Category Archives: gothic fiction

The Grimmest Error Reaps Death

As Alice set aside her work for the day, her sheets of written text, an uncomfortable feeling stole over her. She’d committed an egregious error of some kind. The pages sat in a heap on her desk. Could she sort through them at this late hour? She didn’t think so. Her employer was not a man to mess with. The sky glowed orange behind her–not with evening, but with morning.

Alice had worked herself to the bone over this document. She had worked herself to skin and bones. Her hair, long and thin, hung in a ponytail sheath down her back. It was her last vestige of youth with its golden sheen, but the roots were ash. This work had aged her, and she had worked with such diligence, too. Yet even diligence wasn’t enough to avoid fatal errors. And make no mistake: her employer would view the error as fatal. This fatality could affect her family if she allowed it to. But she wouldn’t allow it. She would offer her own life instead.

Armed with the ream of pages, she carried the document up the hill to her master’s residence. After his secretary admitted her, she placed the document at his feet, and then bowed to her knees.

“I made an error, and I don’t have time to fix it,” she whispered, her eyes downcast to the stone floor.

“Please show me your face,” he said.

She raised her face, but not her body. She didn’t dare stand in his presence, nor did she dare look directly at him. She raised her face and stared into the corners of her eyes.

“What do you propose to do about it?”

“I know I must give my life for it. If I give my life, will you protect my family?”

“I am now, and have always been a fair judge. I accept your offer. The Grim Reaper will come for you at midnight. Set your house in order. I won’t allow him to touch the other members of your family.”

“Thank you.”

Alice trembled from the release of tensed muscles. For so many years, she’d worked on that document, her body as cramped as her writing hand, bent over her enormous desk. Her desk now sat empty, and she wouldn’t return to it. She would spend her last hours with her husband and children.

She and her family lived in the upper portion of her father’s house. Due to her husband’s low income, and her lack of one, they remained a multi-generational family, despite Alice’s plans for future autonomy. Her windfall was to come after her work’s completion, but now that riches were no longer an option, they would have to learn to live with even less–no mother, no wife, no daughter. How could she break it to them? They had tirelessly supported her project for years.

Somehow, she managed. She broke the truth, and they accepted it in the way that inevitable truth must be swallowed. Her older children understood, but her younger ones didn’t. However, older and younger alike decided not to dwell on it, and most likely for the same reasons. The young ones didn’t understand, yet they understood sadness, and they attempted to avoid it at all cost.

The little ones played; the older children read. Alice cooked dinner and cleaned up the kitchen and put the little ones to bed upstairs. Back downstairs, her husband and two eldest daughters sat silently at the kitchen table, their arms spread across the surface as if in defeat. Alice’s father didn’t seem to know what to do. He wandered the house–he picked up his guitar and strummed it. He slid a Robin Mark album in the player. Maybe songs of God would drive the darkness away. Of course, they couldn’t. This kind of death–contractual–was firmly entrenched in the physical world and in its tangible words. It contained no spiritual message.

For the last few hours before midnight, Alice tried to forget her fate. She sat with her husband and her beautiful eldest daughters and drank tea with them. With every space left inside her soul, she soaked up her daughters’ images–their long hair and soft gray eyes, which they turned from her. One scrolled through the music selection on her Android, and the other traced pictures on the wood grain of the table, invisible worlds that kept to the boundaries of her finger. Alice offered coffee to her husband, and he accepted it, though he didn’t take a drink. He slipped into a half-catatonic state, which Alice couldn’t blame him for.

At a few minutes to midnight, her father pointed to the time, and desperation filled Alice’s soul. She ran upstairs and shook her little ones awake long enough to choke out I love you to each. Her eight-year-old sleepily opened her eyes, wrapped her arms around Alice’s neck, and mumbled something that sounded like I know. Her son’s eyes flickered. He said nothing.

She ran back downstairs just as the wind rattled the glass in the windows. Lightning split the darkness and thunder cracked, and Alice found it ironic that her actual ending would be the cliche sort she’d always avoided in her writing. Death would come on the wings of a stormy night, and how could it be any other way? The lights flashed off and back on; the Robin Mark album petered out with a crackle of static.

The door flung itself open by an unseen force. Whatever happened, she would remain calm. She had no other choice. When she glanced at her family at the table, they looked away, stared into the table surface, and Alice hoped they were imagining a different life there. On the other side of her, her right side, her father stood grinding his teeth, his jaw muscles twitching. Her father’s pallor faded and his eyes glazed.

Finally, she faced the open doorway. This was the only way out–the only way to pay for her mistake. The Grim Reaper rolled up, his legs attached to metallic rollers. He groaned from the rust of centuries. He towered as tall as the house, his metal jaws attached to a swing loader. At his side, two children in white gowns hovered, waiting. They floated peacefully, unafraid of death. Their faces bore no expression, and they didn’t move or flinch, even as the swing loader swung down toward Alice’s skin-and-bones figure. It would snatch her up, and she would weigh nothing to its iron form. It opened its jaws, ready.


Mike Duran’s The Resurrection: A Beautiful Blending of the Gothic

On Gothic fiction: The Brits, being the master novelists that they are, created this genre of literature in the 18th C. Unless I’m mistaken, Horace Walpole was the first author to pen a work of Gothic fiction in his Castle of Otranto. Walpole set the standard, in any case: a setting that is alive with darkness and mystery, where the supernatural looms largely–and, yes, I do mean largely. There is no mistaking the supernatural in Walpole’s work.

His Castle was followed by many works of Gothic fiction, in which authors competed to create the scariest, darkest, or most bizarre works of fiction. This was a breathing time for the Brits, in which they could forget for just a moment how the enlightenment had dampened them, and live again in a world where mysticism and the supernatural could exist–generally in fantastical Catholic realms, otherwise known to them as Mediterranean countries.

Then along came the more feminine Gothic. Writers such as Ann Radcliffe used the same motifs of darkness and evil, of crypts and ghostly encounters in Mediterranean countries, except with one vital difference–these authors relegated the supernatural to the unbelievable. Their enlightenment thinking got the best of them; natural forces explained all hints of the supernatural. Morality and even, perhaps, underlying feminism took hold of their texts.

On the modern Gothic: I read Mike Duran’s book The Resurrection a couple of weeks ago. I must admit that I was prepared to enjoy it because I’ve enjoyed Mike’s blog for about a year now. He’s smart. He doesn’t shy away from controversy. And I knew he would soon debut a work of supernatural fiction, which to me is just another name for Gothic literature, one of my pet subjects (plus, if you must know, I also write supernatural fiction). Then he wrote a truthful but discouraging article disparaging reviewers that hand out five-star ratings like candy. I felt trapped. I wanted to review his book; in fact, I had to because I had won a copy off his blog. How could I give it a good review after that? Honesty is one thing–but how does he know one way or the other whether I’m honest? Suddenly, I found myself in the damned if you do, damned if you don’t arena of book reviewing.

I’m not a particularly nice person, all in all. I’m a critic at heart, but I know when it’s good for me to shut my mouth. I’ve learned this after many hard lessons. So instead of reviewing Mike’s book here on my blog (I had already given it a 5-star review on Amazon), I turned my attentions elsewhere. I picked up another–secular–book of Gothic fiction, Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. The beauty of the language captured me. I was utterly, soulfully lured into a London ghost story with the classical style of writing that I crave. I fell for it–until the end, in which I discovered that it wasn’t a classical novel after all. It was, in fact, a modern novel in which nobody wins–not the good, not the evil. It just ends. The supernatural is rendered into impotent god-like ghost figures who can’t save themselves, let alone anyone else. Her story, ultimately, was thoroughly unbelievable. I sank under a weight of depression and returned to The Resurrection, which still sat on my bedside table awaiting review. I knew at that point the reason I had given Mike’s book a 5-star rating.

Finally, the novel I’m meant to review: The Resurrection blends the Walpole aesthetic of the supernatural with the feminine Gothic, except with the modern American twist, in which the supernatural exists in the Protestant world of the here and now. His book is a modern adaptation that utilizes every facet of the genre: his setting is dark and mysterious, his heroine broken–a crippled kind of Jane Eyre, and his supernatural is larger than life. And maybe it’s just me, but I found the romance between the heroine and her construction-worker husband extremely sexy. I’m not much into eye-probing and rakish stares; I’ve been married for 17 and 1/2 years to my own fire-fighter type of heroic man, and that’s the best kind of romance there is–one of devotion between a husband and wife.

Mike Duran’s writing style is more matter-of-fact than poetic, but it works. It’s believable. His ghost story is creepy, cold, and left me jittery–and, yet, I believed in it. Add to that a satisfying ending, in which the supernatural guides the main characters to fight their battles and actually prevail against darkness, and the story is complete.

I have a few criticisms of the novel, and since the author wants them, I’ll deliver:

*The beginning is abrupt. It lets the reader in on the story right away, which is a plus in today’s publishing world, I suspect. One of the main protagonists, Ian Clark, witnesses the ghost who haunts him. The other main protagonist, the crippled heroine I already mentioned, experiences her first vision. But these scenes were terribly rushed and left me a little breathless because I felt pulled along by a plethora of overly active verbs. The writing calms down after that, and I don’t mean that it slows down. It calms down.

*I’m not a big fan of scenic fiction, I have to admit, but I also realize that today’s readers wants their fiction to mimic the art of cinema, and so be it. I don’t like it, but I’ll deal with it. Mike’s novel is no different than any other modern scenic fiction. His writing is more intelligent than most, and for that, I give him kudos. In today’s world, calling a work scenic is not criticism.

*The author doesn’t want to traverse the path of fear very far. This may be an honest criticism depending on what the reader expects from the story. Personally, I don’t want to have nightmares. To me, the author goes just far enough, such that the supernatural is tangible, but not horrifying.

*The worst part of the novel, for me, is the afterword. Yes, I realize, it’s not technically part of the plot. Apologetics have a long and illustrious history in Christian writing, but I don’t want to read them after I’ve finishing a novel that gives me satisfaction in and of itself. Plus, I have more disagreements with the theology in the afterward than I do with the theology in the novel. I can almost guarantee that wasn’t the author’s intent.

My rating stated boldly: I give this book five stars, and not simply because I want to bolster the genre. Go ahead and argue with me, if you want, Mr. Duran. And don’t worry. I’m expecting an even better second book. I love the supernatural genre, otherwise known as the Gothic, and I can’t get enough of it. Keep delivering it, already!

Buy The Resurrection HERE. Discover more about the author HERE.