October 28, 2023
As we approach Halloween it seems timely to read fiction that is in some way ghostly. This week each book has disturbing aspects that fit the season: a historical horror novel set in a boy’s reform school; short stories and a novel that delve into chilling aspects of modern technology; a haunting reimagining of 1984; and the writer Clarice Lispector’s newly translated novel about a mysterious crime.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Tananarive Due
Published by Saga Press
Based on a notorious 100-year-old Florida reform school called the Dozier School for Boys, Due’s story is horrific in many ways. With echoes of Colson Whitehead’s Nickel Boys, this novel has a haunting twist. Replete with haints (ghosts), it follows a boy sent there in the Jim Crow era and his sister’s attempts to get him out. The tragic history of the school (which in real life was shuttered in 2011) inspired the author whose family member was one of its victims. Chilling and nail-biting, it is a highly effective combination of historical fiction and horror, highlighting an unforgivable chapter in Black history.
By Sandra Newman
Published by Mariner
The clever cover with the title belly-banded around Orwell’s iconic 1984 design sets the tone for this feminist reimagining of that ground-breaking 1949 dystopian novel. In what could have easily become merely a high-concept book, Newman reinvents the story from the female point of view. Julia works as a mechanic in the basement of the Ministry of Truth where Big Brother watches over all in this male-dominated society. But Julia’s closely controlled existence changes drastically when she becomes the lover of Winston Smith. The novel works both as a modern twist on Orwell’s classic and a frightening novel of the future that stands on its own..
The Dimensions of a Cave
By Greg Jackson
Published by FSG
Four colleagues, journalists of the old school, gather on an island to buoy up their dispirited pal, Quentin. He is investigating the disappearance of another colleague, a Kurtz-like character who went AWOL during the Desert War (a nod to Conrad) and has created a disturbing virtual reality program designed for interrogation. In his spine-tingling first novel, Jackson explores government corruption and power, and the pitfalls of modern technology. He has said in an interview that “the world is trying to know what’s inside us, and we’re trying to know what’s outside us. The key allegory—and an almost perfect metaphor for virtual reality—is Plato’s cave.”
Night Side of the River
By Jeanette Winterson
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press
In her illuminating introduction to this collection of ghost stories, Winterson reminds us that in the pre-modern world when most people believed in a god, the world was “simultaneously visible and invisible.” She cites haunting literature from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Charles Dickens, Henry James, Shirley Jackson, and Steven King. In this unsettling selection, she intersperses her own spiritual encounters with tales that feature seances, smart glasses, AI technology, and her experiences with a ghost in her own Georgian-era house who arrived at her bedside and took her pulse. Both chilling and entertaining, it is a fun book for your bedside table if you are not too afraid….
The Apple in the Dark
By Clarice Lispector
Published by New Directions
Translated by Benjamin Moser
The acclaimed and prolific Brazilian writer Lispector declared this novel her best book. In Benjamin Moser’s excellent new translation of her powerful 1961 novel, we find ourselves at a ranch run by two women where Martim has arrived. He has absconded to this remote location after being accused of murder. But, as in much of Lispector’s work, the main plot elements have less to do with her purpose here. The possible murder becomes a steppingstone to explore the nature of freedom and destiny. It is an enigmatic and complex novel that belies its simplicity, “this unsteady way of picking an apple in the dark, without it falling.”