May 04, 2007

Batshit Lit 101

I don’t really have any Stupid Books That I Have Read and Forgotten but Would Totally Read Again, but after reading that list, I knew it was time to post this one that had been bugging me:

Does anyone remember those readers we had in middle school, before they let us read actual novels, that were filled with stories (some of which by people I knew, like Ray Bradbury) that sort of had no point and were eerie beyond comprehension? It was in one of these books that I first read “There Will Come Soft Rains” (which I reread as often as I can in the hope that I will develop a better sense of rhythm, description, pith and, well, skill). The stories were all followed by six or seven inane “discussion questions” and we always got into fights over who was right (my 6th year English class was strangely passionate; also, Annie H. is a poo face). So in the vein of Books Threateningly Close to Being Absorbed into the Senility Sinkhole, I ask: does anyone know what the hell I’m talking about?

[NOTE: You DO! I'm not alone! I thought I was taking crazy pills! Thanks to everyone who hit refresh on my old, sad memory banks. I'll keep adding titles, links and credit as they are uncovered.]

The Alien Woman in the Poor Town – A young girl comes to live with (hired? adopted? don’t know) an old lady; the girl is amazed that the woman has milk and eggs and coffee all for breakfast, because her family is so poor. The old lady talks about her husband, how she has to be patient and wait for him, and he’s going to call her, etc. Then one day, there’s a light under the bed, and the old lady is excited because now she can go, and she wiggles under the bed and all her fake rubber skin comes off and the little girl wants to go but decides to stay and then the portal closes. That’s all I remember, other than freaking at the skin sloughing part.

The Catkillers – Two boys get a BB gun and shoot cans, fenceposts, birds—and then accidentally shoot a neighbor’s cat. They’ve only wounded it, but if they take the cat home, they’ll get in trouble for shooting it. After a not-so-lengthy battle with morality, they cap the cat in the skull and bury it, making a manly pact never to speak of it again. Sadly, the cat does not go all “Tell-tale Heart” and haunt them to their graves with ethereal meowing. I remember hating this story, because I also hated The Yearling and any coming-of-age story that requires the slaughter of animals To Teach a Young Boy Right from Wrong So He May Become A Man. If you don’t know that it’s better to let an animal live and get in trouble than to shoot it and live with the guilt, your parents should be stapled upside-down to a tree. For a month. In the rain.

The Weapon – There’s a very “The Most Dangerous Game” vibe to this one; a guy arrives on a new planet, thus far uninhabitable because of all the native savage wolf-creatures roaming around. But this guy is an ex-marine or whatever, and has been sent ahead to take them on alone—with his disintegrator gun, which he annoyingly refers to as The Weapon. It destroys hundreds of them at once, but they keep coming because they don’t recognize what’s happening when half the pack disappears. The backup team shows up a few weeks later and finds their guy Robinson Crusoe-ing huts together with his hands and hunting the beasts with bows and arrows (because they can see their own wounded and learn to fear him), and using The Weapon to hammer in a post, or something (I hope this one is still good if I ever read it again, because I thought it was the bomb when I was thirteen).

"All Summer In A Day" by Ray Bradbury [Thanks, MaggieCat!] – I wonder if this was a sci-fi reader; all of these stories are about eco-awareness or otherworldly colonization. Anyway, setting: some elementary school on a planet [it is Venus! Score!] where it only rains. No sun, no snow, just rain, for as long as anyone can remember. There’s one little outcast girl who tells stories about the sun (her parents told her them) which pisses the other kids off, so they lock her in a closet. Later that day, the sun actually comes out and they all run outside and play for hours, getting warm and dry and happy, and then it starts raining again and they all go back in. Then they realize the little girl is still locked in the closet, and what a horrible thing they did, and they let her out.

"Searching for Summer" by Joan Aiken [Thanks, G!]– On futuristic, post-apocalyptic wedding day, the husband and wife (she’s wearing yellow for good luck, because there’s NO SUN, you see) and set out on their honeymoon… on a motorcycle [yes!]? Anyway, they come to the house of an old couple who invite them to stay. The couple hangs out with them for a few days, noticing that their farm is always warm and homey… because the sun is shining. They grow tomatoes and sit in the sun, generally enjoying the hell out of life, until one day while the newlyweds are at the local market, they run into one of their friends—and the friend wants to know how they got so tan. Uh-oh. The wife makes up a lie that I don’t remember, and they newlyweds have to go home; they don’t even say goodbye to the old couple because they don’t want anyone else to disturb them.

The Mars Race with Old Llamas – On a Mars colony (Asimov?), the miners (?) are having a pack animal race, and betting heavily. The animals look like shaggy yaks, but more… goaty? And, shorter? (the description is completely gone, but I do know that this is where I first learned the word ‘decrepit.’) The gist is that our guy loses because he bets on the best looking… goatakimal, and it the ugliest, most d-e-c-r-e-p-i-t one wins because they’re herd animals and they follow the leader. Um, ha? [Actually, I don’t care so much about this one; even my crappy recap sounds stupid.]

"Wide O" by Elsin Ann (Graffam) Perry – I think this was the actual title. [yup] There’s a woman, home alone (her husband’s out of town, I think) and freaking herself out with all the noises of the house, and I think there’s a news report of an escaped prisoner (highly dangerous, stay inside, hook for a hand, etc) so she’s all on edge. At the end she wonders why it’s so chilly in the house, when she notices the back door is wide o--. GET IT? I think the lame factor [meaning that I was so easily scared, not that the story itself was lame] was overlooked since 1) I’d never read much in the horror genre, and 2) it freaked the dog shit out of me (anything that happens suddenly and violently in complete silence will have me going to bed with all the lights on, curled up with my baseball bat, for an embarrassing length of time. Forever, most likely).

[Note: I remember having to write an ending for this one, and since the obvious was to have the lady’s brains eaten by the invading madman, I went the route of the lady getting all panicked and shooting the burglar in the dark, who is actually her husband, who came back early (I don’t remember if I killed him or not; my teacher gave me an A- and a delicate talking-to afterward, so I probably did).]

"August Heat" by W.F. Harvey – This one I remember, and that is the actual title. There’s a nebbish-y narrator, and he’s stuck at a stonecutter’s talking to a man engraving a headstone. The headstone is just a display model, but the guy is engraving the narrator’s name and the current day’s date on it, coincidentally. They chat and some other eerie stuff happens (I forget, but it’s creepy), and it’s 104 degrees in August and in the end the narrator comments that the heat could “drive a man mad.” Equal parts cheesy and awesome—like Rod Serling at his peak—knowing that people can go homicidal for no reason and that’s just the way it is. I’d like to reread this one to find out if it was the writing or my imagination that made it stick. [Both. It's like if Joyce wrote horror stories (and included a point).]

I don't rememeber the titlae of the collection, but the lesson plan seems to be about teaching children to fear wild animals, the unknown, themselves, other people, global warming, and the elderly (because they’re really aliens). Anyone else have flashbacks to these in the wee hours, curled around a tennis racket, convinced that psychopathic, hook-handed cat demons sound exactly like the house settling?

3 comments:

Toni said...

Are these what you're looking for?

Sixty-Five Great Murder Mysteries

One Hundred Malicious Little Mysteries

There seems to be a lot of Asimov influence.

MaggieCat said...

The Rain in… Venus?

This one is actually another Ray Bradbury story called "All Summer In A Day". It is set on Venus, where there is only one hour of sun every seven years. I had an odd love/hate relationship with that story as a child- I still love the way it's written and it very effectively captures the idea but.... it's very effective. And sort of soul crushing. It probably didn't help me that the little girl's name is Margot, which my mother has been known to call me semi-regularly.

Elsin Ann Perry said...

Hi! I wrote "Wide-O," but there was no hook for a hand...

Thank you for your comments.

Your teacher wanted her students to write an ending? That's like an ending to "The Lady or the Tiger." However, the lady shooting her husband, who'd come back early, would be the best way to end it, if it needed something. So you deserved that A but not the talking to. You seem to have turned out fine...

Your blog is fascinating, and I'm going to read more of it now.

(It's bookmarked.)

Thanks for remembering my first published story.

Elsin Ann Perry