See you back here on January 8th. Have a safe and splendid holiday season.
The Brains Benton Books: The Case of the Forgotten Series
The Ninth Configuration, by William Peter Blatty (Harper & Row 1978)
What was released that year actually germinated from a hasty 1966 novel titled, Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane! From his author's note: "Its basic concept was surely the best I have ever created, but what was published was just as surely no more than the notes for a novel -- some sketches, unformed, unfinished, lacking even a plot." Luckily, for those of us who read the re-envisioned work in the late 70's (and those who would go on to discover and appreciate it decades later), it is an overlooked book worth remembering. Ironically, WPB has said more than once he considers it his unofficial sequel to The Exorcist. Although The Ninth Configuration shares a very loose connection (via an unnamed character) from that novel, the genre and plot line couldn't be more divergent. Plus, it works whether or not you've read the legendary blockbuster that preceded it.
The novel's story centers upon a select small group of military men secluded away with what are believed to be inexplicable mental disorders. Or, being highly intelligent men, they could be faking it--which could be the reason nothing has worked and why they continue their stay at a decaying Gothic mansion. Their treatment, and sanity, ultimately hinges upon one Marine Colonel Kane (a psychiatrist who may have his own issues) brought to the sheltered facility to seek the answers in the most unexpected of ways. Blatty crafts the story as a mystery to be solved, planting its seeds in the unusual interactions that take place. The author’s dialogue between the patients and staff are quite purpose-built, madcap, and unexpected. I cannot describe it any better than what a good friend wrote in a review of his, "Because the story is relatively brief, no words are wasted in an attempt to be lyrical or poetic. Yet somehow there are moments of utter poetry in the exchanges between doctor and patients, and in Kane's own introspective reasonings." While the material covered is meaty, it is one of the few novels that made be laugh out loud, and had my eyes welling by the time I finished it.
One could describe WPB as an author who writes eloquent, thought provoking fiction that draws in his readers with clever, humorous dialogue (keep in mind, he also wrote the screenplay for the comedy, A Shot In The Dark). Or put another way, he’s a humorous, clever writer who puts out eloquent novels that catch the readers off guard by being thought provoking. I'd say both are true. He just happened to author a chart topping novel of horror that eclipsed everything before, or since, in his bibliography. However, The Ninth Configuration remains perhaps a more intriguing read, and worth exploration by those who haven't experienced it. As well, for those of us who are film buffs, sprinkled throughout, the author references classic movie moments and dialogue within this novel. A few years after its publication, William Peter Blatty would pen and direct its film adaptation in 1980. Not surprisingly, it has developed a strong cult following, and many believe the story is more immersive on the screen (consider me in both groups). The 1978 novel is a svelte 135-page work, and next year TNC will be re-released by Centipede Press as a new edition. Purportedly, it will combine both novels and will include a long essay by film scholar Mark Kermode in a 292-page hardcover. So on this Friday, The Ninth Configuration is not forgotten (at least, by me anyways).
"Every kind thought is the hope of the world."
Patti Abbott-Because I couldn't decide which series to pick last week, here is the other one.
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series by Betty McDonald
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has a chest full of magical cures left to her by her deceased pirate husband, Children with bad habits often find themselves in her care. This sounds like there is a scolding quality about these stories, yet Betty McDonald somehow avoids it by making it light-hearted and fun.
According to Wilkipedia-
The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories were based on bedtime stories Betty made up for her daughters, nephews, and nieces (and later grandchildren and grandnephews/-nieces).
The final book in the series, published fifty years after the original, is largely written by MacDonald's daughter, Anne MacDonald Canham (the two share a writing credit for this book). The first story in the book is an unpublished MacDonald story, while Anne explains in the book that the remaining stories are based on "notes for other stories among her mother's possessions."
Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE, the latest Sam McCain novel and many other fine stories-long and short. You can find him here.
Herbert D. Kastle wrote a number of science fiction stories in magazines of the 1950s. That's where I first read him. Later in the 1960s he was writing those fat sexy bestseller-type novels that owed more to marketing and Harold Robbins than his presumed muse.
Then in 1974 he wrote CROSS COUNTRY. Here's a quote from one of the reviews: "This novel seems to occupy the same dark and twisted territory as the works of Jim Thompson. Characters interact in a dance of barely suppressed psychopathological urges and desires that is as
grotesquely fascinating as a multi-car pileup on the freeway. It may leave you feeling unclean afterwards, but chances are you will not forget it."
Damn straight. It really is a sewer of sex and terror and blood-soaked suspense. I read it in one long sitting. If it's trash, as some called it at the time, it is spellbinding trash.
IMDB sums up the story line succintly: "After a woman is found butchered in her New York apartment, suspicion falls on her estranged husband, an ad executive who has suddenly left town on a cross-country road trip. He takes along a beautiful girl he met in a bar and a drifter he picked up along the way. A cop sets out after the husband, but he's more interested in shaking him down than bringing him back."
Kastle masterfully controls his long nightmare journey and you buy into his paranoia. He shows you an American wasteland of truck stops, motels, convenience stores connected by interstate highway and darkness. By book's end everyone will betray everyone else. This is survival of the fittest enacted by a Yuppie businessman, sociopathic hippies and a crooked cop. The sheer nastiness of Kastle's existential vision make this book impossible to forget. Thirty-some years after I first read it I still think of it from time to time when hundreds of other novels have fled from memory.
As a vision of hell, it's a small masterpiece.