme,” “hardcore,” “transgressive” and “disturbing.” His new poetry collection If You Died Tomorrow I Would Eat Your Corpse earns every single one of those terms. If the killer in William Lustig’s Maniac (1980) sat in on afternoon Byron seminars before going out for his twisted nighttime excursions, the verses looping through his mind might read something like this book’s contents. For literary comparisons, imagine the protagonist of Hubert Selby Jr.’s The Room (1971) waxing poetic in the midst of sadistic fantasies, or Poppy Z. Brite’s Exquisite Corpse (1996) written in disciplined metre.
Yes, this book is very much of a specific sensibility, and it’s very much for specific tastes. The first half is especially demanding and confrontational, almost monomaniacal in its emphasis on masculine power, domination and sexual violence. The language is often viciously blunt, and always uncomfortably intimate. I would be lying if I called this thing an easy read.
However, to my mind, the book’s sincere core of intimacy elevates it, preventing it from simply existing as an object of transgression for transgression’s sake. Wrath James White’s use of language is always controlled and efficient, and at times shockingly beautiful, even painful in its precision. To my surprise, I think Corpse is soaring highest when it’s at its least embodied—I’m less moved by its explicit detailing of sexual encounters (although they’re well-written), and more by its stretches of existential angst and vivid abstract imagery. The book’s second half seems to find Wrath James White pulling away a bit from the snarling carnal frenzy that comprises the first half, and that’s when his Romantic heartbeat sounds loudest. Many excerpts from this section achieve their impact by defiling and resisting religious iconography (this book is absolutely boiling with Christian symbolism—mentions of Christ, altars, heaven, hell, angels and demons abound).
The most honest and direct thing I can say about If You Died Tomorrow I Would Eat Your Corpse is that it affected me in a rare way, and that I’ve never read anything quite like it. Proceed with caution.
I wrote a guest post on Where the Reader Grows about my favorite book, film and album released the year I was born (1990). Read the full post here!
Marge Simon and Mary Turzillo’s new poetry collection Satan’s Sweethearts recently received a Bram Stoker Award nomination for Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection, and the recognition is well-deserved. Spanning centuries, continents and perspectives, the book sees two skilled poets collaborating on a central idea: what Simon describes in her introduction as “Evil Women in history.” It’s an amazingly ambitious collection.
Focused largely around female serial killers but also including criminals of other variations, Satan’s Sweethearts showcases an extraordinary amount of research. The vast majority of the poems’ focal women exist or have existed in reality, with a couple exceptions (most notably two of William Shakespeare’s most notorious villainesses—Lady Macbeth and King Lear’s Regan). Simon and Turzillo’s poetry is sometimes evocative and eerily lyrical, sometimes intent on confrontational language and blunt-force imagery. They play creatively within the free-form range, frequently employing verse structures but also veering into prose poetry and even, on a couple occasions, grisly variations on cooking recipes.
The poems alternate between sketches of entire lives to descriptions of intense, isolated moments in time. Simon and Turzillo bend and adapt their voices with stunning adeptness, using both first- and third-person points of view to relay the perspectives of oppressors, victims and omniscient narrators. The two poets’ styles mesh together smoothly and instinctively, lending the book a sense of real cohesion even in the midst of its scope and breadth.
For me, the cumulative effect of Satan’s Sweethearts is one of morbid curiosity. The book’s brief snapshots and vignettes often led me to conduct my own research. I often found myself asking, What was the context here?, or What led to such extreme actions? As is so often the case with real-world atrocities, many of the answers remain unclear, but Satan’s Sweethearts effectively provides a number of entry points for analysis and discussion. If you’re after a recent release in poetry, the horror genre, or both, I can’t think of a better choice than this.
Dracula 3D (2012) is certainly an anomaly in Dario Argento’s cinematic DNA, and I can understand the popular impulse to write it off as “incoherent,” but I am not personally willing to leave it there. If the director’s pre-Suspiria (1977) output can be read as a series of formal trial runs (in a non-pejorative sense), and his five-film run from Suspiria to Opera (1987) comprises a kind of fully realized auteurist vision, then where does that leave his late career? I really do not think I have figured out his 1990-2009 modus operandi (although I really admire its results). It seems that the late 20th and early 21st century mostly sees Argento probing, revisiting and teasing out past obsessions rather than advancing a concise new “agenda.” With that in mind, Dracula 3D appears to stand entirely on its own.
Read the full article in Vague Visages.
Curtis Freeman interviewed me for Cedar Hollow Horror Reviews. I discuss Darkest Hours, beer, writing rituals and many other things. Read the full interview here.
Near the end of his new novella Mystery Road, Kevin Lucia makes an explicit reference to The Twilight Zone. It’s a playful moment that exemplifies the author’s uniquely conversational prose style, but it also underlines the book’s evident genealogy. Lucia seems clearly and consciously engaged with a specific lineage of “speculative humanism,” which includes but is not limited to writers like Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and yes, Rod Serling.
Mystery Road manages a balancing act of paying homage to these antecedents while also maintaining a personal voice and narrative. Simultaneously, it manages to dip its toes into sentimentality (a useful and effective tool when used properly) without ever soaking it up. Rather, the sentimentality serves a clear, necessary purpose: this novella actually weaves emotional catharsis into the build-up and release of its Twilight Zone-esque twist. This is a carefully built piece of fiction whose elements are brought together toward clear and affecting ends.
Much like the plot structure, the prose is remarkably lucid. Like King, Lucia recognizes the power of memory-induced imagery and sensation; also like King, he identifies the ways in which brand names and products have become irrevocably folded into American identity since the mid-twentieth century—in Mystery Road, a vintage 7UP bottle develops nearly mythic resonance.
The book also demonstrates a strongly developed sense of characterization and dialogue, which reinforce its tricky emotional through-line. Mystery Road is a talented author’s personal variation on genre traditions. It’s so clearly and elegantly written that I couldn’t help but read the whole thing in one sitting.
Given the recent release of Insidious: The Last Key, the fourth film in Leigh Whannell and James Wan’s Insidious franchise, Mike Thorn and A.M. (Anya) Stanley revisited the series for their latest talk.
Read the latest “Devious Dialogues” entry in Vague Visages.