The Weekly Round-Up: Horror Stories Not Horrifying Enough

Here’s a quick overview of what I’m looking at, reading, watching, drinking, thinking, selling, promoting, procuring, etc. etc. this week. If you care.

Cover of the book The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian.READING: Do you ever get your hands on what you think will be a good ghost/ horror story and want to be alone with it, underneath a blanket? You think, “I want to so scared I’m afraid to go to the bathroom by myself.” So you sit in the house, alone, with no sound on (TV, radio, dishwasher, clothes washer, etc.) and read?

That’s what I was hoping for with The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian, which a lot of people/reviews liked. Here’s an overview of the plot: a pilot crash lands a plane in a river and almost all the passengers die. He retires from being a pilot and moves his family (wife and twin daughters) to New Hampshire, to an old Victorian house with a disturbing past, so he can brood. There is a door in the basement that seems to go nowhere, only he can’t verify that because it’s nailed shut with 39 carriage bolts. That’s exactly the number of people who died on the plane!

Oh, all the horror constructs are there, people:

  • Victorian house with an icky past
  • Twins
  • Traumatic event
  • Detail that may or may not have any significance (39 bolts)

I started reading. Plane crash. Move to house. Uh oh, a 12-year-old boy named Sawyer Dunmore committed suicide in the house a long time ago and he was a twin! Uh oh, the new family is having bad dreams.

Suddenly I felt as if someone was standing outside the living room window, tapping on it. But I willed myself to stay on the couch. I was going to be scared, damn it.

In the book, a neighbor shows up to give the family a vegan dinner. OK, whatever. I start skimming.

Then I arrive at this part, in which Reseda, the real estate agent who finished the sale of the house after the first one dropped dead of a heart attack,  is sitting in her greenhouse, thinking things over:

Her mind kept circling back to the Linton twins, and she wondered what this meant. As she had reminded Anise, she herself was a twin. What was it about this pair that seemed to have such… potential? What might make them more suitable – more useful – than other twins? The tincture demanded the blood of a traumatized twin, but that may have been a nineteenth-century drama or alliteration…

Anise was a vegan but she was willing to make exceptions for recipes found in the second book – especially when the tincture was as effective as the one leavened years earlier with Sawyer Dunmore’s blood.

Done. Closed the book. A tincture from the blood of a traumatized twin? So we’re dealing with crazed herbalists?

I think ghosts would have been good enough. I’m sure the book goes on to deal with the ghosts, the suicide and all kinds of horror but just the presence of these herbalists, obviously out to squeeze some blood from the twins, was enough to take me out of the action.

Does this ever happen to you when you’re reading a book?

WATCHING: Uh, all episodes of The Wonder Years are streaming on Netflix.

Also, if you’re a Jon Hamm fan, and can stomach seeing him act alongside his talented/funny girlfriend Jennifer Westfeldt (who wrote and directed) the movie Friends With Kids is coming out (supposed to open March 9, might be longer for Minneapolis). It’s just the kind of frothy, frolicking fun I’m in the mood for:

SELLING: I am not selling anything this week. Please check back next week.

THINKING: Chris Hansen, late of “To Catch A Predator” and now on the Today Show doing something called “Hansen Files” is an asshole. I watched a “report” in which he and a crew went around to day care centers run by people with past felonies and “outed” them by asking them on hidden camera if they had any past felony convictions and then, if they said no, giving them a “Surprise, I’m Chris Hansen and you’re on Candid Camera,” moment.

If the Today Show could not do any reports meant to give rise to fear for our children, they would have 50% less material. Take away chatting with the Three’s Company they call “Today’s Professionals” and they would be down to 10% of their current material.

Second, Chris Hansen cheated on his wife. So he doesn’t exactly have a moral high ground, although cheating on your wife is not against the law. Still, interesting line of work for someone with fuzzy values.

Third, this segment did not detail what each person did, if they had served their time and how long ago their felony conviction happened.

Look, if someone stole a car when they were 25 and now they’re 42, running a daycare and abiding by the law, I forgive them. What happened to forgiveness?

What I’m also saying is – you can’t make an “investigative report” on something like this without considering the individual and their specific circumstances – making this “one size fits all” is sloppy journalism (if we can call it that).

A convicted child abuser should never operate or work at a daycare. But what if you robbed a bank fifteen years ago and served out your prison time?

If we don’t think that experience of prison has any chance of changing a person and making them want to behave differently, then we need to examine our entire penal system, which in this scenario functions more as a warehouse to store people until we let them loose on society again, fully expecting them to break more laws.