Halloween cometh—always a time of year and occasion I love despite the agglomeration of stupid fads. (Although I did consider dressing as a slutty zombie librarian this year.) In a society plagued by compulsory optimism and dippy self-help Puritanism, it’s good to reserve one night a year for contemplation of stuff the Victorians would have described as “outre”.
I have two seasonal reading recommendations. Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, while lacking the steamy lesbian sex this novelist’s past work so reliably provided, is a peerlessly creepy, austere and affecting neo-Gothic chiller. In the midst of freaky goings-on at a crumbling, isolated English country manor, the book also manages some subtle sidelights on (yes) the current national health care debate in the US. I devoured this in a back-to-back Sarah Waters mini-festival, alongside her brilliant World War II melodrama The Night Watch. If you haven’t read her, this drear season of doom makes the perfect time. (The spirit of disclosure—to say nothing of my rampant ego, bolstered as it is by this association—compels me to mention that SW and I share an editor at Riverhead Books.)
Of late, I’ve been reading the super-ooky short stories of Julio Cortazar, an Argentine writer who somehow fuses Borgesian intellectual pyrotechnics and mid-century modernist cool with Poe-like creepiness. In “House Taken Over,” an evidently incestuous brother/sister tandem faces a home invasion by Unknown Forces. The short, ingenious “Continuity of Parks” seamlessly melds a quiet domestic scene with a lurid black-letter tale of…murder.
Come to think of it—I haven’t made a costume choice yet. Maybe I’ll get a snubbed cigarette and 20 gallons of pomade and go as Cortazar.