Saturday, February 21, 2009

Introducing the D&C official cocktail...

At Dust & Corruption Central, we've long enjoyed various libations, but a chance encounter with an intriguing drink recipe from the 20s has generated some excitement.

Therefore, we are pleased to announce the establishment of the Dust & Corruption official cocktail...


2 jiggers each:
dry vermouth
sweet vermouth
orange juice

1 jigger:
Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur

A dash or two of orange bitters (but regular angostura will do in a pinch)

Shake over ice, and enjoy while reading a good book or watching an atmospheric b&w movie.

Of course, the familiar old martini or Manhattan is always welcome, but nothing with frilly paper umbrellas, please. Unless you're doing Tiki Night at your which we at D&C expect to be invited.

(We may start an occasional series..."The Dust & Corruption Guide to Gracious Living." It's a thought...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

THE TWO SAMS by Glen Hirshberg

I forget who recommended this to me, but I managed to find it at the library and took it out. It was a strange read.

These are, first and foremost, literary horror. I'll admit, a lot of the M. R. James and such that I like to read are primarily ghost stories with any literary and artistic concerns taking a back seat. But with Hirshberg, the literary is up front.

These are, in a way, the written-word partner to the movie LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, which was an arty film that never forgot it's supposed to be horror. Sometimes THE TWO SAMS loses its grasp on that paradigm, but for the most part it holds on.

It's five short stories, all tending to be more focused on the psychological than supernatural.

The first, "Struwwelpeter," is a teen's recollection of a Halloween night when an attempt at mischief resulted in a very frightening experience...but the real horror is in the hints of what comes of the main character of the piece, a sullen, resentful teenager who's brimming over with mayhem and...maybe something else?

"Shipwreck Beach" is the weakest of the lot. The narrator (who we don't realize for a while is female) visits her cousin in Hawaii, who's dealing with guilt over an accident in the past, and his general failure to make a go of it in life. He's become obsessed with a mysterious shipwreck off the coast, but their expedition ends oddly.

"Mr. Dark's Carnival" was my favorite. A history professor receives an invitation to the titular event, which (according to the story) is believed to be only a legend in his Montana town. It seems it's run by an immortal hangin' judge from the Old West, and gets pretty intense. This is the most visceral story of the bunch, a wild haunted-house ride...but there's a good psychological jolt as well. Most satisfying.

"Dancing Men" is an odd story of a Jewish boy visiting his dying grandfather in the desert, and taking part in an Amerind ritual for vague reasons. The real horror of the story is very indirect and lies mostly in inference, but it's the first story I've read in a while to incorporate the Golem legend.

"The Two Sams" is the last and shortest. A man and wife are tormented by the memory of two children who died in the womb, but he alone finds a certain comfort in what seems to be the ghosts of these unborn children. Or it's all in his head. It's hard to tell.

Hirshberg's pretty good with the psychological elements of his stories, but sometimes the sense of place seems strained. It's as if he really wants to give a sense of the landscape the stories are unfolding in, but all too often it seems like he has only a general idea of what he's writing about and can't really make it come alive. This is really obvious in the last story; there's a flashback to the narrator visiting Washington DC with his wife, and a mention of paying admission fees in all the Smithsonian museums...when in reality the Smithsonian museums do not charge admission.

They're flawed, but interesting. If you're in the market for something a bit more highbrow than the usual horror thing, then you could do much worse. But I do strongly recommend "Mr. Dark's Carnival." That should be required reading for anyone who runs a haunted house at Halloween.

Monday, February 9, 2009

This and That on a February Night

February's been a little annoying; work's been busy and my reading schedule has included a few things that aren't quite right for this blog. Still, I'll give a quick rundown of what I've been up to...

Just finished Eric Ambler's A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS, which was a lot of fun. Latimer, a British academic who writes cozy mysteries on the side, is vacationing in Istanbul and befriends the police chief, who's a fan. Latimer jumps at a chance to visit the morgue and sees the body of Dimitrios, a career criminal with links to drug smuggling, prostitution, espionage, political assassinations, and things higher up. Latimer becomes obsessed with Dimitrios' story and thinks he could work it into a novel, so begins rambling all over Central and Eastern Europe (of the late 30s) tracking Dimitrios' movements. And he ends up attracting the attention of some less-than-savory types...

There's something very reminiscent of Orson Welles here, and it hit me; that in many ways, DIMITRIOS is like a blueprint for CITIZEN KANE. We keep learning about Dimitrios through criminal documents and flashbacks of people who knew him. The novel's final chapters really don't come as much of a surprise, given that it's been ripped off a million times, but it's still good.

It's dated and hasn't always aged the best, but A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS is a worthy read, if you're eager for some real intrigue. There was a film version, THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS, starring Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet, but alas, it's not currently available.

I joined some friends over the weekend to see CORALINE, the film version of the popular Neil Gaiman children's book. It's a fun movie, to be sure, and the 3-D effects were well done and I'd say are one of the main reasons to see it. There's some fun freakiness and good voice performances from Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher. My main problem with it (and I've found some friends who feel the same) is that the characters are hard to be involved with. Coraline isn't all that likable, and the rest of the film's characters are so briefly dealt with and seem so one-note that it's hard to care about them. Teri Hatcher does a grand job as the demented Other Mom, a case of maternal instincts gone completely batshit crazy. It's flawed, but worth seeing.

And just today I finished listening to an audio version of Henry James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW, which I've never been able to actually read. I'm OK with Henry James in short story form, but at full novel (or novella) length, I think he's impossible. But the audio version (a free download from Librivox, and worth getting because the reader, Nikolle Doolin, is amazing) makes it easier to deal with. Something that's rarely found in the media versions of the story (of which I'm most familiar with the film THE INNOCENTS; I once saw a version with Lynn Redgrave and a bastardized TV movie called THE HAUNTING OF HELEN WALKER with Valerie Bertinelli as the governess...but for all that, it wasn't all that bad...and of course the famous DARK SHADOWS ripoff...) is that the governess, who's often portrayed as a mature woman, is in the story a girl barely out of her teens, the naive daughter of a country parson.

TURN OF THE SCREW is playground for theorizing. Are the ghosts all in the governess' head? Or are they real? But one thing that I heard recently was a very intriguing remark about how the boy's seductive behavior toward the governess (really, he acts like a little roue) is indicative of a victim of sexual abuse. Of course, the big question is, by whom? The usual suspect is Peter Quint, but how can one be sure that it wasn't the children's distant uncle? Or perhaps their real father? Or someone else entirely? Is Peter Quint's ghost there to possess the boy? Or to protect from an inexperienced, neurotic governess? Or as a guide to the other world? It's really hard to say, and upon reading/hearing the story, it's really obvious to me that the governess was heading for a nervous breakdown, so it's hard to take anything she says at face value.

Anyway, it's a worthwhile listen (I'd listen, chapter by chapter, as I walked home from work, or worked around the apartment), so go and download it for yourself. And come up with your own theories.

And that's about it right now. I've got books to read, but one's to review for Amazon, two are to review for Scarlet, and one's for my book club. Maybe I can fit in something in between. I'll have time next weekend; I'm currently unattached and dateless (sigh) so next Saturday night I'll have a date with my couch. (Actually, it's looking like the weather will be nasty that night anyway...) Maybe next year...