We all have our prejudices, I suppose. I really dislike things written in the present tense, for the most part. It’s fine to add a little spice or create a sense of urgency. For an entire book, it can be a little difficult for me to take. I find it oddly distracting. I finished “Cunning Folk” this week, and I was going to write about it as a longer entry, but I stopped taking notes toward the end and kind of rushed it as I just wanted the thing to conclude. The idea is interesting enough– evil neighbors who turn out to actually be witches. The author (Adam Nevill) explains in an afterward that he’s tapping into the unfortunate experience some people have with unpleasant neighbors. It’s not a bad premise, and as horror goes, a fairly original one.
Ultimately, the clang of the present tense, along with a few other choices just made this a thing that’s not for me, and as I have stated before, it’s not the purpose of this blog just to tear something down. It’s entirely possible to read this through a different lens, I am stuck with my own, and that one wasn’t enamored by it. There were a few opportunities for interesting turns in the plot, they never happened; the neighbors were awful, but I was never frightened by them. The protagonists were well written, and you do get a sense of the tensions and difficulties they are undertaking as the novel begins, and that carries through, which is ultimately the reason I finished the book (that, and it’s relatively short1).
Being ‘scary’ is a difficult thing; and what frightens one individual may not frighten you. I have never, for example, found any of the Friday the 13th movies scary– I’m not even convinced they are meant to be (especially by the end of the series), but I do know of some people who do. As for what does scare me, I’ll leave that for another time.
Moving slowly through Moby Dick; my band has an upcoming gig, so we’re deep in practice mode, meaning my time for whale hunting is limited. I’m on chapter 38– “Dusk”. We’ve moved through the first of the ‘encyclopedia’ chapters “Cetology” where we get a description of the various kinds of whales that the Nantucket Whalemen were likely to encounter. Melville describes some of the whales as “gentlemen”, discusses if they are fish, and ends the chapter in a confusing, and in my head, kind of amusing manner:
“But I now leave my cetological System standing thus unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!”
We also get a discussion of shipboard hierarchy in “The Specksnyder”, references to an ancient monastic order in “The Mast-Head” and Ahab’s obsession begins to show itself in “The Quarter-Deck” in which he utters the should be more famous line “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me”. Ahab’s view of the world is one based on a horrible, singular focus, and one that the crew is just beginning to understand. They’re going to learn a lot more.
What I am reading:
“Moby Dick”— as always, see above. It’s been nice to take this voyage slowly.
“The Phantom Tollbooth”– it’s apparently a year filled with some re-reads. Vonnegut, Melville, and this book, which I used to re-read with a bit more frequency, and remember what it was like to be a kid.
“The Waves”– I’ve kinda stalled out here, I’m going to pick it back up shortly; I’ve read a few pages and it maintains its strange beauty.
1 As far as what ‘short’ means, for me it’s anything less than 500 pages. 500-800 is ‘a novel’ and more than 800 is ‘a long novel’.