The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Shirley Jackson's definitive haunted house novel, The Haunting of Hill House, is the literary equivalent of a James Whale monster movie: though rudimentary by today's standards, there are striking archetypal qualities that solidify the piece's legacy. Of course, I also can't help but recall Mark Twain's famous quote that a "classic" is "something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read." For better or worse, Jackson's novel is a classic in the horror genre - and while I'm glad that I've read Haunting of Hill House, I won't begrudge anyone who wants to skip the book and jump straight into the film adaptation(s) of this story. To be clear, this is not Halloween Horror Nights, with jump scares and visceral thrills; rather, it's a subtle, atmospheric sense of dread, like walking through a graveyard at midnight. Jackson is the queen of the "slow burn" novel, though her literary fires feel more like flickering shadows than flames. Sometimes, though, that "slow burn" is waaaaaayyyy too slow - even for a nerdy librarian/English teacher like yours truly.
In Jackson's original version of the story, a professor with a passion for the supernatural, Dr. John Montague, recruits three layman to spend the summer in the (supposedly) haunted Hill House. Those three recruits - Eleanor Vance, Luke Sanderson, and Theodora (whose last name is never revealed) - encounter phenomenon both strange and mundane, with Eleanor most affected by the house's cruel tricks. Spookiness ensues, with most of the horror embedded in the psyche of Eleanor rather than in the eerie artifice of the building. I won't reveal much more, because many of the novel's key plot points are too spoiler-y for general consumption. Let's just say that houses aren't the only things haunted by ghosts in this novel.
I recently re-watched Mike Flanagan's Netflix Hill House adaptation with my teenage daughter, and I was thrilled by all of the Easter eggs Flanagan worked into each episode. Whether it's the "cup of stars" monologue, Theo's sexual orientation, the marble statues on the ground floor, the "cold spot" that Theo encounters, or the psychiatrist named after Dr. Montague (portrayed by the same actor who played Dr. Jacoby on Twin Peaks, to boot!), the show tips its hat to Jackson's novel in various subtle and not-so-subtle ways. To engage with both the original novel and the Netflix adaptation is an absolute treat: Flanagan rewards readers of the novel with his carefully crafted allusions.
As much as I hold fast to the general rule that "the book was better," there are some circumstances in which the film adaptation surpasses the quality of its source material. In this circumstance, The Haunting of Hill House fits snugly in that category. Mike Flanagan's Netflix adaptation of Jackson's novel is a stone-cold classic, and it is compulsively engaging in a way that the novel is not. That's not to say that the original novel is meritless; it's just aged in a way that diminishes its impact on the horror genre. It's more quaint than horrifying, in that regard.
Still, though, Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House is just that: haunting. It's not scary or exhilarating or or terrifying. It simply haunts its readers after they turn the final page. Even if there isn't a "Bent-Neck Lady" in sight, there are still bristling themes that are more chilling than a shadowy October night. And that might be enough to entice future generations of readers to enter the doors of Hill House for a spell... and maybe stay forever.
View all my reviews
The Search for Sasquatch by Laura Krantz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Over the summer, while my daughter and I were browsing through the children's section of Powell's City of Books, I stumbled across The Search for Sasquatch. My curiosity piqued, I leafed through the pages, recognized it would be age-appropriate for my eight-year-old, and bought the book on a whim. I'm not a cryptozoologist by any means, but I figured that The Search for Sasquatch would be a fun, thematically appropriate book to read while we were visiting family in Oregon. Needless to say, I lucked out.
At the time, I didn't know anything about Laura Krantz or the Wild Thing podcast that she's been producing for a few years now. However, while reading The Search for Sasquatch, I was delighted by the author's conversational tone and the wide variety of scientific topics that she addresses. A kid's book that tackles DNA, evolution, the scientific method, and the taxonomic system in easy-to-understand terms? I was sold.
Krantz starts her book with a brief anecdote about how and why she started her sasquatch journey: it turns out that a long-dead distant relative (second cousin, twice removed?), Grover Krantz, was once the world's foremost scientific expert on Bigfoot. As Laura plunges down the rabbit hole of sasquatch-obsession, she encounters a colorful cast of characters: park rangers sharing eyewitness accounts, skeptical scientists intent on debunking Bigfoot as a hoax, accommodating experts who explain complex scientific issues, and even one of the men who filmed the infamous "Patterson-Gimlin" video in 1967. Along the way, she also learns about "squatching," "blob-squatches," and the "Woo" (if you read the book, it will all make sense). It's a deep dive into a unique, quirky American subculture - and the journey is exquisitely enjoyable.
As an "optimistic skeptic," I was delighted to find that Laura Krantz is (like me) someone who requires scientific proof before wholeheartedly supporting the existence of mythical creatures. However, Krantz never lets her doubts supersede her curiosity; rather, she excitedly hurdles every roadblock and muddy footprint that she finds in her path. Throughout the book, Krantz's earnest enthusiasm is absolutely contagious, and her fanatical fascination emanates from each and every page.
After finishing The Search for Sasquatch], I downloaded all three seasons of Krantz's podcast, Wild Thing, and listened attentively to every single episode. If you haven't tried the podcast yet, you won't regret it: the show is absolutely addicting. Even if my doubts about sasquatch remain, I firmly believe that Laura Krantz is a true treasure.
Does Bigfoot really exist? Probably not.
But Laura Krantz really hopes so. And so do I.
View all my reviews
Mild-mannered librarian by day… and a mild-mannered rock & roller by night.