Adia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound. The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”
She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice. For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.” When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures. a distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds. This song is really captivating.
“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word. Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.
After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.” She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.
She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar. It is a simple two chord song. It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”
I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format. I imagine she can be really powerful.
[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales
For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years. This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.
One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper. And it was pretty long, too.
But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction. But I think that’s the point of this issue. To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.
Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all. And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y. Or very thrilling. They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.
Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories. Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too.
MICHAEL CHABON-The Editor’s Notebook: A Confidential Chat with the Editor
Chabon explains how he came to edit this collection of genre stories:
Imagine that, sometime around 1950, it had been decided, collectively, informally, a little at a time, but with finality, to proscribe every kind of novel from the canon of the future but the nurse romance. Not merely from the critical canon, but from the store racks and library shelves as well.
Then he says to replace “nurse romance” with “short fiction–the contemporary , quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story.”
He says that he is the bored reader of these plotless stories—even the ones he himself has written. He says until the 1950s all of the genre stores were readily available: “the ghost story, the horror story, the detective story, the story of suspense, terror, fantasy or the macabre; the sea, adventure, spy, war or historical story; the romance story. Stories, in other words, with plots.”
But our ubiquitous “moment-of-truth” stories have wiped out all other genres (see The New Yorker for example).
He was complaining about this to Dave Eggers who then said
“If I let you guest-edit an issue of McSweeny’s can we please stop talking about this?” And lo, here is what he crafted.
JIM SHEPPARD-Tedford and the Megalodon
The story felt very old or at least old fashioned. As such I though the introductory pages were a little slow–but authentic. And so I expected a good old fashioned thrilling story. And yet, I found this story to be a lot like the ones that Chabon decries–the story felt more introspective than “thrilling.” Indeed, when Tedford goes out to face this giant creature, he winds up doing some soul searching as he waits and waits for the megalodon to appear. The fact that all of the excitement is at the very end (and is kind of obvious), makes it more existential than exciting. Which is weird too.
GLEN DAVID GOLD-The Tears of Squonk, and What Happened Thereafter
This story begins in a disturbing fashion, then it gets really disturbing and then it turns into something else entirely. This is a story set in 1916 at the Nash Family Circus. The owner was an honest man and believed in family entertainment–nothing weird or risque at his circus. His show’s highlight was his gigantic elephant, Mary. She was 12-feet tall (he’d had one measurement where the elephant was a little taller, but her refused to exaggerate that). We soon learn that elephants hate horse and react very poorly in their presence (is this true?). And we also learn that Mary soon had a “last day” with the circus.
The circus also had clowns. Most were drunks, but there was one named Squonk who took his act seriously, and he and Mary got along famously. Mary’s most famous act was dancing like a ballerina. And just as Squonk was going through a routine with Mary, a director of the Railway arrived on horseback. Mary immediately grabbed the man and brutally killed him, nonchalantly. The more disturbing part is how Mary was dealt with (which I won’t relate here).
But the interesting part is what happens a few years later when it turns out that Mary might have been in disguise. What? That 12 foot 3 reading might not have been a mistake, because there are other instances of a very large elephant killing horse riders and being helped out by a clown. The way this story is revealed is simply fantastic and I loved the plot and intrigue behind it.
DAN CHAON-The Bees
I really liked this story up until the end. This is the story of a horrible man, Gene. He was a drunk and a lout. He had a child with a woman and left them without a trace when the child was 5. But we don’t find that out right away. First we meet him sober and in a new relationship with a trusting sweet woman. The also have a child, but this child wakes from night terrors almost every evening. It is driving him and his wife crazy but the child seems unaffected.
The more his new son screams at night the more he can’t help but think about his old son. But Gene hasn’t heard from his old family in years. And when he tried to look them up they were nowhere to be found. He even wondered if they were dead. And then he starts to believe there is a connection between his old son and his new son’s nightmares. Especially when he wakes up naked and feeling hungover–even though he hasn’t had a drink in years. The connection was kind of obvious but I liked the way it was revealing itself. Until the end when it just lost all subtlety.
This story was rather trippy. It begins in a witch’s house where cats go in and out all day long. The witch chad children, but since witches are barren (as everyone knows) her children were made from things she found around the place. There were funny asides in this story–it was written in a knowing way. So it explains that when the witch was on her deathbed she gave advice to her children. Her youngest boy (“perhaps not as young as you think”), whose name was Small, was a sweet darling who brushed his mother’s hair. Unlike his brother and sister, Small followed his mother’s advice. As he is about to leave her house a cat who says its name is The Witch’s Revenge follows him and then stays with him wherever he goes. There’s a lot of weirdness and funny asides in the text, but its a little hard to follow. And while I enjoyed a lot about it, I found the ending unsatisfying.
ELMORE LEONARD-How Carlos Webster Changed His Name to Carl and Became a Famous Oklahoma Lawman
This story is quite simple–a tale of revenge. But it is told masterfully. We meet Carlos Webster, fifteen years old and insulted by Frank Miller, the notorious bank robber. Carlos was buying a n ice cream in the drug store when Miller came in, took his ice cream, robbed the place, shot a lawman and called Carlos a greaser. Carl was upset about the policemen being shot, but it was the insult that really got to him.
Carlos told his father who advised him to forget it. Now Carlos was an amazing shot and eventually joined the law forces. People called him Carl, but he resisted the name. He wanted to keep his full “greaser” name.
And then he had his chance with Frank Miller. The way the end part ifs told is really wonderful, revealed slowly and dramatically with danger lingering all the way to the end.
CAROL EMSCHWILLER-The General
This story is set in a dystopian future that is never fully revealed. But the way it is told–from two points of view–is really exciting. We begin by learning that The Enemy has escaped. They are especially upset about him because they took him in as a child even though he was One of Them. They taught hm their ways, trained him to be a good solider and made him one of them. And he repaid their generosity by escaping. He is wanted alive and a manhunt is underway.
Then we switch to first person, from the Enemy’s point of view. And we learn what happened to his family and the way “they” treated him and everyone like him. How he tried to resist their indoctrination and finally had a chance to be freed.
Whose story is more accurate?
He meets an old woman and a young girl in the woods and they help him out (even though they are forbidden from doing so). We follow the story back and forth between the soldiers out to capture him, and the man, intent on getting his freedom. It is very well told
NEIL GAIMAN-Closing Time
I loved the way this story was told. The narrator begins by talking about drinking clubs that used to exist in England when the law made bars close early. These clubs were unlicensed but people drank there for a membership fee. There were many of these clubs and each one had a few members.
One night the members of the narrators club began talking about horror stories they knew. What I love is that the story begins with a whole bunch of trite horror stories–the kind that everyone knows–and you kind of think what a lame story will this be. And then the real story begins. It is one of tension and excitement and the scary part at the end is wonderfully understated. But that’s not even the end of the story–there’s a great zinger at the end.
NICK HORNBY-Otherwise Pandemonium
One of the great things about this story is the narrator. He has a huge piece of information to tell us, except that he assumes we already know it so he’s not wasting his time talking about it. Rather he has more important details to get to, like how he just has sex. He’s 15 and finally had the courage to ask out a pretty girl and she (who was not the kind to have sex) agreed. The plot though revolves around a gadget that he bought from a pawn shop.
Until that point, the most important thing to the boy was talking about basketball games. If he didn’t get to see the game (because he was at band practice), then he was considered a dork. So he wanted to buy a VCR to tape the games. When he bought the VCR, the pawn shop guy was really weird about it. And when he gets it home he discovers quite by accident just why.
The twist in this story is that the VCR allows him to fast forward through real TV. But rather than using this knowledge for all of the various things one might be able to use it for, he is just sort of sucked into being able to do it. Until things start to change, but we already know that. It s a great story told in a wonderfully casual manner.
STEPHEN KING-The Tale of Gray Dick
I found this story a little hard to parse when it first started–actually through almost half of the story. I found I couldn’t quite figure out who was who and what was going on and there were some “other culture” names that I couldn’t quite figure out. (This all seemed very strange for King who is usually pretty good at exposition). But the long and short of it soon became clear.
There was an enemy coming and the townsfolk were looking for men to step up. Then one of the men has his wife tell the story of Gray Dick, a famous outlaw. He had killed many men. The daughter of one of those men invited him to her house for a dinner–a peace offering. Gray Dick assumed she would try to kill him, but she promised no. He said she would hide weapons in her clothes and she told him they could eat naked. And he liked that idea. So he arrived.
Well, of course she did have a weapon (and no it wasn’t secreted on her person). This story of Lady Oriza’s revenge had lived on for generations–whether true or not. And it turns out some people took her idea of a weapon quite seriously. I didn’t quite follow the beginning but I loved the end of the story. [It turns out that is a reworked part of King’s Dark Tower series, which may explain why I couldn’t follow it].
MICHAEL CRICHTON-Blood Doesn’t Come Out
This is the story of a man who gets things done for people. Clients ask him to catch people doing things they shouldn’t be doing. On this day, he caught somebody stealing from his boss and earned a bloody shirt for the thanks he got (and blood doesn’t come out, as the title says). He gets home and finds out his wife is having an affair and is planning to leave him. So he tells her to go. And she does. He drinks. He scans his house (no removed of all of her things) and see the piano. It was his mother’s and she made him keep it. He reflects on the evil things his mother did to him when he was a child, so he lashes out on the piano–scratching the pristine surface.
Then he decides to show her the damage (she is in a nursing home). He brings a photo of the piano, alcohol and a gun on his visit. As soon as he shows up, his mother starts laying into him. He shows her the photos and she yells that he can’t take care of anything. When he says it was to get back at her for the way she treated him, she just asks why he can’t grow up. We all know what happens when a gun shows up in a story, and the ending was a little pat.
LAURIE KING-Weaving the Dark
The thrilling part of this story was actually because the protagonist was going blind. She has glaucoma and everything she sees is kind of fuzzy. The story probably would not have been thrilling if she could see what she was doing, but that’s what makes a story, I guess.
So this is the story of Suze. She is currently living in her girlfriend’s cabin in the woods. Her girlfriend suffered a stroke recently and is in the hospital. And since Suze has glaucoma, one of the neighbor kids (a very straight-laced Christian girl) is doing the house maintenance for her (she’s very anal, as you might expect). The drama comes when Suze hears shovels outside. When she has a free moment she goes out to investigate and discovers that someone has hooked up to their water pipe and run a line from it. She doesn’t want to tell anyone about it because she doesn’t want yo feel helpless. But when she asks her handy man about the possibility of living up here without a road or you know, a proper house, he gives her an idea.
And so she goes to investigate. What would people want with water and electricity (they have been tapping in to her lines as well) in the middle of the woods? And can she, a glaucoma victim get anything from it? I enjoyed this story even though it wasn’t very thrilling.
CHRIS OFFUTT-Chuck’s Bucket
This might have been my favorite story in the book, mostly because it has a very fun meta structure but also because it plays with time travel and multiple threads of the timeline. The narrator says that he has been having trouble finishing a short story that Michael Chabon asked him to write form an upcoming McSweeney’s collection. His father was a writer and he writes just to spite him. But he is totally stumped on this one. He’s getting so frazzled by it that he thinks he’s seeing ghosts. So he calls a friend, Chuck, a scientist. Chuck listens to his story and says it isn’t ghosts, it’s him, the narrator. He has been time traveling. Chuck informs him that he has made a kind of time machine that will allow him to travel along his own multiverse timelines.
The narrator is nervous, but he agrees to go. He enjoys the sensation and the knowledge he gets from his visits. He goes back to all 25 threads of the multiverse and we get a three-line summary of every possible existence of his. The ending, which it didn’t even need, has a great twist.
DAVE EGGERS-Up the Mountain, Coming Down Slowly
This story seemed very out of place in this book as it is not thrilling or even genre in any way. It seems to be exactly what Chabon said this book would not be–the an internal struggle within a person. It just happens that the struggle takes place on Mount Kilimanjaro. This is the story of Rita, a woman who is unexpectedly, according to her somewhat fragile memory, about to climb to the peak. The plan was supposed to be for her and her sister to go together. But her sister got unexpectedly pregnant and can’t go. And so there she is by herself with 4 strangers looking at this grueling trips.
She believes he can make it, and for most of the book we get a few glimpses of her struggles and the struggles of those around her. But largely, the struggles come when they stop climbing and she thinks –too much–about her life and what brought her here. There are some exciting moments, true, but many of them occur while she finally succumbs to some sickness and she isn’t sure if they are delusions or not. I really did enjoy this story quite a lot, it just wasn’t at all what i was expecting. I also had no idea that you could climb the mountain in 4 days
MICHAEL MOORCOCK-The Case of the Nazi Canary
I really liked this story a lot. I haven’t read a lot by Moorcock and I had no idea he had written a story (turns out he has written several ) about a metatemporal detective, Sir Seaton Begg. This rather lengthy story is set up as a Sherlock Holmesian mystery. Although I gather there is a bit of poking fun at Holmes as well. I’m not really sure what a metatemporal detective actually does, but I loved the premise of this mystery.
It is (or would be) the autumn of 1931. Adolph Hitler (Alf to his friends) is a suspect in the murder of his niece (and possible sexual partner). But he has an airtight alibi. And the Nazi have called on British detective Seaton Begg to solve the mystery and prove Hitler’s innocence.
Moorcock has a lot of fun with what we know of Hitler by having Alf’s companions talk up how he is a vegetarian and eschews violence of any kind. Begg and his partner Taffy are on to what the National Socialists are capable of and they call Hitler “that awful oik who looks like Charlie Chpalin? Musso’s [Mussolini] effeminate pal Mr Hitler?” But they agree to take the case.
It’s not as simple as all that though, because Begg has a nemesis–a bad guy named Count Zodiac (who is also Begg’s cousin). He might be part of the stories too, but he plays an important role here. There’s also an other detective who is trying to prove Hitler’s guilt. How is Begg supposed to serve the truth and the future?
This was a really enjoyable mystery.
AIMEE BENDER-The Case of the Salt and Pepper Shakers
This story seemed like a thriller but it really wasn’t. It’s another mystery but one that is sort of solved by itself. There is a death of a husband and wife at exactly the same time. The detective focuses on the couples collection of salt and pepper shakers (although I’m not sure why he thought they were that noteworthy). And through an interrogation of the cook, learns a lot about what may have transpired.
SHERMAN ALEXIE-Ghost Dance
This is an incredibly violent and gross story. Alexie introduces us to two cops in Montana. The big one is a horrifying racist who really hates all Native Americans. He even has two in the trunk of his cruiser. When he lets them out in front of the Custer Memorial Cemetery, the Native Americans know they are in for no good. But the cop overreacts and winds up killing both of them for no reason. As he does so the ghost army of the Seventh Cavalry rises from their graves and goes on a rampage–killing anyone in their paths. It’s up to an FBI Agent to figure out what the heck is going on and how to deal with it. I love that at the end, his own sanity is called into question.
HARLAN ELLISON-Goodbye to All That
This is a snarky story right from the get go. It even opens with a snarky line: “He knew he was approaching the Core of Unquenchable Perfection, because the Baskin-Robbins “flavor of the month” was tuna fish-chocolate.” Essentially this is about a journeyman seeking Nirvana or Shangri-La. The illustration in the middle of the story kind of ruins the “joke” of it. He arrives at his destination and it proves to be something of a fast food restaurant, but the menu choices lead to yet even more puzzling options. And things get even weirder when all of the employees are famous baseball players. This is a bizarre story that’s mildly funny
KAREN JOY FOWLER-Private Grave 9
This is a cool story that starts as one thing and morphs into couple of different things until it gets to the end. It begins as a story about an archeological dig. Our protagonist is a photographer who is inexperienced with digs but is happy to help out his team. Their team is not doing as well as another team who has discovered Tut-ankh-Amen’s grave, but they are still finding interesting things.
But in the middle of the dig, a girl from Rapid City was dispatched to hang out with them. They expected her to be a spoiled rich girl, easily intimidated by the bones. But no, it turns out she is a mystery writer and has come to the dig because of her next book. She seems intent on goading everyone into becoming fodder for her book. And, as it turns out, everyone is growing really impatient with her–even entertaining thoughts of killing her. I liked that the story was sort of mundane but with the feeling of tension built all the way through it.
RICK MOODY-The Albertine Notes
This is a really long story and Moody packs in a lot. It’s also very intense (especially given recent events). It is set in a New York that has recently been attacked by a uranium bomb. Lower Manhattan is pretty much obliterated (and Moody makes it feel very real). We are following the story of Kevin Lee, a Chinese American journalist who is looking into the story of Albertine, a drug that is ravaging the remains of the city.
Albertine, it turns out, is a drug that allows you to relive memories–in great detail. Once you have lost everything (as many people living here have), all you have is your memories. And Lee is dispatched to find out more about it–people are claiming to be able to see into the future as well.
Midway through the story he finds the primary dealer (who was able to use his memory to alter the past and, subsequently, the future) and is given the drug as well. Then everything becomes a blur for him–what’s real, what’s a memory.
There’s a cool metaphysical discussion with professor Ernst Wentworth who posits that the drug may have even come from a shower of interstellar dark matter. But mostly they want to know more about the drug itself. And some shocking “truths” are revealed.
There were moments in the story (when Kevin was reliving things over and over) that dragged a bit, but over all this was fascinating, compelling and more than a little frightening. Although honestly, I’m not exactly sure what happened at the end.
MICHAEL CHABON-The Martian Agent, A Planetary Romance
After reading these stories done in genre style I realized that I really do not care for stories set in the Wild West or in Dustbowl Days or even in Native American terrain. I basically don’t care much about the center of the country. So I was bummed that this story by guest editor Chabon, whom I like very much, was set in just this time period. I was particularly disappointed because the title suggested something else entirely. Rather than Martians, this story is set in 1876 in Natchitoches country. Amazingly, like the Sherman Alexie story, this one also mentions Custer. Although in this story Custer has surrendered to the Red Coats. What?
This is all an alternate reality, but since I don’t know much about the real reality, it was hard for me to get that right away.
Anyhow, Custer is not the focus of story. Rather, the focus is on two sons of Colonel Drake, a man who fought with Custer but who was ultimately captured. His sons fled and attempted to fight back in his name. But they were easily caught and put in a reform school.
Once the story settled into this setting, I enjoyed it more. Especially when their uncle arrived in a blimp.
The story is more or less just an introduction to what could be a huge book. Indeed, the end of the story says to look for the second installment of The Martian Agent, “The Indistinguishable Operations of Empire and Fate” in McSweeney’s Second Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. But no such treasury was ever produced and indeed, no second installment has appeared anywhere.
So rather than being a book of genre stories, this was more of a book of McSweeney’s stories with genre additives. Some I liked and some I didn’t. I rather wish I hadn’t put off reading it for fourteen years, though.