Where the Crawdads Sing

“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”
― Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing

When you pick a mudbug up – he’ll spread his claws out and try to look as big and as mean as he can. He still looks delicious – no matter how hard he tries.

After my bike ride I took a shower and got ready to go. Candy wanted to go see a movie – Where the Crawdads Sing. She had read the book (I hadn’t, still fighting my way through Zola’s La Terre – need to finish the sucker) and had really liked it. We don’t go to a lot of movie’s anymore and when we do we always go to the Alamo Drafthouse – except for today. Crawdads wasn’t showing at either of the two Alamo theaters on our side of the vast Metroplex, so we went to another theater near where I used to work (when I was still gainfully employed).

The theater was good – the reclining seats were very comfortable. We went to the one o’clock showing – and there were only a handful of folks there.

I actually kinda liked the movie. It had some flaws – the protagonist was a little too polished and glib to be believable as a “Marsh Girl” – I had the ending figured out a good five minutes into the film – but the acting was effective and the scenery gorgeous. It’s hard for me to judge, I’m still suffering from a Everything Everywhere All At Once hangover – every movie pales in the memory of that work of genius.

It’s kind of funny – on Tuesdays the early show was only six dollars to get in – a real bargain. But a popcorn and diet soda were more than twenty bucks.

This truly is the best of all possible worlds.

The World is Full of Monsters

The story that meant the end arrived late one night. A tiny story, covered in green fur or lichen, shaky on its legs. It fit in the palm of my hand. I stared at the story for a long time, trying to understand. The story had large eyes that could see in the dark, and sharp teeth. It purred, and the purr grew louder and louder: a beautiful flower bud opening and opening until I was filled up. I heard the thrush and pull of the darkness, grown so mighty inside my head.

—- Jeff VanderMeer, The World is Full of Monsters

Trinity River Bottoms, Dallas, Texas

The world is invaded by horrible monsters – monsters that take the form of stories. The world is destroyed and changed over a hundred years and the author, a writer, is taken over by a monstrous story-packet left on the stoop.

I found this bit of fiction as an audio book on Hoopla. Hoopla… if you don’t know about it – it’s a streaming service that is offered through local libraries. You really need to check it out if you have a card from a booklender that offers membership – there’s some good shit in there. And as far as I can tell, none of the stories it offers are invading the earth.

I’ve been a fan of Jeff VanderMeer, the author, of The World is Full of Monsters, for a while now – ever since reading The Dead Astronauts for the Wild Detectives Book Club. I find his mutating, doomed characters distasteful, but in a good way. Borne is greatness. So I saw this on Hoopla, and decided to give it a listen.

It was a tough, long day at work, and I needed a break, so I listened to the audiobook on my phone, sitting at my desk, office door closed, eyes mostly shut. It helped.

Then, I discovered that the story is published by Tor… and there is a copy online here:

This World Is Full of Monsters | Tor.com



“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?”
― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

The moon rising over the Dallas skyline and the pond at Trammell Crow Park. From the October Full Moon Ride.

It started on May 5 and ended a week ago – I read all of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. The book is roughly a thousand pages long and I read it in conjunction with my Difficult Read Book Club. We used to meet every week at the Wild Detectives Book Store in Bishop Arts. Since Covid put the kebash on all of that we have met on Zoom for the last two books, Brothers Karamazov and 1Q84.

It’s really a great way to read a long/difficult book. There is a weekly goal of a certain number of pages so the herculean task is split into manageable chunks. There is a group of like minded folk to bounce questions off of and keep you interested. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Was the book good?

Yes, it was very good – I enjoyed it immensely. I is for everyone?

No. It is a very odd book, with an unusual structure. It is amazingly politically incorrect. It makes no sense in a lot of places. No spoilers, but the ending definitely does not tie up all the loose ends.

Here’s a guy that really didn’t like it:

He is looking for a conventional narrative (evidence for this are all the books on the shelf behind him). 1Q84, like I said, is not a conventional narrative. It exists in its own world.

Here’s one of the many, many folks that liked the novel:

I like his take – and I like the drink he made.

Our Difficult Reads Book Club will have a party soon at the Wild Detectives to celebrate in person reading 1Q84 and Brothers Karamazov – which we read earlier. At the party we will find out what our next book will be – it will be a shorter work so we can finish before Christmas. I’m excited, can’t wait.

Brothers Karamazov

“The world says: “You have needs — satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.” This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.”

― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Reading Dostoevsky in New Orleans

We finished our reading group (The Wild Detective’s DRBC [Difficult Reading Book Club]) attack on Dostoevsky Brothers Karamazov. Seven hundred thirty six-odd, dense pages. This is definitely the way to devour an elephant like that: broken up into manageable chunks and each followed by a weekly Zoom meeting to discuss and clarify the confusion.

I actually sort-of read the book in college. It was assigned on, say, Thursday and I had to write a paper on the next Wednesday. That’s not enough time. Not surprisingly, I have no real memory other than a feeling of panic and dread. And the memory of relying too much on a little yellow pamphlet.

The Brothers Karamazov is often mentioned in short lists of the greatest novels of all time. That’s a bold statement, but one I can support.

First, it is a novel of ideas. Philosophical questions are presented and then played out across the stage of the plot. The plot is complex yet melodramatic. There are many things, a whole tangled skein of threads, going on at once. Reading it like this, especially in the excellent Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, is how much humor there is in the book. The characters are deep and complex, and the novel uses a lot of literary devices that are considered “modern” (unreliable narrators, stories within stories within stories, subtle shifting points of view, ambiguous ending, unknown first person plural narrator) which helps keep the dense text fresh.

It is the story of faith against rationality. There is no doubt on which side Dostoevsky sympathies lie – but he does not give his intellectual adversaries short thrift. He has the courage to give the other argument strong, even unassailable defenses and weapons. There is no straw man here. It makes for robust conflict and gives the reader incredible insight and the opportunities for hours of thought.

Faith and Doubt, Free Will (Dostoevsky acknowledges the existence of free will and understands that it is the key to salvation, but paints it not as a blessing, but as a curse – as a terrible burden that will flatten and destroy all but the strongest of men), and the need for moral simplicity and clarity are the battlefields that the novel is fought over… and the victor is very much in doubt.

Plus, I learned a new word… nadryv, And wrote about it here.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Viral Marketing by Bill Chance

“A Paradox, the doughnut hole. Empty space, once, but now they’ve learned to market even that. A minus quantity; nothing, rendered edible. I wondered if they might be used-metaphorically, of course-to demonstrate the existence of God. Does naming a sphere of nothingness transmute it into being?”
― Margaret Atwood, Der blinde Mörder


Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth,
Fort Worth, Texas


I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#76) Three fourths there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Viral Marketing

Penba Norbu was brought to the United States to work for the VBP corporation in their nucleic-neuro-interface division. The full name was the Viral Book Publishing Group, and had actually used the “G” on their name once, but VBPG was deemed too long and tongue-tying by an extensive series of focus groups so the final letter was dropped. This, along with a thousand other facts, were adsorbed by Penba during his new employee orientation. A year earlier this would have taken days of tedious power-point presentations and a hundred pounds of loose-leaf notebooks emblazoned with the VBP logo. Penba knew he would not have remembered one-hundredth of it.

Now, though, orientation took less than a half-hour. A nurse with a suspiciously short skirt on her uniform that exposed the very top of her stockings as she pulled the dose out of a locking case, checked the number on the vial against Penba’s badge, and then used a plastic pipet to place a single drop of thick orange liquid onto a sugar cube.

“Open, wide.”

And Penba, sitting on a tall stool, obeyed. The nurse shoved the sugar cube under his tongue then placed a hand under his jaw, forcing his mouth closed and holding it until his throat gulped. While she held his head securely and close to her body Penba wondered why so many buttons of the nurse’s uniform were undone, exposing a hint of burgandy lace.

“A month ago I would made you drop your pants and bend over that stool. I’d have given you a big old shot right in your left ass cheek. Those were the good old days.” The nurse let out a small sigh them asked Penba to open his mouth again. Still firmly holding the back of his head she stuck her finger under his tongue and probed it roughly around.

“OK, you’ve swallowed, please sign the training roster. Include your employee ID number and the date and time please.”

She shoved a clipboard into his hand and after a scribble to get the pen working he filled in the bottom line.

“Please proceed to the restroom. You will soon feel some digestive discomfort and then experience a slight fever for twenty four hours as the virus runs its course. Please report to your workstation at seven AM tomorrow morning to begin.”

Penba slid off the stool and wavered a little. He could feel a strong grumbling in his stomach already. It quickly began spreading downward, into his gut. This was a fast acting virus indeed. He started stumbling forward, moving toward the restroom as quickly as he cold.

“Next!” the nurse yelled in Penba’s ear as she looked at the clot of new employees waiting in a cluster of folding chairs.

There was only one unisex restoom and Penba walked down the long line of stalls looking for an unoccupied one. The room smelled horribly and he could hear groans, sighs, and obscene liquid noises coming from behind each closed door. He reached the end of the line and there were no unoccupied stalls. Penba was beginning to have to clench and was getting worried when a door opened and a middle aged woman scurried out and began looking around. Penba pointed to a handwritten sign taped to the wall that said, “Sinks in the next room down the hall,” and quickly slid into her stall before somebody else came in.

He fiddled with the lock, trying to get it to hold, before he gave up, sat down and wedged it with one foot. As he sat, waves of nausea washed over his body, alternating with flashes of heat and cold chills. He sweated profusely until his shirt was drenched. Penba had always been a very private, proper person and tried his best to be quiet, clenching his teeth and jaw, but finally gave up and let out a shout of discomfort to join in the symphony of groans that filled the restroom.

With each wave of sickness that the fast-acting virus forced through his reeling system, Penba found his head filling with new-found memories. These were very clear and strong, like they were events that had happened this morning, but he could not place where these memories had actually come from. They were, of course, the result of the book virus he had been infected with, and were memories that he would never forget.

Short Story Of the Day – An Absolute Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“The old endless chain of love, tolerance, indifference, aversion and disgust”
― Samuel Beckett

Spring Creek, Garland, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#53) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

An Absolute Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex

Paul came out of the second hand store looking around for his car and stumbled over a woman sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk.

“Hey watch where you’re going!” she looked up at Paul.

She was very thin with stringy blondish hair wearing a ragged pair of jeans and a yellow t-shirt. Her dirty feet had worn leather sandals. Paul noticed the book she was reading – a garish orange cover and the title, “An Absolute Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex.”

“I stole this book you know,” she said. She stood up quickly in a smooth sort of unfolding motion, like she had raised herself off of sitting cross-legged on concrete many many times before.

“Yeah, stole it from this store here, they can see me sittin’ here reading it but they won’t say anything.”

“Paperback books are only a quarter,” was all Paul could think of to say.

“That’s not the point… hey, dude, where did you get that scar?”

“Paul’s my name, it’s from a knifefight.”

“Looks pretty fresh, you know, still sort of purplish,” she stepped forward and brazenly ran her fingers across Paul’s face, carefully tracing the line of the cut across his temple, cheek and jaw.

“Sally,” she finally said.

“Hey,” Sally continued, ” you got any beer or anything? I am sure thirsty.”

“Well,” Paul hesitated, his mind was suddenly cloudy and he felt like he was being pulled forward by a violent wind – or maybe pushed across a rough broken ground by forces unseen, a rushing storm or maybe even a tilting of the earth itself.

“Well, nothing… we could go buy something,” Paul said.

“You got a car?”

“Right here,” he said. They were standing right in front of his Chrysler.

“Great, let’s rock,” she said, “Hey, mind if we bring along a friend of mine, he’s a blast.”

Sally grabbed Paul’s forearm and pulled him around the corner of the thrift store. They fought their way through the random piles of old boxes and discarded merchandise that littered the lot, hidden from the street and parking lot by a sun-grayed wooden fence. The flotsam and jetsam of the thrift trade ended up here – the material too broken or filthy to even have worth in the lowest level of the civilized marketplace.

“Beaumont! Beaumont!” Sally yelled as the worked their way around the back of the thrift store and began pushing against the mat of tall thick dead dried weeds that divided the commercial strip from some rusty trash-strewn railroad tracks beyond. After a dozen cries and fifty feet of walking one particularly thick spherical leafless bush began trembling, then shaking as a shape began separating itself from the dead bush. The shape crawled a few feet and then stood up.

It was a tall man, skinny in the same way as Sally, topped with a greying beard and shock of matted dark hair spewing from underneath a plastic farm-implement cap worn backwards. The eyes between the beard and cap were live, blue, and darting. The man wore all denim, old jeans tucking into ragged cowboy boots, and a denim jacket with yellow lettering, “Big Bambu” and a green marijuana leaf over one pocket.

“Hey Beau, this is Sam, he’s got some cash and a car – wants to go get something to drink.”

“Well, then sir, I’m greatly pleased to meet you,” said Beau, ” his beard almost seemed to crack as it moved stiffly aside to adapt to a growing smile underneath, “an answer to our prayers.”

Beau pulled a plastic shopping bag stuffed full of shadowy items out from under the weedy bush and the three walked back around to Paul’s car.

“That’s quite a knife scar you’ve got there,”Beau said, “Looks awful fresh. Be sure and keep that sucker clean, wash it every day, or it’ll get swole up and never heal right – leave a nasty scar forever. Look at mine, here.”

Beau pulled the neck of his jacket aside and showed Paul an ugly puckered wound that slashed from Beau’s ear down across his neck until it disappeared under the jacket. Paul could see Beau wore no shirt under the denim jacket.

They piled into Paul’s car, Sally in front next to him and Beau stretched out in the back.

There was a shabby liquor store at the end of the block.

“How much cash you got on ya,” asked Sally.

“It looks like they take credit cards,” Paul said, pointing to a decal on the door, “I’ll use that.”

“Even better,” said Sally.

They bought a case of beer, some plastic bottles of vodka, a couple boxes of wine, and three giant bags of Funyuns.

Sally directed Paul out of the neighborhood maze and onto the frontage road of the interstate highway.

“Should I get onto the freeway?”

“No, stay here on the side road.”

“Here, pull in back here,” Sally indicated a dirt branch that led to a hidden spot behind an overgrown tangle – a bit of forgotten landscaping gone wild.

“This is our place,” said Sally, expectant, with a little bit of what sounded like pride leaking out with the words,”It’s pretty comfortable, the bridge keeps the rain out, and nobody, I mean nobody ever comes down here.”

It turned out to be a long day, a longer night, and an even longer morning, because morning always comes. The sun always comes up and it reaches everywhere, even into a pile of smoky, filthy rags under an interstate bridge.

Paul woke up naked and crusted with dried vomit. He remembered nothing from after he walked into the camp. His brain felt like it was swollen to twice its usual size and still stuck in the same head. The pressure felt like it would separate his skull along some jagged line, exploding his brain in sweet relief. Every nerve in his body was firing and the light pouring in from the end of the bridge was toxic.

His elbows and knees were scraped bloody and his tongue felt torn on the underside, like it had been half pulled out. He scrabbled around for his clothes, keys, and wallet and found nothing except a filthy pair of green shorts and an old jacket, a nasty stain coursed across the front.

He put those on and slid down the concrete slope back to his car. He wasn’t really surprised when he found the Chrysler missing.

Paul sat and cried for over an hour. He could not figure out how to get home. He considered hitchhiking but couldn’t imagine anyone stopping for a horrible apparition like himself.

Then Paul realized that the creek at the bottom of the interchange was the same system that coursed through his apartment complex. There were a couple branches but he thought he could follow the way, make the correct turns. He limped down into the stale slow-flowing water, the mud feeling good on his feet, but stinging his wounded knees and elbows. He noted the direction the water was flowing, turned into it and began trudging upstream.

It took him most of the day and his feet were cut and bloody from broken glass hidden in the mud at the bottom. He was seen only by a few children from the shelter of an organized pea-gravelled playground, telling their daycare sitters about the “funny man” that went running by.

Paul reached his door, dug the spare key out of the flowerpot… and was home. The hot shower wasn’t enough to get the smell out of his hair, his skin – the night had diffused through his whole body and was oozing out his pores.

He ate some aspirin, drank some apple juice, and burrowed naked into the deepest corner of his bed. There he tossed and turned and tried to fall asleep until that day slowly melted into dreams and nightmares and a stink he alone could smell and could never seem to completely wash out.

Short Story Of the Day – At the Library (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
Jorge Luis Borges

Recycled Books
Denton, Texas

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#52) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

At the Library

I can find excitement anywhere. Even the library.

The library… the thrill of finding that asshole sleeping at a table – two books in front of him; a string of drool from his lips past his chin staining the front of his shirt. He was really asleep, deep asleep, dead to the world.

I had a big hardback picture book of erotic Greek Sculptures – I love the curves, the roundness of the bodies, the unabashedness of the sexuality – the perfection of the human form. It was a big flat book with a plastic cover.

The book in my hand, I started low, swinging it from my waist out and up over my head holding it tightly cupped on edge like a Greek discus thrower. At the top of the swing I lifted my whole body up… onto my tiptoes… yet never leaving the ground, maintaining control, sliding my hand into the center of the book so when I brought it down, fast and hard, yet controlled, perfectly flat, in a parallel plane with the Formica top of the library table. I was able to put the full weight of my body behind the book, moving it with a terrible acceleration.

It hit the table flat hard and fast and the plastic cover of the book and the Formica tabletop left nowhere for the air to go except compressed and out sideways. Right in front of Sleeping Beauty.  It made a terrific boom, a thunderclap, and since this was a library after all… well, everybody on the whole floor practically shat themselves.

Especially sleeping beauty. He snapped up and awake, scared and confused. The momentum of his head yanking off the table threw his whole body back and his chair tilted a bit, the front two legs coming an inch or two off the floor. I thought that might happen so I was ready.

It didn’t take much of a kick, really… more like a little push with my shoe on his chest. He was looking right in my eyes, still in shock from the book boom, when my loafer made contact. He tumbled over backwards, easy, like it was the most natural thing in the world, like the chair was designed for that. He hit the ground hard, though, with a boom that was not nearly as loud as my book but so much more satisfying – because there was flesh and bone involved, flesh and bone and muscle out of position, out of balance, and gravity and steel, and hard industrial type institutional floors and everything out of whack and finding a new equilibrium really quickly.

And it must have hurt bad. He let out a “woof” before his head snapped back, spittle left over from his nap shooting out when the back of his head bounced off the floor with a sickening crunch… it sounded like a bunch of things; some hard, some soft – broke in there.

He didn’t get up, or move or change his expression. I walked out quickly; before the librarians, security guards, folks with books, folks with laptops, could get their mouths closed and figure out what the hell to do. I hit the stairs, hit the front door, and was gone.

Who says the library is boring.


“Once, it was different. Once, people had homes and parents and went to schools. Cities existed within countries and those countries had leaders. Travel could be for adventure or recreation, not survival. But by the time I was grown up, the wider context was a sick joke. Incredible, how a slip could become a freefall and a freefall could become a hell where we lived on as ghosts in a haunted world.”
Jeff VanderMeer, Borne

Chihuly Glass (click to enlarge)


I have now read all the Borne series of books and stories by Jeff VanderMeer, pretty much – as far as I know… but the thing is I read them out of order. And I think that was a good thing.

   First of all was the newest Borne book – The Dead Astronauts, which I read on behest of the Wild Detectives Book Club (back in the day when you would actually go to a book club). The book was incredibly weird – so difficult to read that I thought that would be the end of the Borne Dystopia for me.

    But before I finished The Dead Astronauts I stumbled across and online short story/novela written about the same world – quite a bit earlier as it turns out – The Situation. This detailed a very strange world but told the story in a familiar way – the destruction of everything told as a story of corporate back-stabbing. I really enjoyed The Situation and that led me to check out The Strange Bird from the library and devour that short novel. It too told a strange tale but was written in a familiar style – that of a quest or journey. It was set in the same world and had a few characters in common with the other two works – enough to continue to increase my interest.

    So, I bought a copy of the central novel in the series Borne – and finished it late last night. It was really good, a crackerjack of a novel. The most complete of the books, it explains a lot of what what mysterious and curious in the others… explains some, maybe not a lot, really, … and definitely not everything.

    At the book club discussion of The Dead Astronauts someone describe Borne as a love story.  And it is the typical girl finds odd plant in fur of giant bear, girl falls in love with plant, plant turns out not to be a plant but a ruthless killer, girl loses plant/killer, and finally girl discovers her love is something else entirely type of story. Yeah, it is a love story.

    Having read it last it was inevitable that I would read it trying to ferret out the connections with the other works. The three Dead Astronauts from their own epynomous novel made an appearance in Borne but they didn’t do much probably because they were dead. The story of The Strange Bird and Borne are dovetailed – the identical tale told from two different points of view and in very different styles – the same characters populate both.

   The Situation is a prequel to all the others. It contains the origin of the Giant Bear, Mord, along with other clues. In Borne, it is strongly hinted that Wick is the narrator of The Situation but I wasn’t absolutely sure. In researching this, I came across a graphic version of The Situation  from Tor books – where Wick is named explicitly. Now I wonder if Scarskirt is the Magician from Borne and The Strange Bird. She is described as someone who “stared at reflective surfaces all day” which is a connection. I don’t know – but it’s fun to speculate. At any rate, click that link and look at the drawings – they are very good.

  So now I’m done with Borne and I can get back to reading Zola. Except… now I’m thinking about VanderMeer’s Annihilation (I liked the movie) and the rest of its Southern Reach trilogy. We’ll see. So many books, so little time.

    By the way, I’ve been reading rumors that AMC has optioned Borne for a miniseries. Wow, I have no idea how this goes onto the screen. It would be like a science fiction version of Game of Thrones… except on acid.

Short Story (novella) of the day, The Situation by Jeff VanderMeer

My Manager was extremely thin, made of plastic,with paper covering the plastic. They had always hoped, I thought, that one day her heart would start, but her heart remained a dry leaf that drifted in her ribcage,animated to lift and fall only by her breathing. Some-times, when my Manager was angry, she would become so hot that the paper covering her would ignite, and the plastic beneath would begin to melt.

—-Jeff VanderMeer, The Situation

Art Deco mural from Fair Park in Dallas


The Situation, by Jeff VanderMeer

from Wired Magazine

About a year ago I started going to book club meetings at The Wild Detectives – a bookstore in Bishop Arts that features beer and coffee… a great place. Even though I don’t have much in common with the other readers and it’s really tough to get across town after work, I like to go. Actually, now that I think about it, the fact I don’t have much in common with the other readers is the best thing about going.

The book we will discuss the first Monday in February is The Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer. I’m cranking through the book and haven’t made up my mind yet. It’s very imaginative and well written but exceedingly weird. I like weird – but only if, at the end, there’s a point… some emotional connection. I’m not a big fan of weird for weird’s sake. I have a feeling that I will be a Jeff VanderMeer fan at the end.

I think that’s a good thing. It’s always good to find a new author isn’t it? Even though I have a ways to go on my Zola reading project and enough other books to… well, to fill up my rapidly declining lineup of years left.

Looking at other Jeff VanderMeer works there’s the Southern Reach Trilogy (I’ve seen the interesting movie Annihilation which was adapted from the first book in the trilogy) and I think those books will get added. Also there is the Borne novel which is set in the same insane world as The Dead Astronauts. That’s four more books to read. So little time, so many books.

As I was looking around for info (The Dead Astronauts is difficult enough I’m not worried about spoilers) on The Dead Astronauts and the Borne world I discovered an online short novella called The Situation. It is billed as a proto-Borne story – set in a preliminary version of that universe (are we reading about the origin of the giant bear named Mord?). So I sat down and read it.

And liked it. It is a sort-of comedy about the difficulty of surviving sane inside an evil bureaucracy. Quite a harrowing story. And well-worth the time and effort.

Shit. That means I’ll eventually have to read all those books. So many books, so little time.

The Sin of Father Mouret

“Albine now yielded to him, and Serge possessed her.
And the whole garden was engulfed together with the couple in one last cry of love’s passion. The tree-trunks bent as under a powerful wind. The blades of grass emitted sobs of intoxication. The flowers, fainting, lips half-open, breathed out their souls. The sky itself, aflame with the setting of the great star, held its clouds motionless, faint with love, whence superhuman rapture fell. And it was the victory of all the wild creatures, all plants and all things natural, which willed the entry of these two children into the eternity of life.”
Émile Zola, La Faute de l’abbé Mouret
Film of Sins of Father Mouret

Book Cover, Sin of Father Mouret

I am now a good chunk into Emile Zola’s twenty volume Rougon Macquat series of novels. Attacking this pile of books in the recommended reading order:

  • La Fortune des Rougon (1871) (The Fortune of the Rougons)
  • Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876) (His Excellency Eugene Rougon/ His Excellency)
  • La Curée (1871-2) (The Kill)
  • L’Argent (1891) (Money)
  • Le Rêve (1888) (The Dream)
  • La Conquête de Plassans (1874) (The Conquest of Plassans/A Priest in the House)
  • Pot-Bouille (1882) (Pot Luck/Restless House/Piping Hot)
  • Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) (The Ladies’ Paradise/Shop Girls of Paris/Ladies’ Delight)
  • La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875) (The Sin of Father Mouret/Abbe Mouret’s Transgression)
  • Une Page d’amour (1878) (A Lesson in Love/A Love Episode/A Page of Love/A Love Affair)
  • Le Ventre de Paris (1873) (The Belly of Paris/The Fat and the Thin/Savage Paris/The Markets of Paris)
  • La Joie de Vivre (1884) (The Joys of Living/Joy of Life/How Jolly Life Is/Zest for Life)
  • L’Assommoir (1877) (The Dram Shop/The Gin Palace/Drink/Drunkard)
  • L’Œuvre (1886) (The Masterpiece/A Masterpiece/His Masterpiece)
  • La Bête Humaine (1890) (The Beast in the Man/The Human Beast/The Monomaniac)
  • Germinal (1885)
  • Nana (1880)
  • La Terre (1887) (The Earth/The Soil)
  • La Débâcle (1892) (The Downfall/The Smash-up/The Debacle)
  • Le Docteur Pascal (1893) (Doctor Pascal)

The next one up was The Sin of Father Mouret (among other titles).

It was only a couple days ago that I wrote about The Ladies’ Paradise – but in actually, in the real world, I’m finishing up three books ahead – my episode has put my writing behind my reading.

One interesting thing about the Rougon Macquat novels is that even though they are about the same family (if very disparate branches of said tree) in France during the same period of time – the books are often very different from each other. The Sin of Father Mouret is particularly unique.

It is divided into three distinct sections. The first is a fairly dry (though interesting) depiction of a devout priest in a poverty-stricken rural area – hanging on by pure faith in a run-down threadbare church surrounded by a population with less than perfect spiritual lives. Eventually the stress (plus the inherited family madness that runs through all the books) causes him to crack and suffer a complete mental breakdown. He has complete amnesia and is placed in the care of a wild, almost feral, young girl that has the run of an old garden – a giant park run wild with ancient plants gone to seed. This place, Le Paradou is described in intricate detail – a place of unbelievable fecundity in the midst of a barren landscape – set off by a high stone wall. Comparisons with the Garden of Eden are obvious, along with the ideas of the knowledge of good and evil and of original sin.

Eventually, a glimpse through a gap in the stone wall brings Father Mouret’s memories back and he is faced with the choice of returning to his church or remaining in the garden.

The language and description of the couple’s life in Le Paradou is luscious, flamboyant, and prolonged. The contrast between life within the walls and without is so great it almost reads as being unreal. I took it that way – reading in as more of an allegory than as actual fact – and that made the book more enjoyable, in my opinion.

It is an interesting read. I have never soldiered through any book like it. A significant change of pace in the string of twenty books.