reviews

Chernobyl: Mini-Series Review

Accidents happen, history is full of them, but the question is: what happens in the aftermath?

Image courtesy of HBO.

Image courtesy of HBO.

At approximately 1:23 on the morning of April 26th, 1986, reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Soviet Ukraine exploded. As was highlighted in the new mini-series Chernobyl, one of history’s worst nuclear disasters was not handled well. In fact, the poor handling was compounded by several fatal errors, made worse by the ineptitude of the Soviet government.

In its entirety, Chernobyl only runs for five episodes. But those five episodes give a detailed, harrowing look at the events leading up to and after the initial explosion. The problem is, calling it human error doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The majority of the series follows Valery Legasov, the deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute. While he is initially brought in to advise Soviet politician Boris Shcherbina on how best to clean up the site and prevent further spread of lethal radiation, Legasov eventually becomes the driving force behind the investigation into what really happened that night in Reactor 4.

But Legasov isn’t alone. The morning following the explosion, Ulana Khomyuk, a nuclear physicist, discovers that the dust on her window in Minsk, 400 kilometres away from the reactor, is already intensely radioactive. Deducing that it must have been caused by one of the reactors at the Chernobyl plant, she rushes there to join the clean up efforts, and aids in conducting her own investigations of what happened. Unlike many of the other characters in the series, Khomyuk’s character isn’t based on a real person, but instead comprises the efforts and work ethics of all the Soviet scientists who worked with Legasov and made sure that the errors made at Chernobyl would never be repeated.

Image courtesy of HBO.

Image courtesy of HBO.

The series begins with Legasov hiding tapes outside his home, which contained a complete account of the events leading up to the explosion. These tapes were damning for Anatoly Dyatlov, an engineer in Reactor 4, as they made clear he was a significant party responsible for what happened. After hiding the tapes, Legasov hangs himself, and the viewers are taken back two years and one minute. From their apartment, a good distance away, a firefighter and his wife watch in shock as Reactor 4 explodes.

As someone who has been endlessly fascinated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, but understood very little of the mechanics behind it, this series was an excellent watch. I sound a bit cavalier when I phrase it like that, and I do mean it from a standpoint of morbid curiosity, but then isn’t that how most disasters work? After all, the expression “it’s like watching a train wreck” exists for a reason.

That being said, I think Chernobyl did an excellent job making viewers truly understand what happened. This was a truly terrible disaster, and in the end, it was something that could very easily have been avoided were it not for the sake of human arrogance and vicious denial. The series gave significant insight into what happened, including who was ultimately responsible, and how even with overwhelming evidence, the government and the KGB still tried to cover it up. It was a very entertaining series, but it was also informative.

History remembers the name Chernobyl, and even the name Pripyat, as being ghost towns, that to this day are still so radioactive they’re uninhabitable. What fewer people remember—what the series sheds light on—is the role that the government played in what happened, in addition to individual engineers, like Dyatlov.

For anyone who has yet to watch the series and wishes to (and those that don’t, I strongly encourage you to), I’ll refrain from detailing too much of the show, so you can experience it for yourself. That being said, I’d really like to impress upon those of you who’ve yet to see it how worth watching it is.

Image courtesy of HBO.

Image courtesy of HBO.

The level of arrogance from the government, the KGB, and other officials who were supposed to be in charge of civilian safety, that was presented in this show was infuriating, as evidenced by the amount of screaming at the TV myself and another of the Voices did while watching, however, it was true to life. The creators of the series went to great efforts to stick as closely to historical events as possible, and it worked out well.

Upon doing some further research into the series, I learned that it actually gathered much of its own research from a book written by Svetlana Alexievich, who gathered the stories from Pripyat locals that experienced the event directly. This makes many moments throughout the series even more chilling. One that stands out in particular is a scene wherein residents of Pripyat watched the reactor burn from a distance, while radioactive ash fell like snow upon their heads. They were aware it was ash, but horrifically unaware of the radioactivity, and so they danced and played in it, not realizing the clock counting down the end of all their lives had just started ticking

As I said, the truth of the matter is that history is full of accidents, some more or less intentional than others. The important part is what we learn from them, and that we do better going forward. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster, as illustrated in the TV series, was a chaotic mess, and by all means, should have been avoided. It provides a warning for what happens to those who put loyalty based upon arrogance and ignorance above common sense and common good.

Let’s just hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.


There are two previously published posts on Voices in the Attic that relate to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster: Frozen in Time and Open for Visitation and The Black Bird of Chernobyl. Check them out!


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Maggie Kendall

Maggie Kendall spent the first fifteen years of her life furiously avoiding all things horror, but then her friend forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there’s been no turning back. She still checks the bathroom mirror for Bloody Mary before getting in the shower.

RECLAIM

Check out  https://reclaimresist.weebly.com/  for more information about this stunning collection!

Check out https://reclaimresist.weebly.com/ for more information about this stunning collection!

RECLAIM: An Anthology of Women Poetry addresses the need for women to regain control and autonomy over their own bodies, and acts as a platform to represent their struggles and backgrounds. In this first part to the two-part anthology series, readers will not be disappointed with the diverse body of writers, connecting to different cultures, orientations, and races.

Published in May 2019, this anthology features forty-seven female writers, building a community within fluid poems that spread smoothly out over the pages. Engaging by how the voices promote unity in their struggles and encounters, this impressive collection will linger on in the minds of readers.

Easily shifting the balance, writers snatch at their own bodies and examine the carcasses left behind by society. This impressive literary collection features a variety of excellent work, but in particular “Training Bras” by Wanda Deglane andFat Girls on Trains” by Djamilla Mercurio demand for swift attention. Their concepts and experiences of bodies are immediately relatable, grabbing at attention. Often, women become disconnected from power and control over their bodies, and these two poems bring forward a whirlpool of emotions and experiences.

Women have spent decades struggling to find a platform for their voices. Pulling together groups of like-minded individuals, they have brought forward countless issues of gender experiences, and fought to be heard. Even with historical groups lobbying together for change, certain voices were sidelined and left unheard.

This anthology helps move forward. How we navigate our own lives is often an isolating experience, but this community of women pulls together their own experiences, and knits together an entire voyage of individual voices. Readers will certainly be enriched by this collection of poetry and group of women.


If you are looking for a host of voices that linger over the pages, do not hesitate in picking up RECLAIM: An Anthology of Women Poetry today.


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Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.

The Voices Recommend: Short Horror Films

Recently I have been watching some pretty cool short films on youtube, because I, unfortunately, exhausted my supply of feature films. Most of them, on average, are about fifteen minutes long. But the great thing about short films is that they aren’t spread thin like longer feature films, which means greater attention to detail. Short films also offer more creative freedom and they give talented filmmakers the chance to show their work. So let’s dig in!

1.) The IMom

Directed by Ariel Martin, The IMom is a dark science fiction film that tells of a future in which the work of a mother is done instead by a robot, called the IMom. What could possibly go wrong, right? Well, the immediate result is a detached and lazy biological mother,  who is more interested in her phone than she is her own children. Meanwhile, the eldest son, Sam, is not particularly fond of his real mother or the IMom, even though the IMom is the one cooking for him and helping him memorize the Bible as part of his homework.

Fortunately, the IMom has the Gospel of Matthew installed, so she recites the verses for him:

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”

There’s a power cut, and IMom seems to glitch for a few moments, before recovering and returning to normal. Then she shares a heartwarming moment with Sam. They talk about the sheep and the wolf again. Sam asks her, which one are you? You look like me, so you must be a sheep like me.

But IMom is neither.  Brace yourself for a horrible twisty ending.

2.) The Top of the Stairs: Agatha

This one is a neat little period piece, but it’s not like Downton Abbey or Poldark.  Agatha, directed by Timothy Vandenberg, is more reminiscent of  2012’s The Woman in Black, and I loved every second of it. We begin in an old house, probably around the early 20th century. A little girl stands in the hallway, where she is asked by a stern-sounding lady if she has come alone, as requested. The lady instructs her that her job is to take food up to the attic, place the food on the table, then leave. She must never, ever walk past the table.

So the little girls goes up into the dark attic with a plate of raw chicken. There’s a figure lying on the bed, who makes this horrible wheezing sound—not reassuring, right? But she manages to put the plate down without incident, then she gets paid for doing so. The little girl does this several more times. The second time the figure is nowhere to be seen, the third time it’s sitting by the window. You’ll have to find out what happens next.  I recommend this one for the sheer creepiness factor and the incredible makeup work. It sent shivers up my spine.

3. And They Watched

Inspired by the reinstatement of the electric chair in Tennessee, Toronto-based director Vivian Lin dives into the topic of capital punishment her gruesome yet thought-provoking film, And They Watched.

A prison janitor goes about his job, numb to the dreadful realities of the place where he works. He cleans the windows that separate the electric chair from its audience, paying no mind to the lives that have been lost there. He’s so divorced from reality that he doesn’t even notice the grisly apparitions following him around. However, the deceased prisoners want retribution.

4.) Dédalo

If you are a fan of the Alien franchise, then Dédalo, directed Jerónimo Rocha, is certainly something to watch. It’s a dark and grimy science fiction horror that takes place aboard a space freighter, which has been overrun by alien creatures. Siena, the main character, must survive in the maze of machinery while avoiding the creatures, who are eating her crewmates.

5.) The Exorcism

This one isn’t so much a horror film, but more of a comedic homage to the 1973 classic, The Exorcist. So, if you have a dark sense of humour, this will give you the giggles at the very least. The Exorcism, by Adam Bolt, explores the surprisingly endearing relationship that has developed over the years between the demon Valak and Jacob, the exorcist on call.  Together they recount all the times they’ve met, telling stories to the bewildered and markedly unimpressed sister of the possessed woman. It’s a wild ride, let me tell you, and absolutely worth a watch.


That’s all we have for now! Let us know what you think about these spooky films in the comments, or give us a shout on twitter @atticvoices!


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Natascha Wood

Say her name three times and she will appear.

Twitter: @oldvvitch

Weird: A Review

In February, we here at Voices In The Attic did indeed leave our dark hovel for a night out at the Gladstone Theatre in Ottawa, where we watched a performance of Weird: The Witches of Macbeth.

Weird is the flagship show of Theatre Articus, a performance company based in Kitchener-Waterloo. You might recognize this show from the 2016 Toronto Fringe Festival, where it was the recipient of the Cutting Edge Award. The Ottawa Fringe Festival also gave Weird a glowing review, and awarded it the Best of Fest in 2015. So we knew we were in for a pretty great show.

As the name suggests, Weird is based on William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth. It combines both the famous verses from the original play, and new verses in Iambic pentameter by writer and director Phillip Psutka. However, Macbeth is just an invisible character on the sidelines of this play, because the Weird Sisters are centre stage, as they rightfully should be.

The Witches of Macbeth are iconic characters in both theatre and literature. To many modern women, they are a symbol of female power. However, at the time of their conception, post-Elizabethan Britain had descended into a hundred-year witch panic. Dissident women were put to trial, burned or taken to the gallows for something as small as a birthmark. So, naturally, the original Weird Sisters were supposed to represent evil and spiritual treachery.

That’s not the case in this play though. Philip Psutka and co-creator Lindsay Bellaire masterfully present the witches as multi-dimensional characters, who are anything but evil. Instead, they are servants to nature. The three sisters—played by Lindsay Bellaire, Lauren Fields and Emily Hughes—are incredibly compelling women.

All in all, Weird truly is a unique composition of aerial acrobatics on crimson silks, imaginative storytelling, fantastic acting, and expert use of Shakespearean language and rhythm. And we didn’t even need a translation book to understand it! I would absolutely recommend this show to anyone looking for innovative Canadian theatre. If you see it around, go see it!

I will leave you with a particularly potent (and some might say relevant) line from Weird: “The earth doth rot, when power is had and reason is not,”


Check out Theatre Articus’ website for more information.


Do you love the Witches of Macbeth as much as we do, because we really love the Witches of Macbeth. Talk to us in the comments!


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Natascha Wood

Say her name three times and she will appear.

Twitter: @oldvvitch

What to Read in March 2019

March is the month of surprise snow storms, excessive Irish drinking, and some time to check out some magnificent books. If you’re pondering what your next great read will be, have no fear. We Voices keep up-to-date with both classics and the newest releases in the book world.


The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison was the divine mind behind Beloved, the beautifully creepy story about a family and their life after abolished slavery, chronicling the experiences of a black woman named Sethe. Beloved focused on not just her days as a slave and her time living as a free woman, but also the mental trauma that she endured. Morrison infused Beloved with the heavy theme of infanticide, representing the true historical actions of many slave women.

Morrison was also the writer behind many other great books like The Bluest Eye and Paradise, and in February 2019, she came out with a brand new book, The Source of Self-Regard. As a collection of essays, speeches, and meditations, she evaluates social issues with keen awareness as well as giving insight to her work as a creator and artist.

If you’re interested in some deep reading to get you through the chaotic snow drifts of March, I strongly recommend giving Morrison a look.

Check out  Penguin Random House  for Morrison’s new book.

Check out Penguin Random House for Morrison’s new book.

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

A possibly biased opinion, but Shirley Jackson was the foundation of modern Gothic literature. With her creepy inspiration, she published a massive collection of short stories along with five novels in her lifetime. Her most popular novels were The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, but The Sundial was one of the most deviously clever novels.

What set this book apart from others was the thoroughly unlikeable cast of characters living in a grand house, driven mad with paranoia and potential prophecies of end times.

Jackson appreciated fine architecture. Her work is full of grand mansions that are overwhelming in physical details and personal histories. The Sundial revolved around the large mansion of the family, and turned into their prison as they began to fear the world ending, due to a supposed ghostly apparition claiming that the family would inherit the Earth in a year’s time.

Fearful of destruction, panic from the real world Cold War infused itself into the plot. The family retreats into this mansion like a bunker, preparing for world’s catastrophic events. They begin to burn their possessions to make room for necessities like first aid kits and rations, and slowly descend into madness.

Winter might seem like the end of the world, but you can at least take comfort in Jackson’s delightful dialogue and dramatic plot lines.

Ready to dive into Jackson’s brilliant novel written in 1958? Check out  Penguin Books UK  for this great read.

Ready to dive into Jackson’s brilliant novel written in 1958? Check out Penguin Books UK for this great read.

Looker: A Novel by Laura Sims

I always appreciate a fantastic debut novel, especially when it is so masterfully creepy.

Telling the story about a woman obsessed with her famous neighbour, Laura Sims describes a delicate boundary between admiration and obsession with a master touch. Living just houses away, there is no privacy to be found in this story. The narrator obsessed over not just the woman but her garbage and looks, adopting similar lipstick and clothing to become the woman.

The theme of stalking in literature has become immensely popular due to the Lifetime-turned-Netflix series You, and we have become much more aware of the privacy concerns. We’ve possibly all tried to cyber stalk an ex-partner online, or have been stalked by others, and we have grown startling used to cat-fishing. Looker is a new spin on the issue because it removes romantic obsession from the story, and infuses the desire for friendship and basic relationships.

Friendship is often an undervalued theme in literature, and Looker revealed the danger that can exist between two different people, without the inclusion of a sexual element.

An excellent contribution to the thriller genre, Sims manages to include jealousy and real world infertility struggles into her work. We should all be keenly anticipating her next novel.

Are you ready for an intense, razorsharp read? Check out  Simon & Schuster  for this brilliant novel.

Are you ready for an intense, razorsharp read? Check out Simon & Schuster for this brilliant novel.

The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial by Maggie Nelson

Famous for her poetry, Maggie Nelson draws inspiration from real events that impacted her own family when her Aunt Jane Mixer went missing and was found murdered in the 60s.

Her work The Red Parts had been written after her collection of poetry based on Jane, titled effectively as Jane. The poetry shed insight of true crime and the issues of inherited grief, and contained enough research that it became heavily valuable to detectives who picked up the case. She was communicating frequently with the lead detective, sharing her personal research and providing careful insight to certain elements of the case.

Due to limited resources at the time, Mixer had been a cold case before DNA had grown highly useful. With new technology and options available, her case was reopened and connected to two different DNA sources, allowing justice to be legally given.

The Red Parts is a personal examination on the experiences on living exposed. Mixer had originally been suspected to have been a victim of the Michigan Murders, but elements of her case had separated her from other bodies. Because of the mystery behind her disappearance and reappearance in a graveyard, her family suffered trauma and confusion. Death becomes more terrifying when a sister and daughter are found strangled on top of a grave, with her possessions pooled around her.

Nelson cleverly gave testimony as a stranger to her dead Aunt, but it shows how deeply Mixer’s murder impacted her own life, and her relationships with her family. An excellent nonfiction look into the corners of the true crime world, Nelson weaves poetic language into her prose.

Need some true crime in your frigid life? Head over to  Penguin Books UK  and jump into Nelson’s brilliant prose.

Need some true crime in your frigid life? Head over to Penguin Books UK and jump into Nelson’s brilliant prose.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

Recently widowed Elise is sent to her husband’s country estate, and is tossed into a Gothic landscape filled with unsettling wooden figures that slowly multiply over the course of the book. Carrying on in the same vein of other excellent books like The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca, this book is highly recommended to readers who love the feeling of anxiety twisting in their stomachs.

She’s recently released a new novel in the past year, and I highly recommend browsing through her work. She establishes historical scenery and fixates on proper representation of women as both victims and villains.

Modern (and successful) takes on the Gothic genre are incredibly rare, but Laura Purcell managed to successfully transform the element by including brand new material like wooden mannequin dolls. With a dead cow left on the doorstep of the country estate and unreliable narrators, this is a brilliant read that you will fly through. You’ll be pondering over the true villain for days afterwards.

Creepy gothic atmosphere with shades of Jackson? Hit up  Penguin Random House .

Creepy gothic atmosphere with shades of Jackson? Hit up Penguin Random House.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Is anything more haunting than a postwar mansion slowly crumbling away?

Sarah Waters spins a haunting tale about the Hundreds Hall, a once impressive and massive estate that is now falling to pieces. The garden is overwhelmed with weeds and the house is becoming a challenge to maintain with limited income by the Lady of the house and her two grown children. Doctor Faraday becomes quite close to the family of Hundred Hall, and begins to pry apart the ghostly secrets within the walls.

This book is definitely the opposite of a classic ghost story. Waters uses this novel to reveal the historical downfall of the entire class system post war, with the infusion of a possible ghost running around. With delightful atmosphere and lengthy dialogue sections, this book is fairly lengthy, but a perfect read to get you through the month of March.

If you are a fan of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, you will adore the tense and unreliable narration, and the vivid characters springing to life across the pages. Waters has written many great novels that focus on different areas of history, but this is one of her most vividly researched pieces.

You can find all of the creepy ghostly themes by Sarah Waters at  Penguin Random House Canada .

You can find all of the creepy ghostly themes by Sarah Waters at Penguin Random House Canada.


Don’t be a victim during the final stretch of winter’s cold, icy grip. Set yourself up with either some fictional tales of ghosts or brilliantly written accounts of true crime, and find yourself a comfortable place to hermit.

Any books catch your attention lately? Let me know @rahel_taller.


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Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.

Olivia Gatwood is the Life of the Party

Both Olivia Gatwood and New American Best Friend were a gift given to humanity. Her first book of poetry was published in 2017 and was an expertly crafted collection of work. In particular, Gatwood focuses on the elements of being a woman and living in modern America. In particular, her series of odes are particularly breathtaking in their raw honesty and presentation.

Cover image from  Random House

Cover image from Random House

We did not deserve Gatwood when she slammed her way into popularity with her viral videos like “Ode to My Bitch Face” and “Ode to the Women on Long Island”, and we certainly did not deserve her new collection, Life of the Party. This collection expands on what her earlier work started, and further projects her voice into covering topics like violence and victimhood. Gatwood excels in writing about womanhood and sexuality, and has a huge audience desperately waiting for her next collection to be released.

As an educator in sexual assault prevention, her work has been showcased in publications like Poetry City U.S.A and Winter Tangerine. Gatwood’s recordings have garnered thousands upon thousands of views, and her voice easily carries not just words artfully strung together, but manages to convey entire stories that expand far past the pages of her writing.

Life of the Party is deeply inspired by true crime, and Gatwood presents her own perspective on very real situations. America has recently been cracked open and had its dark underbelly forcefully exposed by a multitude of women in the past few years, and her voice further aids to the progress being made. Our obsession and romanization of murdered women is often fixated on by the cold reality that we currently live in. There is danger in being a woman, and especially a woman of color.

The appearances of murdered women on movies and television shows is a constant theme. They act as an object to dwell on, and they also serve to support male leads and their lives moving forward. Dead bodies and the act of murdering has become a romanticized dark area in pop culture, which influences how we perceive violent acts. Staggering numbers of teenagers today admire serial killers and their activities, transforming them into heroic figures while ignoring the bodies behind their statistics.

Books based on true crime have become popular. They analyze crime scenes and present information to the general public, making information accessible. However, often books distance themselves from the identities of the murdered women and victims, and these books slowly lose sensitivity. Like a moth to a flame, we gravitate and devour these books.

When I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara was published posthumously in 2018, we were obsessed. There is something so heartbreakingly compelling about reading the stories of victims and their families living in the aftermath. McNamara had compiled her research and built the foundation of the book with her outlines, previously written articles and a few fully fleshed out chapters. Efforts by ghostwriters ensured that the book was published and McNamara’s voice continued, telling the history of the Golden State Killer.

The book rose into popularity throughout bookstores across North America and was the 2018 winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards. McNamara managed to restore the voices of the victims inside their own narratives.  This artful act of compassion and respectful journalism managed to fixate an entire audience of readers who firmly then turned their attentions to the legal actions against Joseph James DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer, that unravelled throughout that year. Because of McNamara’s efforts, we were able to remember the victims behind DeAngelo’s actions properly. Nothing was glamorized, and McNamara directed out attention to the staggering reality of cold case files as well as both the effective and ineffective abilities that DNA has on solving the ‘unsolvable’.

Photo courtesy of  Olivia Gatwood  via Twitter

Photo courtesy of Olivia Gatwood via Twitter

The connection between Gatwood’s electric poetry and McNamara’s carefully researched writing is obvious. These women are fixated on restoring narratives and weaving a complex story. Without women like these two, we would not experience such carefully pieced together work, and we as a whole would all suffer. When women die, they either become invisible and voiceless, or they are dragged out on display. We need women willing to restore voices and narratives, but also to provide compassionate storytelling.

There’s a reason women carry their keys in their hands and don’t go jogging at night. We also avoid discussing the complex differences between murdered white women and murdered women of color. We dislike engaging in discussions on the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada, but we are certainly fascinated with Robert Pickton and his activities. Pop culture builds an image of strangers murdering women, but statistically, women are more likely to be abused by men that they had an already existing relationship with. We need to look beyond media representation and look at the bigger picture, and who is truly impacted.

The conversation around murdered women is heavily limited and censored. Thankfully, we have writers and educators willing to lend their own voice and provide a platform for new thinking.

We are certainly marking down the days to the release of Life of the Party, and you should be too.


Random House will be releasing Gatwood’s Life of the Party August 27th, 2019. You can get your hands on the paperback for $17.00. Until the summer, though, you can catch more of her thoughts @oliviagatwood as well on the podcast that she co-hosts, called Say More.


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Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.

A Haunted Legacy

When considering the horror genre, our attention often swivels to the large sections in bookstores occupied by the still growing collection of Stephen King. He’s the writer behind classics like Misery and Carrie, and has inspired so many films based off of the words he originally wrote.

Nevertheless, if we creep back to the years before King’s influence, we arrive at Shirley Jackson, the original inspiration for much of the current genre.

The Gothic genre flourished from her care. Responsible not just for six novels, she also wrote an extensive collection of short stories and two autobiographies, along with other nonfiction works. Her popularity was built off of her ability to startle, using clever symbolism and dark undertones to rattle readers. She revolutionized American literature during the 1950s and 60s.

All of her work was complex. Each story had layered meanings and could be analyzed further, to peel back each element in order to reveal the smooth inner workings that made her writing great. However, the novel that truly sparked her career as a novelist was The Haunting of Hill House.

This book was filled with the turmoil from the relationships she had with both her husband and her mother. Her husband, Stanley Hyman, was known for his frequent sexual relations with other women. In contrast, her mother was an obsessive woman, hellbent on dominating Jackson. Despite her infusion of her painful relationships, this was the first novel that she wrote that achieved immediate financial success upon publication.

Telling the story of a haunted home referred to as ‘Hill House’, Jackson created a slow build of characters finding themselves caught up in the influences of the house. Eleanor Vance, the protagonist, spiralled into a descent of madness throughout the book before killing herself. The house dominates all who enter, and takes who it will. Hill House was a chaotic architectural landscape and bleak history wrapped up into a haunting tale.

Published in 1959, Jackson’s book focused on the theme of terror and revolved around a cast of characters who had taken to staying at Hill House to look for scientific evidence about the existence of the supernatural, due to the long sordid history of the house. She intentionally ensured that the house lacked any physical appearances of ghosts, and instead fixated on the psychological realm of fear, except for a single brief scene where Eleanor is confronted with a pastoral vision of her own desires. Instead of ghostly figures lurking, Jackson was intrigued by how a branch would strike a window during the dead of night and the fear that it would spark. Her book delved into finding the irrational as well as the rational in that emotion, and how it managed to manipulate the different characters.

1963 brought the grim novel to film. Retitled as The Haunting, it was a cinematic masterpiece. Cleverly filtered to remain dark and haunting, the house visually dominated the screen. Jackson’s original story was translated to screen with mostly minor changes, and the house took a defined shape under the influence of MGM and Robert Wise. Wise followed Jackson’s lead and never once revealed any physical images of a ghost. Instead the house was filled with harsh physical angles and dreadful artwork, and set to the uneasy tune of a house settling loudly. The atmosphere produced enough gloom to make anxiety twist in the stomachs of the viewers.

From the 1963 film  The Haunting

From the 1963 film The Haunting

Cinematically, this gave the house a massive presence that relied more on clever film strategies and less on superficial props. In comparison to the newer remake of the book as a 2018 Netflix series and the use of physical figures in the backgrounds, The Haunting had massive success playing with the anxiety of the viewer through subtle lighting and dramatic angles.

Jackson had been spurred to write a ghostly tale and had turned her focus to finding imagery of houses and mansions to spark her interest. The Haunting of Hill House was not the first novel of hers to fixate on dominating houses. The Sundial and We Have Always Lived in the Castle were two other grim tales that fixated on grand mansions and were each paired with equally lengthy family histories.

Perhaps she had been inspired by her own family history for these books as well. Her great-great-grandfather was a notable architect in the California area and helped to establish many outstanding mansions. Houses were in Jackson’s own blood.

Another source of inspiration for the dark Hill House was from the very real Winchester House, where the widow of a gun magnate had a labyrinth of a mansion built to protect her from all the vengeful spirits that she believed to be haunting her. The chaotic layout was said to confuse any spirits, ensuring that she was safe. Jackson took advantage of the real life architectural nightmare and incorporated the clever details into her own work, layering in the odd turrets and maze like hallways. Hill House was a feat of clever architecture, and had to take the shape of an endless labyrinth.

Wise chose the formerly known Ettington Hall for an exterior film location for The Haunting. Filled with a dark history of tragedies and plenty of potential for ghosts, the building terrified the actresses thoroughly. With the leering stance it took from the deliberate low angles filmed, it is easy to appreciate the hulking stance of the shadow drenched mansion. Wise had found the perfect location to represent Hill House. Perhaps a ghost of a girl would pass by one of the windows, overlooking the film set up.

While Jackson’s love for houses stood out in this novel, her haunted relationships certainly lingered both on page and on screen. The protagonist, Eleanor, frequently wishes for stability and a home. The domestic world is out of reach, and she is consumed by her desire for a place of her own. The Haunting represents this passionate wish by using her inner monologue to reveal Eleanor’s satisfaction in settling in as a member of the group, and her eventual swerve into maddening obsessiveness in remaining at Hill House.

Photo courtesy of Morgue File

Photo courtesy of Morgue File

Perhaps the most startling scene is when Eleanor, terrified, reaches out for someone’s hand. Noises and uneasy shadows cause devastating fear that takes control of her senses. Transfixed by the shadows across her wall, she feels intense pain from someone holding her hand. Originally under the assumption that her roommate Theodora, another guest at Hill House, was at her side, but all fans of both the book and film will recall the grim realization when Eleanor realizes that no one is holding her hand.

Jackson’s overwhelming loneliness and emotional isolation in her marriage may have translated into her work. How often did she look across the dinner table and face a husband who had become a stranger to her? How often did the fear of his sexual activities with other women follow her? Perhaps the hand that would reach for her own had become unfamiliar but yet so very wanted.

Eleanor’s complex relationship with her mother mirrored her own. Jackson’s own mother sent toxic letters to her daughter and despaired upon Jackson’s writing and appearance. The protagonist of the story spent years acting as caretaker to her invalid mother, shackled to her. It is not until the mother’s death that she is able to slowly take flight and wait for her own opportunity to find a life for herself. Maybe this was Jackson’s most secret wish. If her mother died, she would finally be freed from the burden of their correspondence and the endless criticism. She could fully find her own identity and not be smothered with negative remarks about her appearance.

The Haunting managed to translate much of this turmoil onto the screen. Wise managed to adapt the novel with a few alterations, and portray a growing unease throughout the course of the film. Feeding off of fear, the novel builds and creates a sharp terror that viewers will feel and certainly dread.

The movie was the perfect adaptation. Despite a follow up remake in 1999 and a completely rewritten version of the novel made for a Netflix series, The Haunting caught the strangeness perfectly. The expressions of fear across actors faces were exaggerated by the use of camera lenses and Eleanor’s inner thoughts seemed to echo over the film, creating an almost dreamlike quality to them. The Haunting allows for the viewer to slip into the slow build of madness which is why it still manages to hold up, even to this day.

The Haunting allowed viewers to feel small beneath the hulking size of Hill House. By making minimal changes to the original material, Wise produced a masterpiece that would hold up in comparison to the later remake. The Netflix series acts as a distant cousin to the original intention of Jackson, and is comparable in name only. Jackson provided a bleak setting filled with historic tragedy and gave Wise a selection of characters that sprung to life on the screen.

Often, we look towards Stephen King and H.P Lovecraft for their extraordinary take on American horror literature. They dominate sections of shelves with their impressive bodies of work and stand out against movie posters. Hopefully, nonetheless, we can begin to turn our attention to Shirley Jackson, the woman often shuffled between fiction and horror sections of bookstores, and who revolutionized the genre with her unnerving terror.


Interested in more Shirley Jackson and the film?

Bernice M. Murphy complied an excellent selection of essays, titled “Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy”. Or, check out Ruth Franklin’s A Rather Haunted Life.

Tania Hussain’s piece explains the inspiration behind Jackson’s Hill House and is a great look into the transition from original material to Netflix series along with Paula Guran’s two articles: “Delight in What I Fear” and “Shirley Jackson & The Haunting of Hill House”.

If you’re more curious about The Haunting and the work put into making it a cinematic masterpiece, check out Andrea Passafiume’s article here to learn more about the film techniques.


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Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.

See “You” At Home

Be warned, spoilers for Lifetime’s “You” await.


Social media provides a huge opportunity to form meaningful connections and engage in conversation, allowing an entire world to co-exist and interact within seconds. Most people know how easy it is to stumble upon a person’s Instagram profile and quickly scope out their interests and personal life, finding the cracks in the illusion of privacy.

Often, in the world of Tinder and Grindr, you learn a person far better by scouring their Facebook. It seems like harmless investigation, checking up on a previous relationship and exploring the details of their life.

Except, it really isn’t.

Photo courtesy of mrkornflakes via Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of mrkornflakes via Shutterstock

Stalking has been transformed because of the internet. A person’s entire life can be captured across different social media platforms and exposed to search engines, allowing for someone to easily gain access to their information. Privacy settings often don’t protect anyone either, as it doesn’t take much for a person to create a fake profile under a fake name. Internet stalking has become socially acceptable, a common pastime to engage in. More often it's common to have a second social media account to engage others with, using an alias to provide anonymity to the action.    

Stalking is a relatively new concept. While it has existed for decades now, it only became recognized as a criminal offense in the early 1990s, where it suddenly became illegal to lurk in the bushes outside of a house or harass a person against their wishes. The 21st century provides a digital frontier for stalking, turning it into a huge arena for invasion with data stealing and catfishing.

Welcome to your world, exposed.

Crime fiction is known for taking common fears and transforming them into something so incredibly real. Caroline Kepnes, author of You, took the question of what is harmless obsession and revealed the darkness of our constant need to fill our social media with every detail of our lives.

By inventing a relatively charming narrator, You is constantly focused on describing the dangers of loving just a little too much, and turning something sweet into something much darker. Everything is just a matter of escalation. By learning his love interest’s name, the narrator is able to find and dissect his victim online. He is able to locate her address, her place of employment, and much more, thus transitioning from harmless online stalking to invasive breaking and entering, and eventual murder.

Turned into a Lifetime series in 2018, You does not spare the viewer a single moment. Actor Penn Badgley lends his voice to Joe Goldberg and manages to turn a singular encounter into deadly devotion. Everything is a simple calculation, by learning Beck’s routine, installing himself into her life through run-ins, and demolishing any person who might stand in the way of his obsession.

Most romantic comedies play up the harmlessness of stalking, turning it into a punchline and a quirky characteristic. It creates harmless tension that is swiftly diffused, and does an extreme disservice to the audience. There’s Something About Mary is just one classic example that features the subject as an element to true love, despite the fact that a male lead is using a private investigator to track down a woman from high school. With a tidy ending, the audience is meant to leave under the assumption that stalking can be seen as a grand gesture. Passionate love cannot simply conform to basic privacy.

Friends uses it as a punchline in the episode “The One With the Jam”, letting it wrap the episode up with a few jokes about the situation. Nothing is said about the victim’s anxiety, or how disturbing it was for a stranger to invade her life so thoroughly that she had to change her entire routine. Instead, it is merely an inconvenience set to the tune of a laugh track. One of the more modern uses of stalking as a theme in in literature-turned-movie is Fifty Shades of Grey. The entire series aims to make stalking less of an issue, but more of a symbol of romantic endeavours and protection. Stalking is becoming less of an issue in books and movies, and instead greatly misrepresenting actual victims.

You does not sugarcoat the issue. By throwing the viewer in a front row seat in Joe’s mind, the intentions are not concealed and there is nothing simple about the situation. The victim is nothing more than a victim, stalked and cornered. Lacking any real humour, the show is equipped with a soundtrack to convey some scenes as traditionally romantic scenes. However, it is also matched with the increasingly anxious and obsessive monologue of the narrator. There are no happy endings in the world created by Kepnes.

What is the grand gesture in You? Is it the scene where he murders her casual lover? Or is it the moment where he justifies murdering her best friend, as she was also engaged in similar dangerous stalking behaviours that also targeted Beck? Perhaps it is where he invades the realm of mental health, engaging in counselling sessions with her therapist secretly, to pry out more details of her life.

Many myths surround the topic of stalking and alter our perception of the issue. However, the reality is that 3 in 4 stalking victims are targeted by someone they know. This has a massive impact on the mental health of their victims. Women are far more victimized by the men in their lives than by strangers.

Photo courtesy of AlexCorv via Shutterstock

Photo courtesy of AlexCorv via Shutterstock

Instead of conveying the traditional ‘boys will be boys’ tagline that frequently accompanies literature and media that uses stalking as a punchline, Kepnes creates an unforgettable narrator who is slowly becoming more and more obsessive, drawing his victim into a literal cage to keep her trapped.

Did Kepnes design a handy guide for potential stalkers with her work? Arguably, no. The common methods of stalking are radically normalized in the 21st century, through applications designed for monitoring conversations and constant scouring of social media updates. We’ve become guilty of stalking and obsession far more than even we are aware of. Instead, Kepnes has delivered the dangers and consequences of fanatical love and ‘grand gestures’, revealing the hazards of our digital lives.


Have you ever been catfished? Has your boyfriend’s weird ex-girlfriend ever stalked your instagram? You can tell me all the gory details at @rahel_taller (just, like, don’t actually stalk me and murder my best friend, please?)


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Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.

A Stone’s Throw Across Generations

ShirleyJack.jpg

Very few pieces of literature have been able to traumatize generation after generation of readers. Most high school English classes feature a collection of short stories, demonstrating the style and themes conveyed in a limited space. Shirley Jackson has always been a standout in these collections, her name grim upon a cover. The Lottery drove her to fame, though, as it was the very work which would not just leave intense emotional scars on my mother’s psyche, but also rattled an entire group of subscribers to The New Yorker when it was first published in 1948.

Arguably, this short story is what escalated Jackson’s career in writing. Acting as both housewife and breadwinner, she was constantly engaged in battles of rearing children.

The Lottery had described a small community blindly following a tradition that featured execution. Readers of The New Yorker were not prepared for the sudden violence that Jackson lobbed at them. They were repelled, demanding answers and directing their disdain for the writing to the author herself.

Perhaps it was because Jackson had written this piece in the post-war years, that caused such havoc. People had begun to realize the dangers of blind faith due to the wildly popular anti-Semitic behaviours that nearly eradicated a group of people through a system of industrial execution. This might have spurred the sharp backlash against the magazine and Jackson. It might have even been that people noticed reflections of themselves in her writing, and felt attacked.

Or, maybe they were simply terrified that a mere housewife concocted such a story.

The Lottery clearly earned Jackson a reputation. Recognized as one of the greatest short stories in American literature, it also triggered a landslide of hate. She was responsible for the most mail that The New Yorker had received at the time in response to a published story. By the end of the summer of 1948 she had received over three hundred letters, and only a handful had been kind. Those letters in particular had been written by friends, she admitted.

However, everyone had something to say about her writing. Her own mother contributed to the burden that her mailbox had become, stating her own disapproval for the piece. Jackson was under immense pressure to change her style and to embrace a more optimistic genre of writing. Nonetheless she continued onwards, featuring more abusive villages in her later novels like The Sundial and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Jackson might have been inspired by her own experiences to produce such works. It was when she was living in North Bennington with her family did she experience the toxic environment of anti-Semitic attitudes. Due to her husband’s Jewish heritage and her married name, she experienced social ostracism and witnessed the unchecked behaviour of her neighbours. Despite that turbulent time, however, North Bennington has taken to celebrating Jackson’s life by declaring June 26th Shirley Jackson Day. Clearly, the passage of time has altered some people and their obsession with her work.

Later letters sent to Jackson about The Lottery often carried more curiosity. Readers were determined to discover not only if there were communities such as this, but if they could visit and watch the public stoning.

Interestingly enough, The Lottery grew in fame and popularity that it was later transitioned into other forms of entertainment. The story has been adapted for a ballet performance, a radio play and was also featured on The Simpsons.

Photo Courtesy of Aperture Vintage.

Photo Courtesy of Aperture Vintage.

Jackson had always been loath to discuss her work, or to give any further explanation of it. Her grim worlds had been something of a gift to readers, something she cared little for being interviewed about. It was with The Lottery that she was forced to give a statement saying, “[]what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story's readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.”

Perhaps Jackson never knew what she would unleash that day she sat down behind her typewriter, struck with an idea of a strange village and a lottery system. Whatever her intentions were, though, she did alter American literature by providing one of the most unique voices to have been found.


Were you traumatized by The Lottery? What do you think about hate mail? Comment your thoughts!


rachelitme+.jpg

Rachel Small

Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.