In early February I shared a YouTube video of the books I had hoped to read over the next few months, and I am pleased to say that I have actually finished some of them in time to add them to this installment of Stacked.
Stacked is a monthly column that originated over at Haute Macabre, but this month it’s visiting Unquiet Things. My beloved Stacked cohorts, Sonya and Maika, won’t be joining me today, but no doubt they will be stopping by with some excellent books to share and recommend next time around!
The Houseguest and other Stories by Amparo Davila. It’s difficult to say what these strange slice-of-life snippets are about, the characters are often fearful of something nameless, or if their dread and paranoia does appear to focus on something concrete, whatever that is, it probably won’t make any sense. I would suggest these ominous visions are best experienced in the lull of liminal hours for people keen on terse tales of inexpressible unease and unidentifiable weirdness.
*Bonus! I discovered a new perfume within these pages, tracked it down, and did a TikTok review for it!*
The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni What begins as a fairytale, dream-come-true when Bert learns that she is the sole heir to a mysterious, massive inheritance, to include a title of nobility and a castle(!!) in a secluded region of Italy, shortly takes a treacherous turn when she becomes a prisoner to her family’s strange secrets and fraught, complicated legacy. A legacy which, unbeknownst to Bert, had been passed down to her, carried inside her even, for her entire life. When I note that initially, this story felt a bit predictable, I don’t mean that in a bad way, and I don’t knock off any points for that (not that I really use a point system for these reviews, so I don’t know exactly what I mean by that.) I suppose what I am saying is that there are a number of gothic situations, characters, and tropes employed in this story, which might make it feel like many other stories you’ve read.
Aside from ruined castles, sinister secrets, and unknown identities, this includes a heroine who, for a time, seems without quite agency, who flutters away to wherever the wind takes her, who things seem to happen to, and though perhaps curious about it, who appears to have no control over her own destiny. All of which renders The Ancestor comfortably familiar for a rainy evening read… until all of a sudden, due to the evolution of the character (and some ideas with regard to evolution in general that I am not going to spoil) you realize this is NOT where you expected the story to go and what the heck is going on, even? Definitely adding imaginary points back onto my rating for keeping me on my toes!
Home Before Dark by Riley Sager I was much more engaged with this book than I was the last thing I read from Riley Sager, Final Girl, which I reviewed in a Stacked back in 2018 or so. But I’m always a sucker for a haunted house story and the haunted people who roam their corridors, and Home Before Dark was a pretty solid effort in this regard. (Although I am still not sure what the title has to do with any part of the book. Did I miss something? If you read this and have an answer for me, let me know!)
Maggie grew up in the shadow of her father’s bestselling horror memoir and has very little memory of that time–although she suspects the book, and her parents, are full of baloney with regard to the supernatural aspects of the house and the brief time they spent within its walls. Maggie’s no-nonsense demeanor coupled with what we learn about the tragic history of the house and its deeply troubled former inhabitants makes this seem more like a Lifetime murder mystery than a creepy horror novel, but it was a quick, entertaining read, anyhow.
Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman by Rebecca Tamás. Strangers is an exploration of the world and our relationship with nature through a series of essays linking the environmental, the political, the folkloric and the historical. It felt like a deeply necessary, urgent read for all human people anywhere along their journey, who wish to experience life and living in a profoundly intimate and compassionate way. There is one particular essay about a cockroach that I highly recommend. And that is a sentence I never could have foreseen myself typing out.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones I love Stephen Graham Jones’ ideas and imagination and everything he writes about, and this story of a group of friends being haunted by a vengeful elk woman is no exception. Where I run into trouble, I think, is due to this author’s unique writing style that …while I’m not going to say it is “hard to follow”, it’s somewhat “hard to binge.” And so I ended up reading this book and his other offerings in disjointed fits and starts.
SGJ’s prose, the narration as well as the dialogue, it feels so internal and intimate…like observations and jokes and commentary that he has only with himself, and while I love that he trusts his audience is smart enough, intuitive enough to follow along, I will admit, sometimes I lose my way inside it. Such is the case for the first two-thirds of The Only Good Indians, by the time you’ve acclimated yourself to the landscape of his language you’re in luck, because that’s when the action really starts.
Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi I was reminded of having rented from Blockbuster (!!) and watched Perfect Blue many many years ago when I recently spied it on someone’s goodreads list and realized that the film I had seen was either originally based on a book, or that there was a book adaptation of the film. Intrigued, I found a copy online and probably paid too much for it, because it is not easily available. For those unfamiliar, the basic premise is that there is a cute Japanese pop idol, Mima who is working to transform her image to something a little more mature and risque, and this does not sit well with an obsessed fan who desperately wants her to remain “pure” and thinks he has a plan to save her soul.
After finishing the book I immediately had to rewatch the movie just last night because aside from the very basic plot I just gave you, they are handled so differently. The movie (directed by Satoshi Kon, who also did the fantastically bizarre Paprika) was a surreal psychological thriller in which there are actually several characters who are experiencing unraveling mental states or are losing/have lost their grip on reality. It’s not just got an eerie vibe, it’s downright sinister feeling in certain scenes. The book itself is much more straight-forward in terms of being a stalker/slasher story. If you like twisty and thinky and strange, go for the movie. If you like twisted and gruesome served straight up, then go for the book.
*Bonus: Andrea and Alex discuss Perfect Blue in the most recent episode of Faculty of Horror*