Christopher Rice’s “The Vines.”
Readers who entangle themselves in Christopher Rice’s new book “The Vines” will find themselves ensnared in 24 hours of hell on Earth. That’s the time frame for this fast-paced horror novel that takes place primarily on the grounds of a restored plantation on the outskirts of New Orleans. The book begins with a bang when the owner of the palatial home discovers her husband’s infidelity during her own birthday party. When she flees to the property’s gazebo in a suicidal fit, her spilled blood awakens a subterranean life form whose existence might be traced back more than 150 years when it was used for both good and evil by a slave on the property. By stirring the blood-thirsty vine, Caitlin Chaisson puts the region in peril, including a best friend who has recently become estranged.
Workers on the property, especially the gardener and his young daughter, have long known that something wasn’t right at Spring House, as the plantation is called, but it isn’t until the night of Caitlin’s birthday party and the mysterious disappearance of Caitlin’s cheating husband after a horrific scene in the ground’s gardening shed that Nova begins to research strange tales dating back to the time that slaves inhabited the property. She enlists Caitlin’s friend Blake to help uncover the secrets and the deeper they dig, the more danger they encounter until Blake comes under the spell of the seemingly implacable creature. He soon discovers that through own free will and a refusal to let the plant possess him as it has Caitlin, he is able to harness the vine’s evil power and use it for more humane purposes.
This is Rice’s second venture into the horror genre and like “The Heavens Rise” he employs an organic, malevolent force that lurks below the ground. His characters in “The Vines” might be more finely drawn but his descriptive powers are in top form when conjuring images of abject terror. With this supernatural thriller he is following firmly in his mother Anne Rice’s footsteps and delivering stories that are both original and spine tingling.
Would you rather read something classified as “horror” or as a “supernatural thriller”? Labels attached to his work are just one of the things Christopher Rice discusses in an interview with Lambda Literary Review as he promotes his latest novel “The Vines.” The book follows Rice’s first foray into the horror genre since last year’s release of the sci-fi thriller “The Heaven’s Rise,” a book reviewed by Oscartude. Among other topics during the Lambda interview, Rice talks about what it was like to tackle a genre that is so closely connected with his mother, novelist Anne Rice. He also talks about writing the screenplay for one of his mother’s books “Tale of the Body Thief.” In talking about various labels, Rice discusses whether he feels the term “queer horror” is necessary to describe his latest works. Readers might be surprised to learn that the gay author doesn’t like the term “queer” at all and would rather not use it to describe either himself or his work. “The Vines” is in bookstores now.
John Boyne’s “The Absolutist.”
As powerfully as Oliver Stone depicted the horror and madness of war in the film “Platoon,” John Boyne does as well on the pages of “The Absolutist.” The story of two English teenagers who form a bond during boot camp before entering the trenches during World War I takes a devastating turn when one of them declares himself an absolutist, one step above being a conscientious objector. When he throws down his arms in the middle of battle and refuses to be a soldier after seeing the senselessness around him, a friendship ends with shocking finality. This book about self-loathing and self-acceptance is disturbing and sad with a stunning ending prompted by a life racked with guilt. It will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned.
Richard Kramer’s ‘These Things Happen.’
In his first novel, Richard Kramer, a writer better known for his work on television shows such as “Thirstysomething,” “My So-Called Life” and “Once and Again,” bores into the separate minds of a 21st century family: a divorced couple, their bright-beyond-his-years son and the respective partners of the parents.
Wesley’s mother is an enlightened, liberal New Yorker and his older stepfather is equally egalitarian; the boy’s father is a well-known and oft-quoted gay attorney and activist who’s been in a 10-year relationship with an actor-cum-restaurateur. When Wesley’s best friend embraces his homosexuality, raising a lot of questions for both teenagers, the adults begin to wrestle with their own feelings on the subject revealing that even the most progressive and accepting members of society can harbor homophobia.
Gay and straight characters alike introspectively examine how society has determined how they look at themselves and others. One older gay man, for example, refrains from lavishing too much attention, affection and love on Wesley for fear of how it might be misinterpreted — not by the boy, but by the adults around him. As might be expected, Kramer’s dialogue can read like a screenplay and is used heavily to define his characters. When he goes inside their heads, however, to reveal their inner thoughts, the results can be choppy and confusing.
Ultimately, the book is a worthwhile read with poignant moments that highlight generational changes in attitudes toward gays.
Benjamin Alire Saenz’s ‘Everything Begins & Ends at the Kentucky Club.’
A devastatingly beautiful work of fiction that won a 2013 Lambda Literary Award. Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s collection of stories are linked by their setting — the border towns of El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico — and by themes of love and hate, poverty and prosperity, anger and angst. Sáenz writes in plain language that evokes powerful emotions as his characters, mostly young Hispanics, recount lives touched by loss, addiction, prejudice and lack of parental love or guidance. Writing in the first person, the author creates an intimate connection often created by a memoir. One story, “Chasing the Dragon,” about two orphans, is heartrending enough to elicit a physical reaction in the reader. But each of the seven stories holds its own surprise and power to manipulate the reader’s emotions. This is the first book I’ve read by Sáenz, but I hope to read many more.
Mark Merlis’ ‘American Studies.’
A heart-wrenching book about love, loyalty, betrayal and the cruel repercussions of pursuing love in a society that seeks to suppress its expression.
Merlis parallels the stories of two men leading very different lives during the early 1950s: an aging, closeted professor and his more open protege, both of whom suffer devastating consequences as a result of their sexual orientation. One faces extortion during the McCarthy-era witch hunts, the other becomes a victim of violent crime in the post-Reagan years. Both have lived much of their lives trying to conceal their homosexuality in order to protect their social positions, jobs and reputations — as well as to avoid the criminal prosecution they could be subject to when their paths cross in the 1950s.
Merlis poignantly portrays a pre-Stonewall world in which aging gay men face few choices for love and companionship that aren’t accompanied by elements of danger. The author creates profound empathy for his characters even while pointing out their corruptive behaviors and sometimes craven attempts at feeling fully human.