Allusionary Assembly

The Writing of Kerry E.B. Black

Book Review: “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens

In 6 year old Kya’s experience, everyone leaves. Her siblings fled, leaving her with deeply troubled parents. Her abused mother walked away, stumbling a bit on the crocodile-skin heels she favored, swallowed by the shadows at the end of the lane outside their ramshackle cabin in a marsh situated along a North Carolina coast. Eventually even her drunken father abandoned her. Yet somehow, timid Kya survived in the wetland she loved, among the birds and the insects with whom she felt kinship. From the folk of the nearby town, she endures prejudice and experiences kindness. But when the one-time star football player is found dead, a murder investigation embroils Kya, the shy “Marsh Girl” in suspicion. 

Delia Owens’ novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” provides a rich, almost tactile coming of age tale told as a mystery and a fantastic survival story. It touches on classism, racism, and sexism. Owens weaves biology lessons into the lush prose, tips in a sprinkling of poetry, and stirs it with a tear-jerking courtroom drama that leaves readers longing to see if Barkley Cove, NC is a real place. This beautiful, non-linear book is well worth reading.

Agony of Unsurety – a 99 word story

The Buckeroos at Carrot Ranch are again answering Head Rough Writer Charli Mills’ challenge. Below is my take on this newest challenge.

Why not check out the other responses and/or try your hand at writing a drabble?

Agony of Unsurety

Written by Kerry E.B. Black

It came with a ping that set my heart to giddy bouncing – a text message. From him. My fingers fumbled to push ‘read,’ but I hesitated. For an eternity of minutes, I pondered what he might have written, simultaneously imagining in this new beginning a lifetime – and an abrupt end. 

With a shake of my head, I pushed aside foolishness. “A coward dies a thousand deaths.” I would be brave. Brazen even, perhaps? 

Swallow fear. 

Create a fresco homage to a beauty I no longer felt from the wet plaster of my being.  

After all, he wrote.

I’d read.

Book Review: Circe

Although her Titan father, Sea Nymph mother, and gifted siblings misuse and treat Circe poorly, she possesses something they undervalue and never understand. In truth, hers is something one doesn’t often see in the ancient Greek patheos – Circe has empathy.

Madeline Miller tells the story of (and pre- and post-dating) Homer’s historic Iliad and Odyssey through the tight lense of Circe’s experiences. She was a rejected child, longing for acceptance. A spurned lover and creator of a monster. An example and sacrifice to appease a god’s wrath. A would-be jailer and avenger of wrongs. A tamer of wild beasts. A protective mother. A healer. A witch.

None undervalued her worth more than Circe herself, but she grew into an understanding of her own nature which eluded others from Mt. Olympus. With such poetic lines as “Those who fight against prophecy only draw it closer…” the story spans lifetimes of mortality and the unchangeability of immortality. Many of the discrepancies between Circe’s first person account of her existence and those told by contemporary bards are explained thus: Men must be made more heroic in their retellings, and the best way to do so is to show their prowess at cowing and conquering women. But Circe’s a woman with a mind and body of her own, and magic to back up her wishes. In all, Miller’s adaptation of this Greek myth brings a warmth to the otherwise chiseled-from-marble image of antiquity.

Book Review: “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware

Nora’s a bit of a recluse, but when she’s invited to the “Hen Do” of a past friend, she feels she must attend. The get-together is scheduled for a weekend in an immense glass house in the middle of the woods, with its spotty cellular service and opportunities for creepy interactions. Included for the guests by the up-tight party planner are a trip to a shooting range, no coffee, and even an Ouija Board. What wasn’t on the agenda was the murder.

Ruth Ware writes of a strange encounter where the suppressed past collides with the present, and her protagonist can not run from the intrigue when blood is spilled. She expertly crafts a mystery that weaves subtle elements of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” with aspects of Gillian Flynn’s books to create a suspenseful, intriguing tale.

**I had the poor judgement of reading this before my baby sister’s bachelorette party which was, incidentally, hosted over a weekend in a dark, dark wood of our own.

Book Review: “The Turn of the Key” by Ruth Ware

Much like “The Turn of the Screw” written in 1898 by Henry James, Ruth Ware has crafted a story with Gothic influences. While James began his story as a tale told as a ghost story told around a fire on Christmas Eve, Ware relays her story as a letter written to seek help from a solicitor. Both tell of a young woman put in charge of young children in seemingly supernaturally-assailed locations.

In “The Turn of the Key,” a reputedly haunted Scottish manor house has been remodeled. The front retains its old-world styling, but to the back half is merged an ultra-modern smart house. A young woman takes a position as a nanny to the children of a busy couple. Her relationship with the kids is plagued, though, with odd and sometimes hostile interactions. Strange footsteps and other disturbances wake her in the night. The lady who comes in to clean is unwelcoming, and by investigating the history of the property, she discovers a tragic past. 

Ruth Ware’s book blends modern sensibilities and technology with the ages-old ghost tale and mystery to create a slow-building, nail-biting, and atmospheric story.

Book Review: The Lost by Natashia Preston

Two teenage friends become obsessed with finding a missing classmate. To gather information about her, they attend a party. However, the girls forget all about their quest when a couple of cute college boys invite them to their game room. They hand over their cell phones. (I don’t care how cute the boy; I know very few kids who willingly hand over their phones.) From there, the girls learn what happened to their classmate – and all the missing teens from their area. 

This book ends with an obvious ploy to force readers to buy the next book. I suppose this book nods to the “Saw” franchise, sort of, or gladiatorial combat ala Hunger Games, Divergent, or Maze Runner. In truth, I’d hoped for more from the life-long friendship that begins the story, but it was dropped, and I had a hard time buying into the protagonist’s flip-flopping love interests.

Book Review: Halloween Fiend by C.V. Hunt

In the town of Strang, something stalks the streets at night, something that demands tribute, something with its own devilish sense of humor. The locals don’t want word to spread about their strange, shape-shifting creature dubbed Halloween. Instead, they host a yearly lottery (Ala Shirley Jackson’s EXCELLENT “Lottery”) to decide who among them will be Halloween’s special guest on All Hallow’s Eve.

The story follows the protagonist through the nightly rituals and lead up to the festival. He lost his mother to the beast years before and wishes to find a way to stop the monstrosity. As the festival looms, he plays host to two outsiders, the carnival ride operators.

C.V. Hunt took an interesting idea and made a atmospheric novella about Halloween every day, which was perfect to celebrate “halfway to Halloween” during this Covid Quarantine.

Book Review: The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

When cinema was in its infancy, before the addition of sound to flickering black-and-white images, a queen took her mark in the center of the scene. The girl with the Curls, Goldilocks herself, America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford.

While Ms. Pickford claimed her time in the spotlight, an artist became enamored of the burgeoning cinematic artistry. This twice-divorced woman changed her name to Frances Marion and became one of the highest paid scenarists in Hollywoodland. 

Melanie Benjamin tells the story of these remarkable women in “The Girls in the Picture.” They forged a friendship, weathered sexism, and created lasting legacies. The glitz and glamour of the emerging film industry grows along with the impact of these vividly portrayed women. The story is told from alternating perspectives and in the end gives a list of resources for further reading. 

After reading this book, I treated myself to a few of the mentioned “Flickers” and “Movies,” and it was fun to imagine what I learned about the women as I did.

Book Review: The Toll by Cherie Priest

Nobody wants to stay in Staywater, Georgia, but then again, nobody really leaves, either. After all, the few residents of the one-time logging town all know at least a couple of ghosts, and they seem to be on pretty good terms with each other. 

I mention this because the town is one of the most charming aspects of “The Toll” by Cherie Priest. I can see it as a setting for many other of her Southern Gothic tales.

This book ambles in a way that is somehow appropriate for such a place.

The blurb promises: “State Road 177 runs along the Suwannee River, between Fargo, Georgia, and the Okefenokee Swamp. Drive that route from east to west, and you’ll cross six bridges. Take it from west to east, and you might find seven.

But you’d better hope not.”

A newly wed couple on their way to honeymoon in a cabin nestled in the Okefenokee discover this seventh bridge, a single-lane stone passage with a foreboding feel. When they cross, Titus, the driver, passes out. He wakes some time later in the middle of 177, and his bride is missing. As a result, he meets the colorful locals of Staywater while the police conduct a search for the missing woman.

While drinking away some of his troubles, Titus meets the local loony who fills him in on some important facts. About every 13 years, that bridge puts in an appearance, and when that happens, the swamp floods and people go missing – including her son, who disappeared thirteen years previous. She is certain two elderly ladies who live in a dilapidated mansion outside of town with their teenaged Godson know more than they are telling about the matter.

In fact, it seems everyone in Staywater at least knows about the bridge.  

My favorite aspect of this tale is the setting. Ms. Priest makes the mud suck on readers’ shoes and bugs drone a sleepy cadence. She speckles the place with some oddities like a shop window where manikins change their outfits without human help, a dog that hangs out in a tree, and a house completely populated by dolls.

And I adored the elderly Godmothers, foul-mouthed, eccentric, and tough.

“The Toll” reads quickly and leaves a lot of questions that perhaps Ms. Priest intends to fill with another set in her Staywater.

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