The Stepford Wives: Why Ira Levin was a Master of Suspense

stepfordwivesFirst and foremost: if you don’t know what The Stepford Wives is about, don’t look it up; the plot twist is damn near everywhere you hear the story talked about. It’s difficult to not spoil. And if you pick up the newer edition with the introduction by Peter Straub (pictured here,) do not read said introduction. Straub takes away all the surprise before you are even given the chance to enjoy it.

That being said, I won’t be spoiling anything. Let’s jump in.

When most people mention foundational stories in horror and suspense literature, seldom do I ever hear mention of Ira Levin. Arguably, Levin is best known for his novel Rosemary’s Baby, which isn’t what I recommend to readers who want to begin exploring his work, mostly because the pacing and development. However, many of Levin’s other works are as sharp as they come—even if they take time to build up suspense.

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My New Short Story & Upcoming Reviews

DB-AUTUMN-2018Just wanted to let you know: I’ve been writing. Lots. One of my new suspense/horror pieces, “I Want You,” is now available in DimensionBucket Magazine #1 as an ebook. This issue also features many other talented authors in genre fiction, so I highly recommend checking out this project for an assortment of voices and thrilling tales.

I’ve also been reading a lot, as you would expect, and I plan to review most of what I read here on this blog. Some upcoming titles to look forward to include The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, and Bad Ronald by Jack Vance. These will come along between any new short stories and books I release.

Thank you for staying tuned. It’s exciting to be back at the desk, and I look forward to seeing what you think of the new content!

Review of “Come Closer” by Sara Gran

51B2yAly-TL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_It’s no secret that, when executed well, I love demonic possession stories. But seldom is the execution ever close enough to the mark for me; it’s a difficult type of story to write. I love Blatty’s The Exorcist, and it’s unfortunate to me that most books in the sub-genre tend to fall into the same kinds of plotlines.

Strange sounds begin. Random things are found missing. The blame is put on coincidence or carelessness. Then these strange events ramp up and grow increasingly hopeless until “Well I guess we can call an exorcist.” An exorcism is performed, insane, disturbing stuff goes down, and then everything’s okay. The demon’s gone, and life continues—mostly unaltered.

If ever you need a formula for a demon possession story, there it is.

Sara Gran has admittedly taken a very different approach to exploring these tropes. The setting is definitely contemporary (though at one point it’s revealed that Edward, the husband in this story, doesn’t have a cellphone. Perhaps the 80’s or 90’s?) The novel is also told from the first person, which is unique choice in this case.

The book starts on a great note—suggesting the horror that is to come, while also displaying Gran’s skills as a humorist. I accidentally discovered Come Closer after seeing it pop up on Amazon, and after being drawn to reading the first couple pages on a whim, it had me hooked. Gran makes this a riveting story with very short chapters, and wastes no time with the details.

The humor soon fades, however, and it’s clear this isn’t a cheery bedtime story. Our protagonist, Amanda, is slowly consumed by the demonic evil that finds her to be the perfect vessel. That’s all you should know going in, and that’s all I’ll say on the plot.

What I Liked

There was a lot that initially impressed me with this book. The chapters are short and addictive, and I blasted through this book quickly without ever finding a dull moment. While I can’t say there were moments that were especially surprising, some of the classic possession tropes were used creatively. To be more specific: there’s a scene that involves lipstick that assists conveying an intriguing subtext that plays out in the background.

Gran’s writing style (or I guess Amanda’s writing style?) is very simple. Blunt. Direct. It almost reminds me of Ira Levin’s work in that sense. Levin has a way of being clear and upfront in his portrayal of “ordinary” settings that creates excellent suspense and contrast with the horror in his work—and you can see a little bit of influence here. Certain scenes stand out as being especially chilling; there’s one involving spiritual visualization, and another with one of Amanda’s friends that build a surreal and disturbing atmosphere.

Finally, the ending has an excellent resounding note that stuck in my mind long after I’d finished the last few lines. The subtext of this story is really the gem that is to be found, and it’s what separates Come Closer from all the other possession stories out there. It raises a pretty chilling question: if one is possessed by desire and obsessed with an idea, is it any less of a possession than one that is demonic? And would it mean on some level, that we are all possessed in some way?

What I Didn’t Like

Unfortunately, the fast-paced execution of this story is also a problem. It’s addictive to read, but leaves a lot to be desired in the way of emotional connection to the characters. I love what’s here in Come Closer, but more character development and expanding on certain ideas could have gone a long way. Classic ghost stories often take their time to build dread and let the evil steadily grow more present, but here a lot of that potential is missed out on for the sake of telling things as quickly as possible.

Although I appreciate the writing style being blunt as I mentioned earlier, this story lacks subtlety—and this is an even bigger issue. Some of the dread that is missing could easily be returned by suggesting or implying certain things happening—instead of just telling the reader directly like Amanda’s character does many times. It completely destroys the mystery that would have made made plenty of scenes more effective. For example, without spoiling anything, there’s a scene that involves our main character and an irate magazine stand owner. Amanda makes no secret of what she did (or what she thinks she did) in that scene, and the whole bit flops as a result. Amanda just nonchalantly moves on with telling her story, leaving the reader to think “eh, whatever,” and move along with her.

It’s also impossible to ignore certain character reactions and situations that seem unrealistic/unlikely or “convenient” to the plot. Not as big a gripe, but one I can’t disregard.

Furthermore, the edition I read (the first edition hardcover) is riddled with errors. It’s not as bad as some things I’ve read, and it’s nigh on impossible to have a perfect manuscript, but this needed another couple passes in the editing house. These errors were blatant and in enough numbers for me to mention them, so I think that says enough.

The Final Verdict

Come Closer is worth checking out. It has issues, and it’s not the most original or groundbreaking story, but I could enjoy it despite the flaws. I’d say if it’s at your local library, or if you can get a good deal with the ebook or print copies, give it a shot. Avoid the hype and keep your expectations low. It’s a short book anyway, so if it’s not for you, there isn’t much time at stake.

Check out Come Closer on Amazon

We Just Wanted a Dog

There are plenty of sounds you would never want to hear. Sounds that scratch at your eardrums like airborne razors. I can’t stand the squeal of bicycle brakes, or the cries of my neighbor’s three-month-old child. Nails on a chalkboard? You kidding me? I’d take that any day.

That’s part of the reason we never had a child. My husband doesn’t see a father looking in the mirror, and me? The few glimpses of the future I’ve seen never had our own little thing that would grow up to be its own. I never could imagine it. But for that reason, a few years ago now, we adopted a whippet—Jeffers.

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