It’s getting into that spooky time of year, so for this week’s TBT I decided to look back at “Lazy Sunday LVIII: Spring Break Short Story Recommendations Recap.” I spent most of my Spring Break this year reading horror short stories, writing reviews about and recommendations for some of the better stories I read.
I won’t do much more editorializing than that, as the original post is quite lengthy and detailed. I will add that I love short stories, and find the form chillingly effective for horror. The brevity and concision of the form encourages horror writers to deliver chills and terror straightaway, and allows for frights to be the focus.
With that, here is “Lazy Sunday LVIII: Spring Break Short Story Recommendations Recap“:
Spring Break is (essentially) over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep reading fun stuff! Today’s Lazy Sunday, perhaps predictably, is going to look back at my Spring Break Short Story Recommendations mini-series. I’ll also include which of these stories was my favorite of the week.
These are strange times to be a politics blogger. The Virus holds sway over every discussion, almost absorbing as much mental mind-share as President Trump. It’s interesting that the same people who are obsessed with Trump are also the very same people that fetishize The Virus. It’s the same kind of magical thinking: just as Trump is the cause of all of their problems, so The Virus is the means by which they can exert more social and governmental control over the rest of us.
As such, writing about politics and The Virus has grown dull—and wearying. Thus, this past week’s diversion into more harmless horror stories.
But I digress. Let’s get on with the recap!
- “Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part I: ‘The Judge’s House’” – The chilling tale of Malcolm Malcolmson, the diligent mathematics student in search of total isolation, the better to pore over his textbooks. Malcolmson takes quarters in the titular house in a distant town, but runs afoul of a demonic rat with a “baleful” eye. Very spooky mood setting from a true master of horror, Bram Stoker.
- “Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part II: ‘Thus I Refute Beelzy’” – A short, skin-crawlingly creepy little story from John Collier. In just five brief pages, this story depicts a troubled youngster—likely in league with Satan—and his overbearing, hyper-rationalist, abusive father. The ending is satisfying, but the implication is even more horrifying.
- “Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part III: ‘Seven American Nights’” – A non-horror entry in the week, this story is a bit of sci-fi travel fiction. A young Iranian visits a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C., that is grasping to hold onto a nation irreparably in decline. It’s an eerie bit of role reversal, as the Third World is on top, and America sinks into mutated decadence.
- “TBT: Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mother Hive’” & “Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Mother Hive’” (Original Post) – This post is more of an “honorable mention,” as I wrote about it last summer. But when you blog everyday, as I do, you’re not going to pass up the chance to reblog every Thursday (seriously, it saves a ton of time). Regardless, this tale definitely fits the theme: an insidious wax-moth begins filling the heads of vulnerable young bees with sweet, silky lies, much like a public school English teacher. Soon, the once-proud high is on the verge of collapse, with mutated and invalid “Oddities” born in greater numbers. It’s a shocking allegory—or Aesopian fable—that ends in flames, with a cautiously optimistic coda.
- “Spring Break Short Story Recommendations, Part IV: ‘The Shed’” – I described this small-town tale as proto-Stephen King: young boys work together to investigate the disappearance of a local dog—and to overcome a mysterious, malevolent evil, The Shadow.
Naturally, I recommend all of these stories—that’s why their recommendations, after all—but which one do I deem the best of the bunch?
It’s a tough call, as they’re great tales, but I’ve got to go with Bram Stoker’s “The Judge’s House.” It’s one of the longer stories in this collection, but it builds the mood and the suspense so deftly, and fleshes out the characters just so, that Stoker paints a vivid picture.
I wrote in the original post that I thought Malcolm Malcolmson, the young mathematics student, was a bit one-dimensional. I would now revise that assessment. I listened to an audio recording of the story, and Stoker paints Malcolmson in a very humane manner. At first, he comes across as the hyper-driven student, which he is, but there’s also depth to his kindness and youthful optimism. He enjoys his late tea and his cigarette by the fire, and treats everyone in Benchurch humanely.
It’s not much, but it makes you root for Malcolmson all through the crisis and the grand finale, which is terrifying and gripping.
“The Judge’s House” was my clear favorite. After that, it’s tough to tell. Dropping out “Seven American Nights”—it’s not a horror story—and “The Mother Hive”—a story rife with horror, but not quite in the genre”—it’s a very tough call between “Thus I Refute Beelzy” and “The Shed” for second place.
“The Shed” is quite good, and benefits from the kind of development of character, setting, and mood as “The Judge’s House.” But the story that really sticks with me—that I can’t stop thinking about—is “Thus I Refute Beelzy.”
It’s easy to write a lot. It’s extremely difficult to write very little, and to do it well. Collier makes it look easy with “Thus I Refute Beelzy.” It’s an exceptionally weird, unsettling story, especially because The Devil (or some demonic imaginary friend) is the hero of the story—sort of. You’ve got it read it—or listen to Vincent Price read it, which is even better.
Happy Sunday Reading!
Final Order, Based on TPP’s Favorites:
1.) “The Judge’s House”
2.) “Thus I Refute Beelzy”
3.) “The Mother Hive” (and also Honorable Mention)
4.) “The Shed”
5.) “Seven American Nights”
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