Over Chinese New Year, I read a couple of books.
Michael Chabon‘s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (see reviews here and here) turned out to be a tremendously enjoyable read: action on every page, characters to care for and sympathise with in their imperfections, a serviceable plot. I found Chabon’s descriptions to be an alchemy of evocation. An insignificant, random sample: a baby “smells like yoghurt and laundry soap”; a tired lady’s bag “hits the floor like a body”; the same lady, a police inspector, drawn into a case in spite of her better judgement, starts “gnawing at the bloody joint of” a juicy clue. Chabon densely peppers the book with them, and the flavour is so intense and rich and rewarding – I think people’s brains have a pleasure centre for deciphering such creativity – that you keep flipping the pages, searching for the next kernel of spice, like: someone “peels back a match from the matchbook, scrapes it into flame”; someone who’s just come in from the Alaskan snow is “[c]old to the honeycomb of his bones”; the profile of a large, large man is “regal, worthy of a coin or a carved mountainside”. And so on and so forth. Un-put-down-able stuff.
Joe Hill‘s 20th Century Ghosts (reviews here and here) turned out to be a collection of some of the best horror stories I’ve read recently.* I liked the stories because they don’t just scare, they make you care (hey, that rhymes!). I’ve always thought a horror story derives its power from how much you can identify with the character(s) in the story, how – with just one slight shift in perception or twist of malleable reality – you could be him/her/them. And at his best, Joe Hill taps into many of our familiar wounds, in creative and fantastic ways: A boy is ostracised by his schoolmates, lives with uncaring parents, and eventually turns into a giant locust and goes on a Columbine-like killing spree; a woman is attacked, escapes, tries to live a life unhaunted, but eventually finds her way back to the horror that made her; two boys are best friends, but one – who has an actual inflatable body with a nipple through which air can be pumped in and a fatal vulnerability to sharp objects – gets mauled by a dog and develops an incurable leak, and the other has to let him go, by the sea, borne away by helium balloons; a boy has an autistic younger brother who can build intricate tunnels to nowhere with boxes and twine, and who protects his brother by coaxing someone who threatens him into one of these creations, and who also eventually disappears into one of them himself. Affecting stuff.
*I used to buy horror anthologies every month, or so it felt like. My all-time favourite story is Michael Marshall Smith‘s The Man Who Drew Cats.