The Monster’s Corner

Truth be told, it was the inclusion of a story by David Liss that brought me to The Monster’s Corner, an new anthology of sort-of horror stories. The editor, Christopher Golden, makes a moving and excellent point in his introduction: many of the monsters in literature (and movies and comics) are thrust into a world they do not understand. Their horrible and evil acts often result from a lack of knowledge about humanity and our world. Two examples: all King Kong wanted was the love of a girl (human); Frankenstein (in the movie) was seeking joy and laughter when he threw the little girl into the lake. How was he supposed to know that humans drown? Before I get back to David Liss–the stories in this anthology are all written by well-known, mostly prize-winning authors of horror, fantasy, or sci-fi. Most of them are good reads. But the story involving Golden’s choice monster, Frankenstein, hits a false note. The famous monster is a tailor living in a Jewish ghetto, accepted by the outsider Jews, until he takes down a few Nazis. Then the Jews worry that his actions will attract the Nazis and tell him to leave. So this Frankenstein is a golem, of sorts. It shows him to be sympathetic and intimates that the Jews are foolish to send him away. Hmmm. I think the Nazi final-solution machine would have stopped even Frankenstein. But back to Liss. David Liss has written several thrillers about economic crises. I don’t know how else to put it. They are wonderful. He also writes comic books. In fact, he is so productive I don’t know when he has time to brush his teeth. In his last novel, The Twelfth Enchantment, also reviewed on this website, for the first time Liss brings his interest in the supernatural to his literary fiction. And it works. His story in this collection is about a ghoul–a monster who eats human flesh. This monster looks and acts like a too-mature teenage girl. And in that Liss has hit on a psychological truth. Our kids, our teens especially, they eat us alive. They rip out our hearts. But they also mend us. They make us whole, who we are. It’s something every parent knows, a truth felt sharply by Baby Boomers whose Gen Y kids have grown into young adults. I think Liss should think a bit more about his metaphor. It’s profound, and goes much deeper than his story takes us, which he whips off adeptly. As for the book as a whole–monsters, the supernatural, horror stories: they’re quite popular these days. Vampires and Zombies. Twilight, True Blood, the new TV series, “American Horror Story.” If you like the genre, you’ll be thoroughly entertained, even enlightened. If you haven’t sat down with a bunch of horror stories since some high school teacher made you read H.P. Lovecraft and Mary Shelley’s novel, this is a nice place to land. Nothing is scary enough to give you nightmares. (Clicking on the cover will take you to Barnes & Noble online.)

The Twelfth Enchantment

I’ve been running lede sentences through my mind for two days. Yeah, that’s right. Linda Bernstein is actually having problem with a lede. So I decided on this: READ THIS BOOK. YOU’LL LOVE IT. That pretty much sums things up, though I suppose I should go into a bit more detail. David Liss is a consummate historical novelist. In his six previous novels, Liss mostly has concentrated on an economic issue–and turned what could be a dry plot point into a thriller. The whiskey tax in post-revolutionary America? The British East India Company in early 18th-century England? The Amsterdam coffee monopoly in 1669? All of this is fodder for intrigue, terrific characters, and, yes, a good history lesson. Liss has also brought to life Benjamin Weaver: a Jew with a knock-out punch. (I can’t help but be reminded of Michael Chabon saying in the introdution Gentlemen of the Road that he wanted to write a novel called “Jews with Swords.”) In The Twelfth Enchantment, Liss brings on a strong female lead character, Lucy Derrick, who discovers she has all kinds of occult powers as she gets involved with the Luddites and, yes, Lord Byron. I love that William Blake appears as a character, much the way I would imagine him,  so down-to-earth and yet unearthly. I love Liss’s hat tip to Jane Austen (and Trollope): there is a clergyman who fawns in the most revoltingly obsequious manner on a noble-born female patron. In Liss’s book, though, the woman is literally (and I mean literally) a monster. (I like to think that Liss is taking revenge for us all on Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins, going further than the witty snubs Austen dishes out.) This foray into the world of fantasy is not exactly new to Liss, who also also writes comic books. Liss also says it’s a rare day when he doesn’t have an idea for a book. I guess that means I don’t have to wait too long for the next from this extraordinary author. (You can get to the Barnes & Noble site by clicking on the picture. The book comes out 8/9.)