Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin ★★★★★

Rosemary's Baby4.5 Stars

I admit that I'm a little torn on what to rate this book, so I split the difference, although I'm really tempted to go all StarSearch™ up in this piece and do 4.75 stars. (Wait, did they have a 5 star rating system? No, I think it was only 4. Crap. Well, anyway, you get the point. That is, unless you're younger than me and don't even know what StarSearch is. In that case, you're a jerk, and go away.)

Anyway, I'm torn because, having seen the movie before, I think that Roman Polanski nailed the ending... He stopped at just the right point, and left us with that lingering empathetic horror, the mystery, the "What the fuck?!" feeling. We get just a hint, and the rest is Rosemary's reaction, and that subtlety's often better than the giving up the whole shebang.

The book takes the ending just a smidge further, and with a smidge more detail to the what, and that smidge further opens a line of possibility that is horrifying in itself. The things that a mother will accept, the things that a PERSON can accept, it's scary to think of in extremes like this. Imagine raising this baby with the eye of the world watching. Jeez. The terrible twos would be... apocalyptic. So... yeah, I'm torn. I don't know which ending I prefer. They are both great in their own ways.

I listened to this one as an audibobook, and I LOVED it. It was read by Mia Farrow and honestly, I think that her reading may have upstaged her movie performance. Not that she wasn't great in the movie, because I think she was, if a teeeeeensy bit melodramatic, but the audio relied solely on her voice, and so it was a bit more subtle and intense at the same time. I'm not sure how to really explain it, but just trust me, it was awesome.

Mia portrayed Rosemary's naivete perfectly. Perfectly. I feel like, perhaps if I'd have read this, I'd have found some of it a bit ridiculous. The things that Rosemary goes along with, I'm thinking, "No! Don't drink the putrid drink again! Are you STUPID?!" but then Mia does such an insanely great job at showing us this small town, kinda sheltered girl on her own in the big city, with her barely-married-a-year husband, in way over her head, super excited that she's FINALLY pregnant, and just wanting to do the right thing, even though she's not sure just what that is. She's manipulated on all sides, she's tricked and fooled over and over, and even though she's smart, she just doesn't know to be suspicious until it's too late. Mia Farrow shows all of that perfectly. The wavery quality in her voice, the whispers, the hesitation, the doubt and fear... all of it comes through, and really adds a lot to this story, I think.

Then there's Ira Levin's writing in general. Really great stuff. It's so... layered. But it doesn't FEEL layered. It feels straightforward and almost simplistic, but it's like seeing tree after tree after tree, and then finally stepping back far enough to realize that it's a forest after all. It doesn't change what it is, but the big picture is a sum of the parts. I loved the little things, the tiny details that Rosemary saw as a whole lot of trees, never realizing that she was too close to see the forest.

Also, I was really kind of impressed by Guy Woodhouse in this, although it feels very strange to say so. He managed such a ridiculously fine line of manipulation, it's hard not to be impressed that he carried it off for so long, even while being feministically pissed at his audacity and selfishness.

I was also struck by the emotional and mental abuse tactics that Guy used to keep Rosemary in line. Always keeping her home, with no money and no means of getting any, cut off from friends and family. She was always watched or followed. He didn't even let her do her own shopping - the neighbors would do it in the guise of being neighborly and helpful in deference to her sickly condition. Even without the paranormal bent of this book, it would be terrifying just for those reasons. I kept hoping that she'd leave, go to a friend's house, anything, but she didn't. I knew the storyline already, but I still wanted her to just GO. Guy wasn't physically abusive, but he was emotionally neglectful and distant and cruel (not to mention all the rest), and she just wanted so badly to have a happy family that she couldn't see it.

This is a fantastic book. I'm so glad that I splurged on it. Highly recommended.

Horror October 2011: #8

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: The Bell Witch: An American Haunting by Brent Monahan ★★

The Bell Witch: An American Haunting2.5 stars

From the blurb: "The Bell Witch took up residence with John Bell's family in 1818. It was a cruel and noisy spirit, given to rapping and gnawing sounds before it found its voices.

With these voices and its supernatural acts, the Bell Witch tormented the Bell family. This extraordinary book recounts the only documented case in U.S. history when a spirit actually caused a man's death.

[...]this book recounts the tale with novelistic vigor and verve. It is truly chilling."

Chilling? Not so much. I just kinda expect malevolent spirits to, you know... be malevolent. Just a quirk I have. So much of this book was about how this spirit would just sit down and have conversations with people regarding what it is and where it came from and what it wanted. There was surprisingly little poltergeist chaos wreaking after the initial start. I dunno, maybe the teller thought we'd get bored with that chaos and terror, and instead wanted to tell us all the mundane stuff about it, like... how it went out of its way to prevent injury or death to some or outright save others. Or when it touched that one guy's hand that time, in order to be "liked".

I had seen the movie, and so I knew how it went. I wasn't sure whether the resolution at the end of the movie would be a Hollywood re-write or not, and so I waited it out with the book to see. And I found out my answer about an hour before the audiobook ended. I could have stopped there, but I'm glad that I kept with it until the end. It didn't improve things very much for me, but I think that there was information in the book that wasn't in the movie, about the spirit's origin and manifestation, and I found that aspect very interesting. Hence the half star addition. ;)

The audio reader was very iffy for me. In the Editor's Note at the beginning of the book, he sounded very stiff and formal, but then when he started to read the story, he fell into this kind of Southern drawl that made me sigh with contentment. Unfortunately, he didn't keep it up. Boo!

I'm not a big fan of audiobook readers who "do" the voices. I usually just want the reader to read and let the characters speak for themselves. There were parts that were very well done, Old Kate's "main" voice, & John Bell's voice were both done well. But then, during straight narration, the reader would lapse into odd accents, or stumble over his words, or pause at inconvenient times (like the middle of a word). I heard something like a Scottish accent, hints of a Spanish one, a little bit of Minnesotan, etc. Every time one of these would slip in, I'd be like...

Yeah. So, this book? Not terrible, but not very good either. That is all.

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Oy... Look at the dust in here!

Yeah, so... It's been a reallllly long time since I've posted anything to my blog, and... that makes me a lazy jerk.

I'm gonna try to do better, because... well I shouldn't be lazy or a jerk, let alone both at the same time. It's just shameful.

So, I'ma open the windows, dust things off, and maybe get off the couch...