As unnerving as it is sinuous; an absolute delight.

READ REVIEW

COMPULSORY GAMES

A collection of dark, eerie tales from a master of weird fiction.

English author Aickman (1914-1981) is regarded as a forefather of horror, and this reissue of his fiction by NYRB Classics shows that his reputation is justified. In the title story, a married couple forms a friendship with a peculiar woman that leads to unsettling consequences. In “Hand in Glove,” a woman who breaks off her relationship takes a trip to the English countryside with a friend, unaware that her ex-boyfriend may not be far behind. And in “Marriage,” a young man proves irresistibly attractive to two different women, both of whom prove dangerously insatiable. With these 15 stories, four of which are previously unpublished, Aickman creates a disquieting universe in which everything is just off, a wall covered in pictures hung at imperceptibly crooked angles. His command of tone and tension far outstrips that of H.P. Lovecraft and presents a serious challenge to Henry James. He is at his strongest when he is brief—the longer stories in the collection tend to fall apart when compared to the shorter ones—but his strongest moments are his brilliant one-sentence insights into the human psyche. “One’s broken heart, if it can be mended at all, can be mended in only one way…to kill the man who has broken it,” says one of Aickman’s characters. “One does not turn aside from angels in order to count dustbins,” Aickman writes later on. But this is precisely what Aickman has done: His tales are devoid of angels, filled only with the dread of what lurks just behind the open door, of the possibility that your worst fears could be real—and could find you one day.

As unnerving as it is sinuous; an absolute delight.

Pub Date: May 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68137-189-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An eerie and affecting satire of the detective novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

DEATH IN HER HANDS

A note suggesting a woman has been killed in the woods captures the imagination of an elderly woman, with alarming intensity.

Vesta, the extremely unreliable narrator of Moshfegh’s fourth novel (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018, etc.), is a 72-year-old widow who’s recently purchased a new home, a cabin on a former Girl Scout camp. Walking her dog through the nearby woods, she sees a note lying on the ground which says that a woman named Magda has been killed "and here is her dead body," but there's no body there or any sign of violence. Call the police? Too easy: Instead, Vesta allows herself to be consumed with imagining what Magda might have been like and the circumstances surrounding her murder. Whatever the opposite of Occam’s razor is, Vesta’s detective work is it: After some web searching on how mystery writers do their work, she surmises that Magda was a Belarussian teen sent to the United States to work at a fast-food restaurant, staying in the basement of a woman whose son, Blake, committed the murder. Moshfegh on occasion plays up the comedy of Vesta’s upside-down thinking: “A good detective presumes more than she interrogates.” But Vesta slowly reveals herself as what we might now call a Moshfegh-ian lead: a woman driven to isolation and feeling disassociated from herself, looking for ways to cover up for a brokenness she's loath to confront. Over the course of the novel, Vesta’s projections about Magda's identity become increasingly potent and heartbreaking symbols of wounds from the narrator's childhood and marriage. The judgmental voice of her late husband, Walter, keeps rattling in her head, and she defiantly insists that “I didn’t want Walter in my mindspace anymore. I wanted to know things on my own.” You simultaneously worry about Vesta and root for her, and Moshfegh’s handling of her story is at once troubling and moving.

An eerie and affecting satire of the detective novel. (This book has been postponed; we'll update the publication date when it's available.)

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7935-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more