Review: Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

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  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (October 29, 2019)
  • Publication Date: October 29, 2019
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers

Preorder: AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound

 

Synopsis:

Kevin Wilson’s best book yet—a moving and uproarious novel about a woman who finds meaning in her life when she begins caring for two children with remarkable and disturbing abilities

Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly in the wake of a scandal and they’ve barely spoken since. Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help.

Madison’s twin stepkids are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there’s a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way. Lillian is convinced Madison is pulling her leg, but it’s the truth.

Thinking of her dead-end life at home, the life that has consistently disappointed her, Lillian figures she has nothing to lose. Over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—while also staying out of the way of Madison’s buttoned-up politician husband. Surprised by her own ingenuity yet unused to the intense feelings of protectiveness she feels for them, Lillian ultimately begins to accept that she needs these strange children as much as they need her—urgently and fiercely. Couldn’t this be the start of the amazing life she’d always hoped for?

With white-hot wit and a big, tender heart, Kevin Wilson has written his best book yet—a most unusual story of parental love.

 

 

Review:

I really want to like Kevin Wilson’s writing more than I do. He has some great ideas, interesting stories, and fun characters, but there is something about his writing that turns his great ideas into good books. Not great books. This is my third Kevin Wilson novel and all of them suffer from the same thing: they have great stories and characters but the pacing and climaxes in the plot become a letdown. For example, the opening of this novel has great tension between Lillian and Madison, boarding school roommates, so when Madison asks Lillian to come and be the live in nanny of her two stepchildren, Lillian agrees. This tension that is built, the acts and betrayal between Lillian and Madison are only mentioned again on a surface level. This does not become the motivation of either of their actions when they get back together, just used as an example of Madison always getting her way because she is privileged and rich. The pacing seems a little off too. The beginning, from the beginning until the time Lillian meets the kids seems to take forever, like he spends the first quarter of the novel as an information dump. For a novel that feels relatively short, it feels like it takes way too long to get into the action.

I do admire Kevin Wilson’s ideas. A story about a woman reunited with someone she only knew briefly in high school, to become the nanny of her twin stepchildren, who also spontaneously combust, is a pretty great idea. There is a ton of potential with this novel, but instead we get Lillian teaching them how to play basketball and lying by the swimming pool. I do not know what could have been done differently, what could have made this novel a little more exciting, but the execution is not it. The ending is pretty good, but this feels more like a wasted opportunity than anything. I felt the same way about “The Family Fang.” I felt the same way about “Perfect Little World.” I also feel the same way about this novel. If you like his work, then this will fit right in, but if you are waiting for him to just knock a book out of the park, the wait continues. Kevin Wilson has home run potential, but he is still fouling off pitches. I will still be reading his work, because it is still quick and entertaining.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday Fiction: When Am I Gonna Lose You

Each Friday I plan to write a story inspired by a song I’ve been listening to. This week is “When Am I Gonna Lose You,” by Local Natives. I loved their first album, Gorilla Manor but kind of lost track of them. They released their fourth record, Violet Street, and they are better now than they were then. Check it out. 

 

1.

Fridays and Saturdays we went to Hugo’s, a club we avoided from Memorial Day to Labor Day because this was when the tourists invaded. They loved to spend the day on the beach with their kids or friends and spend the night out drinking at places Hugo’s. Through the tourist season, it was packed and stupid, and most of us, the year around citizens, spent most of the summer nights on the beach or at house parties. Some of the tourists looked down on us, thought we were less than them because our mothers and fathers worked to keep their vacations running smoothly, but they did not think about how much money we needed to live here all year around in the large houses on the beach. Sure there was a poor section of town, but my father started a bicycle rental business before everyone was doing it, and even though there were some larger houses on the beach, we did live on the beach. My first car was a BMW convertible, an older model with a roof that got stuck when I was trying to take the top down, where I had to get out the car and push on it, but it was still a BMW. Most of the town did not work during the winter, so we went to one of the half dozen colleges during the week that afforded us the opportunity to be home on the weekend.
Hugo’s was a large place, popping in the summer with loud music and alcohol-fueled dance parties. In the winter it was almost like an empty tomb. Some nights they did not even play music. Some Saturdays they closed early. They did not open much between New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. Sure there were always people partying, reuniting after a long week of work or school, a bachelorette party, but most of the time every club in town was a little dead. I liked to go there to drink because it was close to my house, and I liked to be left alone.Valentine’s Day was the passed Tuesday, but Hugo’s was open for any of the Valentine’s Day stragglers. There were a few but the place was half full at best. I was at the bar drinking cheap beer that cost too much and watching people, particularly the girl at the end of the bar, particularly her long legs and arms, particularly her thin jawline that was almost perfectly parallel to the floor but not quite. Her dark hair was pulled back tight and her olive skin looked like it would be soft under my fingers. She was drinking and playing on her phone. Even though the town was fairly large, there was no way that she was someone who lived here. She had to be in for the weekend for some reason. I let her sit for a few drinks before I walked over to her. “Can I get you another?”
She looked up from her phone and studied my face. She had almond shaped eyes that were dark in the lighting, and as she looked me up and down, I knew I wanted to kiss her. I had to do this just right. “Sure.”

“Then we can walk by the ocean. Have you seen it at night yet?”

“I have not.”

“I won’t cause you any trouble either.”

She smiled and the tension she was holding in her shoulders relaxed some. “That’s good. For now.”

We had another drink, and I said, “We can walk from here, but I want you to talk the whole time. Tell me everything about why you are here in the middle of February.”
Her friend met a guy online, and they flew one thousand miles to meet him. She came for moral support, just in case her friend met him and he sucked, they could at least have a week on the beach. She did had not seen this friend for a few days. They have been texting so she was at least still alive but was also falling for this guy. So she had been walking around, looking at the shops that were closed for the season, trying to curb her boredom, trying to stay warm. “I didn’t realize it would be so cold,” she said.

The ocean was loud and dangerous, like the sounds of angels that could be singing the songs of the apocalypse. I said, “Yeah. Not many people come here in the winter.”

“I can see why. I’m freezing.”

I pointed to my house. My parents still had the lights on even though I knew they were in bed. I said, “That’s my house if you want to come over for a while. Warm up a bit.”

“Sure. Why not?” I wrapped my arm around her and pulled her in tight. We hurried to my bedroom.

2.

The morning was bright. She was cocooned under the blankets, and the sun slipped through the open blinds, cascaded on her naked shoulders and neck. I kissed her on the clavicle and she stirred. She turned to me and offered her lips. “Good morning,” I said.

“Hi.”

I had had many of these mornings, especially as a teenager in the summer. The girls came for vacation, spent the night with me after some party, and hurried off to her family and friends for the rest of their holiday. When I looked at her, something about her, made me wish that she could stay. I said, “I’m glad you were there last night.”

“Me too.” She reached over and picked up her phone from beside the bed, checked her messages. “Me too.”

I said, “When do you leave?”

“Actually today. Like this afternoon.”

This was not what I wanted to hear. There were some girls that I spent their entire vacation with them, a weekend or a week, showing them the local hideouts, taking them to parties and bonfires on the beach, promising them we were going to keep in touch, try to make it work out, but we both knew these good intentions were lies. Maybe since we were older now, and I spent less time trying to get one night stand and was more interested in something permanent, I thought distance was not as big of an obstacle as it used to be. I said, “I don’t want you to leave. You just got here.”

She ruffled my hair. “Where were you three days ago when I was ordering pizza in the hotel room, bored to death?”

“Probably watching TV here, bored to death.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should probably go.”

I said, “Well you know. We can keep in touch. You can come back down. It’s much nicer here in a few months.” I did not really know why I was trying to hold onto her so much. I was acting as if his had never happened before.

She said, “We’ll see.”

I watched her get ready, put on her clothes. She had tattoos on her body that I did not notice in the dark, and as I looked at them now, I could not help but think that she had to stay. We could work all of this out. We could learn to surf and I could propose to her at the beach. We could live here, have four kids, be one of those awesome couples everyone knows and envies. I led her through the house, and out the front door. The air was crisp and she shook her head when it hit her face. I did not want to beg her to stay so I said, “I can at least walk with you back to Hugo’s.”

“Actually I’m going back to the hotel. I have the pack. I have the GPS directions on my phone.”

“Okay.”

She looked at me one last time before stepping off the porch. “Thank you for last night. I had a good time.”

My heart was heavy. “Sure,” I said. “Be careful.” I stood on the porch until she was out of sight. She pulled out her phone and studied it the whole time, not once looking back.

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Friday Fiction: “Hot Coals”

I have a goal to write a story based on a song that I’ve had in heavy rotation for the week and post it on Fridays. This week is the Cold War Kids Song, “Hot Coals.” If you don’t listen to the Cold War Kids, what are you even doing with your life? They would be my house band if I was rich enough to have a house band.

Hot Coals

He did not want to wake up, did not want the check his phone, did not want to see what kind of messages might have been left by Cynthia. They had spent most of the night together, until she left around three in the morning to get a nap and some coffee before work. He did not plan for last night to happen the way that it happened, but there were always complications when conversations rumbled toward feelings and raw emotions.

Instead of checking his phone, he went into the living room, turned on the television, and stumbled into the kitchen to get a bowl of cereal. The stumble was less about the slight hangover he had and more about the sleepiness he was walking off. They stayed up late, talking, getting into things that he did not want to get into. Cynthia was always the type of person that wanted him to talk about his feelings for her, tell her everything. He was the type to show her and not tell her anything. He poured milk in the bowl and sat in front of the television to watch whatever was on.

The news was playing footage of a new war in an already war torn country, people walkedthrough rubble and crumble, trying to find something salvageable in their decimated lives. When the news person tried to interview some of the citizens that wore their broken hearts on their faces, most of them did not have many words to say. He watched them give the reporter sad interviews and the reporters asking dumb questions like “How do you feel about losing everything?” and “Do you have plans to go somewhere else?” The people, the humans whose lives had been destroyed overnight, looked at the reporters, looked at the cameras in sheer disbelief in the audacity of the situation. He finished his cereal and took the bowl to the kitchen. The devastation of the entire world played in the background while he rinsed it in the sink, and he felt like a part of it all.

Cynthia came at him last night like she had an agenda, like she knew that there were feelings below the surface the just was not telling her, and all she had to do was make him fumble and pull them out of him. She played his weakness, gave him vodka, steak, and sex before she asked him, “Where do you think this is going?”

“This?” he mumbled.

“Yeah. You and me.” They had been dating for two months, and even though he was not talking to anyone else, he did not want to tell Cynthia everything he was feeling. He did not know if she was ready for all of it, and so he played all of his feelings close to his chest, thought carefully before he replied to any question that might have been a trap to get him to expound on his thoughts, and played humble. This night, everything felt different. Maybe it was the state of the world, the war stuck on repeat and turning into normalcy and turning everyday citizens into shocked news interviews, that made him open his mouth.

He opened his mouth and the words tumbed out. “I don’t know. I think there’s something going on between you and me that I could consider to be special and lasting. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of permanence in life amymore, so I’m glad that I have you because I want you around for a long time.”

They were lying in bed, naked, and Cynthia propped herself up on an elbow, turned completely toward him. The look on Cynthia’s face made him understand that he went too far. Her smile was so wide and her eyes were so big that she had taken his turn of phrase, like a pin in a grenade and pulled it. “Are you serious?”
He wanted to say that she was getting a little ahead of herself, but Cynthia’s look made him think it was easier just to say, “Yeah,” and move on.
The bedroom exploded. “We’re getting married!” She was on top of him, jumping up and down, kissing him on the lips, screeching. He smiled along with her excitement, and at the time, in that moment, he thought that even though he did not mean to give her the impression of a long term commitment, he had made the right choice. He was not going to stop all of the celebration. Cynthia said, “I need to tell my friends. When are you going to get a ring?”
He did not have anything else to say. He let her go on the phone, call her best friends, tell them the news, while he walked around the apartment, wondering what he was going to do next. After she was done, they stayed up until she had to leave, mostly listening to Cynthia, telling him about their future plans. He stayed silent and let her talk, which was his most comfortable position.
With the idea that his girlfriend wanted to get married so quickly rolling around in his head, he sat in front of the news again. He did not want to check his phone, did not want to know what might be on it. The news coverage still panned over the rubble of the destroyed city, everything ruined. His mind raced through the problems that he did not want to face. He could tell her it was all a mistake, but then maybe it was not a mistake. In a world that was this fucked up, he needed to cling to someone so that he did not meet the apocalypse alone, but maybe he should tell her that the conversation last night was a mistake, that they needed to give it a break so that he could figure out exactly what he wanted. This was a better idea, to take some time with his now complicated feelings. Did he really want to marry her? Did he even love her like that? Was he holding onto her because he did not want to be alone?
He thought about this long enough to grab his phone. He was going to send her a message, tell her that they needed to reevaluate the things that they discussed last night. He unlocked the screen and the first thing he saw was a message from Cynthia. “Babe. I haven’t told you this yet, but you’ve made me the happiest woman in the world. I should’ve told you this in person, but I can’t wait to spend my life with you. I love you.”
He reread the message a dozen times. She had not told him that she loved him until then. Now he had no choice. He took a deep breath and typed, “I love you too.”

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Review: Correspondents by Tim Murphy

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Hardcover, 448 pages
Published May 15th 2019 by Grove Press
ISBN
0802129374 (ISBN13: 9780802129376)

 

Buy now at: Amazon Barnes & Noble IndieBound

Synopsis:

The world is Rita Khoury’s oyster. The bright and driven daughter of a Boston-area Irish-Arab family that has risen over the generations from poor immigrants to part of the coastal elite, Rita grows up in a 1980s cultural mishmash. Corned beef and cabbage sit on the dinner table alongside stuffed grape leaves and tabooleh, all cooked by Rita’s mother, an Irish nurse who met her Lebanese surgeon husband while working at a hospital together. The unconventional yet close-knit family bonds over summers at the beach, wedding line-dances, and a shared obsession with the Red Sox. Rita charts herself an ambitious path through Harvard to one of the best newspapers in the country. She is posted in cosmopolitan Beirut and dates a handsome Palestinian would-be activist. But when she is assigned to cover the America-led invasion of Baghdad in 2003, she finds herself unprepared for the warzone. Her lifeline is her interpreter and fixer Nabil al-Jumaili, an equally restless young man whose dreams have been restricted by life in a deteriorating dictatorship, not to mention his own seemingly impossible desires. As the war tears Iraq apart, personal betrayal and the horrors of conflict force Rita and Nabil out of the country and into twisting, uncertain fates. What lies in wait will upend their lives forever, shattering their own notions of what they’re entitled to in a grossly unjust world.

Epic in scope, by turns satirical and heartbreaking, and speaking sharply to America’s current moment, Correspondents is a whirlwind story about displacement from one’s own roots, the violence America promotes both abroad and at home, and the resilience that allows families to remake themselves and endure even the most shocking upheavals.

Review:

Tim Murphy’s last book “Christodora” is one of the most memorable novels I have read in a long time. When I saw that he had another book being released, I was excited to delve into the it. “Correspondents” has some elements of the same style of book. It is a large, sweeping novel across several decades, involving a unique cast of characters and plots that are just devastating, but also very political. “Correspondents” has two main threads. The first is the journey of Rita Khoury, a Irish-Arab American who goes from college to being a correspondent in the middle east. When Bush invades Iraq after 9-11, she is sent to be a reporter. This is when the second main thread appears. Nabil al-Jumaili is a young man, obsessed with English novels, and through his cousin, he gets a job of being Rita’s interpreter. This novel is filled with danger (political and physical), and even though it took me a long time to get through this, the journey is just so rewarding, that I suggest anyone to take the same trip. What you will see if that “Correspondents” is an example of how there is no clear cut answer to any political situation, that regardless of whether you think you are doing the right thing, there are people who will disagree, who will get hurt in the process, and will think that the solutions are not nearly as simple as they seem.

Murphy’s biggest achievement in this novel is incorporating every side of an argument. We are not just shown one political side of the fallout to the War on Terrorism, but he shows several. It is like this is not Murphy’s vehicle to show the reader how he feels about things politically, but he is just a correspondent as well. He is just showing the reader all of the different sides, how all of them have flaws, and his job is just to illustrate the situation, not portray one side as completely wrong and one side completely right. He does a good job in telling the story in a way that illustrates there are several nuances to all of the situations, and this means nobody is 100% right. The objectivity is something that makes this a good novel. Honestly I stay away from Iraq stories most of the time, but this is one that I will remember as being influential and well structured.

Tim Murphy is criminally under-read. Based on the merits of this novel and “Christodora”, he has hit a home run with two straight novels. The world needs to take notice.

I received this as an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Fiction: Finished Projects

He was sick of everyone and everyone was sick of him. After he yelled at everyone for a solid twenty minutes,  he sat backstage, on a almost broken stool that he dug out of a pile of discarded show props, and watched all of the actors and stagehands scurry around, destroying everything. They had swore to him at the beginning of production that they were going to respect the material, but he knew now this was all a lie. The pack of cigarettes were getting crumpled in his hand, and he was smoking one cigarette after another, putting them out on the bottom edge of the “No Smoking” sign he sat underneath. He liked to think the would have been forgotten if it were not for the stench of cigarette smoke that wafted throughout the backstage area, but nobody could ignore the shadow lurking in the cloud of smoke.

At one point, this entire thing was his idea, his dream. He had spent so much time sitting at the kitchen table, a small glass of whiskey, a overfilling ashtray, and papers scribbled all over in his tight but sloppy handwriting. He wrote all through the night, until the sunlight started to shine through the window in front of him bright enough for him to see his yellow stained fingers. He worked until he was so tired that he could not be happy anymore. In eight months, he was able to write the play, rewrite the ending, and figure out how all of it was going to work.

The play was based on a novel, the novel being a 517 page novel tome after being translated from the French. The entire novel was one sentence. One 517 page sentence. When he was shown this novel by one of his friends at the bookstore he always visited but rarely bought from, he knew that he had to splurge and make an exception. He spent many days trying to weed through the prose, the pages and pages with no breaks, and thinking that this would be the most glorious project to bring to the stage. He read it again. And again. After the third time, he had his impressions of what he wanted, and he started writing. His mania over this project consumed him. He only stopped for short naps and long strolls through the garden that belonged to the widow with the house across the apartment parking lot.

The widow was prematurely hunched and continuously mourning the death of her husband at the age of 54 to a heart attack. She spent most of her life in that garden, tending to the flowers and the bushes that she named as they grew. He had not lived in this apartment building very long before he met her. These were the days when he could not sleep and spent many nights walking around the neighborhood, smoking and enjoying the darkness. The widow sat on her front porch and nodded to him a few times before he walked up to join her. He offered her cigarettes. She offered him gin from a coffee mug. They did not talk much until she had refilled the mug three or four times. She then talked about her late husband, Barry, and how he worked hard and tried to make her feel loved, but nobody could ever loved her in the way that she wanted to be loved. This made him raise his eyebrows, but she did not elaborate. Barry loved her enough to when the house between her current home and the apartment building parking lot came up for sale, Barry bought the house, tore it down, leveled the land, and gave it to her to make her own garden. He asked if she thought this was something that proved Barry’s love to her. She said, “No,” but did not explain. He did not push into their relationship, just sat and watched the cars sporadically drive down the street or the kids in the neighborhood running down the sidewalks, hooting and hollering in the dark because it was summer and summer meant no more fucking rules. He started the play in the fall when it was too cold to sit outside and wonder about Barry, wondering it he was looking down and trying to find a way to prove his love to his widow from the afterlife.

While he rocked back and forth on the wobbly bar stool, smoked, and watched the play that he had written turn into something he did not recognize anymore, he wondered if anything that you love ever ends up the way that you hope it will. He loved the book, he loved his play, he loved the process of searching for funding, the crew, and the actors that would bring his vision to life. He did not expect them to discard everything he had worked on, except for the bare bones construction of the play. It was as if the things that he had been doing all along, reading this novel, dissecting the sentences, even using some of the diagramming stills he learned in grade school to understand the parts he was not clear on describing, taking three years of his life to get through this project, from first reading the book to this moment, being tired but satisfied at all times, all of these things were a wast of time. They did not hesitate to just take it and turn it into something he did not even recognize.

He did not know what he was going to do. He did not know if he should fight to change it back, or just quit. Let them have the whole thing. He had heard this was the way plays and movies went; most of the time they are changed beyond recognition. He prepared for this, but while he watched them bringing in the props, the octopus that was never mentioned in the text or the maiden dressed in period clothing when this was originally a contemporary story, he wondered why he was even upset. This was sense of sadness  that did not surprise him, but he could not help it. He tried to remember the feeling he had when he finished his first draft, the way he took the rest of the bottle of whiskey to the widow next door, and they took turns, taking pulls from the bottle, skipping the glasses all together. He remembered the way that they shared cigarettes until they were all gone. The way he put both of his hands on her cheeks and kissed her on the lips, her breath sweet from the whiskey but being able to taste the death and grief in her soul. He was so far away from this excitement, and there was no going back. The only thing he could do was put out his cigarette, slip out of the stage door, and leave the building. Leave it up to everyone else to finish this project. He was done.

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Review: Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons

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208 pages
Expected publication: August 13th 2019 by Vintage
Preorder Here:

Synopsis:

With raw, poetic ferocity, Kimberly King Parsons exposes desire’s darkest hollows—those hidden places where most of us are afraid to look. In this debut collection of enormously perceptive and brutally unsentimental short stories, Parsons illuminates the ache of first love, the banality of self-loathing, the scourge of addiction, the myth of marriage, and the magic and inevitable disillusionment of childhood.

Taking us from hot Texas highways to cold family kitchens, from the freedom of pay-by-the-hour motels to the claustrophobia of private school dorms, these stories erupt off the page with a primal howl—sharp-voiced, bitter, and wise. Black Light contains the type of storytelling that resonates somewhere deep, in the well of memory that repudiates nostalgia.

Review:

I’m not always a fan of short story collections because I feel like I know what I’m getting. Some stories will be good, some stories will be bad, and I will have to grind my teeth through the ones I don’t like hoping that the next will be better. By the fourth story in the debut collection by Kimberly King Parsons, I knew that this is different. This is the rare collection of short stories that are all incredible. There is no variation in quality. They are all incredible.

Most of these stories are about people who are flawed in ways that are not always seen by the naked eye. Even though the collection is titled after one of the stories, “Black Light” is a perfect metaphor for the way Kimberly King Parsons writes all of these characters. A black light brings out the glaring flaws, the dirt and stains that are under the surface and not always visible with the naked eye. The way that King Parsons writes these stories, as if she is not a writer but a spirit, a haunt that has possessed these characters long enough to A) know all of their secrets, insecurities, and motivations and B) make them do her bidding, really draws the reader into these lives, and quite honestly create worlds that are so detailed in such a short space that anyone trying to write great stories and novels should try to dissect these stories to figure out how it is done.

All of these stories are sad, sometimes tragic, sometimes upsetting, but there is not a single time when I did not feel a connection to what was happening and the outcome. I loved so many of the sentences, so many of the scenes, so many of the bad decisions and tension, and I honestly will be looking forward to reading all of Kimberly King Parson’s works in the future.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Film that Terrified A Rattled Nation by Joseph Lanza

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Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 21st 2019 by Skyhorse
ISBN
1510737901 (ISBN13: 9781510737907

Buy it at

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

IndieBound

 

Synopsis: 

When Tobe Hooper’s low-budget slasher film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, opened in theaters in 1974, it was met in equal measure with disgust and reverence. The film—in which a group of teenagers meet a gruesome end when they stumble upon a ramshackle farmhouse of psychotic killers—was outright banned in several countries and was pulled from many American theaters after complaints of its violence. Despite the mixed reception from critics, it was enormously profitable at the domestic box office and has since secured its place as one of the most influential horror movies ever made. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times, cultural critic Joseph Lanza turns his attentions to the production, reception, social climate, and impact of this controversial movie that rattled the American psyche.

Joseph Lanza transports the reader back to the tumultuous era of the 1970s defined by political upheaval, cultural disillusionment, and the perceived decay of the nuclear family in the wake of Watergate, the onslaught of serial killers in the US, as well as mounting racial and sexual tensions. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times sets the themes of the film against the backdrop of the political and social American climate to understand why the brutal slasher flick connected with so many viewers. As much a book about the movie as the moment, Joseph Lanza has created an engaging and nuanced work that grapples with the complications of the American experience.

 

Review:

When people ask, “What is the best horror movie of all time?” there are usually two answers. They are  Halloween (1978) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). I might be partial in reviewing this book because I am strongly in the corner of Texas Chainsaw Massacre being the best horror movie ever made. I might be partial in saying that without The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there is no Halloween. Most of the reason for my love of Texas Chainsaw Massacre is because the quality, the way that it is shot, and the way that it feels like a documentary exploitation film instead of a movie. There has been many book and films that delve into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the struggles during filming, and the culture impact of the distribution and reaction to the film. Joseph Lanza hits on these things but his exploration of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a little different than any other I have read.

Joseph Lanza makes a strong case that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not so much a horror movie as it is a reflection of the things that are happening in the world at the time of filming. From American politics to Texas serial killers, Lanza argues that a film like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre coming out in this time only made sense. This is a movie that gained traction because it is nothing more than a mirror to the way America was living and this terrified the audience the most. Honestly the horror of the movie starts with a hitchhiker. Lanza mentions that at this time, there is a fear of picking up hitchhikers, that something that was seen in the 60s as a culturally acceptable thing has turned into something dangerous. So the whole idea of picking up the man was something that was a new danger. This is just an example of the depths of the fear that the Texas Chainsaw Massacre explores. For the modern horror fanatic, this is a great history, showing that what we see as a great movie actually has so much cultural nuance and importance that it makes it even scarier. I might be partial because I love this film and will just about read anything about it. I can see where some people just might not be into it, but for anyone who loves horror movies, even if Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not your favorite film, this is mandatory reading.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Other thoughts:

I find this interesting, but it also makes me think that many of the newer movies are using this same formula, not even in such a subtle way. One film that comes to mind now is Assassination Nation. In this movie, all of the data from phones are hacked and made public. This turns everyone in a town against each other and all hell breaks loose. This is classified as a horror movie because the entire idea is one of the most frightening ideas that I’ve ever seen. At the beginning of the film, I thought that it was going to be about a group of obnoxious teenagers, but as the story unfolds, the culture significance becomes so strong and the movie turns into a great example of the way that people react to events and conflict in today’s culture. This movie feels like Texas Chainsaw Massacre in some ways. Most of the film is a reflection on the ways that we are failing as a nation, and even though there is no real solution in sight, films like these are important as markers in the way that society is changing and becoming more and more frightening.

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