So, something I’m thinking of doing now. Every Wednesday, I’ll just go over a shortstory I read during the week and everything. Not much of a review, per se. Much more like a conversation with the work.
Think back a bit, back to childhood a bit. When I walk around late at night, searching the streetlamps and the doors lit up in the shadows. I sense something sinister in those hours, but also a faint beauty and this pulse of the world. It makes me think of shadow alleys and how in Scooby Doo it’s never daylight, is it? It’s always night. Or the covers of Nancy Drew, or Hardy Boys. Also darkness, always night.
And something sinister in those streetlamp shadows. Encyclopedia Brown and the rest, all of them solving mysteries. All of them seeming to take place in a gothic world, painted only in darkness. They hint at horrible things. Like murder, curses, pirates, and ghost. But they never fully commit, do they? Like all good gothics, the ghosts are humans in costumes. The pirates just scheming neighbors. The supernatural is a farce. And the murder is more of a promise than an actuality.
One of my favorite kinds of stories are ones that take the bones of these teen detective myths and bring them into the true beating heart of horror. Kelly Link’s The Girl Detective. The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno. There is something to this, something that stranges the world. That takes in childhood nostalgia and twists it up, makes it strange. It weirds it in such wonderful ways.
In the End it Always Turns Out the Same by AC Wise is this kind of story. There is a danger to this, isn’t it? Playing with not just the nostalgia, not just with the tradition of teen detective stories, but also with the other meta-stories that do the same thing. It is not just a conversation with a conversation, but instead becomes a conversation about that conversation. It needs to move it around, change things up.
Another interesting bit: missing children. Another bit of genre fiction twist up. Another kind of story I find interesting, and unique, but also containing that same danger. You can’t just have a story that has a conversation with other missing children stories now, can you? So many other stories are having that same meta-conversation, with Peter Straub’s Lost Boy/Lost Girl being the main key that seems to take it down, peel it apart, wrap it around itself.
You need to have a conversation with the conversation with the stories having the conversation. It twists around itself. It becomes a snake, a serpent. A beating heart. There are puzzles and keys. I walk around this late night hour. See those halo of street car lights bursting the shadows? Almost a darting form of a missing child in the night.
It also plays with monsters, and yes the main character calls out to my heart when she says she will grow up to be a monster someday. Already the narratives are crumbling and calling out to each other. The meta-ness is stranging itself. It’s moving beyond meta into the core weird. Not a cutesy story, but instead a slippery story. A destabilizing story.
The best conversation stories are like this. They don’t call out to the ones who came before in simplistic ways that are meant to calm and liquify and nothing more (Ready Player One, Stranger Things), but instead use the symbols we already know to throw us off balance. They bring in things that we feel should work one way, but instead start to erode. Change.
Making monsters in our thoughts. For example, what good girl detective thinks of murdering her Scooby Squad? And yet, that thought appears here, and we are slipping away. The humor is sly, unsettling. The dark kind that laughs with a grimace. The kind that makes me feel something shift in the core of my being.
Another example. Disguises. Ghosts and monsters in disguise. And here, we see an old man who is normal, yet. He looks like a monster in disguise. His suit a human suit, and everything is subtly off. Because we’re playing with known tropes here, this unsettles even more. It takes the idea of disguises, of the whole gothic fake monster, and it turns it inside out. We are unnerved. A wonderful sensation. To be unnerved. A pleasant chill, wasn’t that what M. R. James said? To feel everything become just wrong, wrong. Not wrong not right. Just wrong.
His father died when he was eight years old, but his mother kept the clothes in a trunk in the attic, waiting for him to grow.
And lines like this have weight to them. It’s odd how the reality mixing with the familiar beats of a girl detective story notches that unsettling factor more and more. Knot twisted shut on the real. Tiny earthquakes in your perception.
He doesn’t remember the growing part.
Do we ever? Try to remember growing. The ache of your bones. The way your skin scratched and you sloughed off dead cells. Try to remember the muscles tightening as your skeleton stretched them out.
And the ones we think of monsters never really are. They are just trying to help the dead. This story is not just a conversation with a conversation with a conversation. It instead uses the tools of genre to destabilize the familiar. Making the very bones of genre itself weird.