“They were watching, out there past men’s knowing, where stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.”
This has to be one of the most interesting reads (audiobook listen in my case) I’ve had on the subject of nuclear history. I also think it should be read by every engineer of any background.
Why? Jim Mahaffey, while a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics and having spent over 25 years in governmental, military, and civilian nuclear projects, presents a narrative that isn’t stilted in the usual pro/anti-nuclear rhetoric. It isn’t trying to scare or discount each event. I found myself captivated for three reasons. Firstly, some of these events and details I had never heard of before. It was fascinating to hear that there was a cave full of natural radioactive ore that sickened some hunters who wandered into it. Secondly, and related, he knows exactly what he’s talking about. He cites the chemistry, physics, and even patent information for everything involved. There is no hyperbole. His information comes from actual studies, chemistry, nuclear physics, and the hard scientific data. Some of the facts in the book I’d never heard anywhere else before. Sometimes I even wondered if he wasn’t leaking secrets. Finally, he does all this with a captivating sense of storytelling and a fantastically dry sense of humor. I found myself sitting in my car listening to a story finish out – such as when he tells the story of a cable tray fire that breaks out during one particular accident:
“The fire continued to grow so the supervisor ran down the hall and grabbed a larger fire extingisher. He emptied it into the blaze, but the fire was unimpressed.”
The thing that makes this book great is that he isn’t arguing for or against nuclear power. It explains the chemistry and physics of what is going on so well that it removes the fear and terror we often associate with nuclear reactions. So all you are left with are the accidents. Most books of this type would be trying to either scare you or dismiss what happened. This is really unbiased storytelling that does what it should: it doesn’t tell you what to think – it presents all the data and narrates the story so that it makes YOU think. What would I have done? What should be done?
This is why I suggest every engineer read this book. Even if you are not interested in nuclear accidents or nuclear power scares you. It’s not really about that. It’s about the difficulty of engineering – especially engineering where failure means serious consequences. It’s about the traps we as engineers fall into. We can be extremely intelligent and well versed, but get taken out by a simple rat chewing a cable. Instead of telling you what to think, it tells the story. The fact that it deals with energies that can, and have, killed people crystallizes the importance of each design decision. You’ll often see yourself connecting the thought that the designers had with your own engineering principles – and realizing the weak points.
Spoilers below on what I ‘learned’ – don’t read if you want to come up with your own conclusions
After listening to it on audiobook over the last week or so, I found myself thinking about these topics:
- Anything that is foolproof is not. All mechanical systems have a useful lifetime and/or fail at some point. Maintenance doesn’t always happen when it should. Things that fail sometimes take time for people to realize they failed – especially if it is a backup system that is rarely used. People plug things in backward by accident, read the wrong gauge, use the wrong lubricant, etc. You cannot suppose that everything will be maintained as it was when it was perfect and new and the designer is right there watching it.
- The weakest system, not the strongest one is all that is needed to start a problem.
- In work around dangerous forces, you cannot have an ignorant workforce. People must understand WHY each procedure is there, or they’ll come up with shortcuts that may get themselves or others killed unexpectedly because they’re trying to save time/effort/money/etc.
- We should probably not run experiments on commercial reactors/preparation plants. That should only happen in the lab. But there are many ambitious, very smart people that want to make a name for themselves and do things they should not because they believe they are smart enough.
- When something must run constantly over a long time – given a long enough timeline – EVERY possible thing will happen. Every possible combination of failures will also happen. You simply can’t imagine it all.
- Even when you imagine and prepare for the worst, it can be worse.
- Luck plays a big part in disasters. Given exact same plants and the same accident, one will be ok and the other will not because of luck in the smallest detail/timing of how something happens.
- Real disasters usually involve 2 or more very unexpected and different things simultaneously going bad or failing in quick succession.
- Individual systems that are failsafe on their own can react in unexpected combinations when more than a few things at once start failing. You must look at how the system as a WHOLE handles an event that causes serious single and multiple system failures (i.e. the chocolate cake delivery truck loses its brakes, knocks over a power pole, and then hits the turbine building. It starts a fire that shuts down the turbines. With the external electrical wires down, the lights in the basement of that building go off. Unfortunately, that happens to be where the fire handling equipment is – that nobody can now find in the dark).
- You must design things to end in a state after such an event that you can recover from them without endangering lives.
- It is often the discounted/seemingly unimportant support systems that cause the accident to become a disaster. While massive amounts of effort are spent understanding nuclear forces and fission, most reactor accidents are caused by things like pump bearing failures, valves that get stuck, emergency generators that don’t kick on because the wiring went bad, or running ill-advised tests.
- An unexpected chain of failures is what sometimes causes a disaster. (ex: a failing cable starts generating error messages. The error log starts filling the available hard drive. The drive fills and crashes because nobody thought there would be so many messages. The computer that crashed was also controlling some other subsystem, which now fails too. That causes a bigger failure that leads to a disaster.)
- An alarm that goes off all the time is as useless as if it hadn’t been installed at all.
- The amount of thought and fail-safes you build must be directly proportional to how bad it will be if it goes wrong. Dropping a jar of tomato juice requires water, a mop, and bucket and buying a new bottle of tomato juice. Dropping a jar of fission products all over the floor is a whole other matter. From isolation, to clean up, to personal safety, to disposal, to handling what to do with the materials, clothes, and items used in the cleanup – all require complete thought and handling.
- One must stay a little paranoid and constantly vigilant when working with systems that involve deadly/dangerous forces. A regular schedule of checking and re-checking is the only way to know if things are working as they should. You cannot be laissez-faire until a failure to fix something. Even little anomalies are indications that must be checked out. One must stay curious, regularly check, and fix things that don’t even seem super-important at first. See #2.
Here’s a great example:
A liquid storage tank of olive oil that develops a tiny leak could be bad. You are losing product, money, and might cause an injury if someone slips. It is even worse if it was almost undetectable and goes dripping into the floor drains for weeks, months, or even a year. It gets even worse when the oil coagulates in the underfloor drains and almost completely plugs them up. Then the 50,000-gallon vat of spaghetti sauce spills and the drains that should have saved everyone don’t work. It causes the spill to go everywhere and gets on everyone. It gets even worse when the sauce ruins tens of thousand dollars of product that was sitting on the floor and destroys electronic machinery drenched in it. It gets even worse when it runs into the basement, filling it 2 feet full of spaghetti sauce. Because of one dripping olive oil vessel, you now have tens of thousands in lost products, people drenched in goo, machinery destroyed, and a basement flooded with a sauce that may take hundreds of thousands to clean up. On top of the fact you can’t make one more jar of the product until it’s all cleaned up.
Now imagine that it was nuclear fission products that dripped. And when enough collects, it becomes an unshielded reactor in the floor that kills anyone that comes near it.
This is why every engineer should read this book. To understand how failures really happen, and why just making an individual system fool proof and having safety systems can be a false comfort. The nuclear world is full of extremely smart people that bragged nothing could go wrong. Humility and diligence are the values we should cultivate.
There is one simple thing wrong with you – you think you have plenty of time.
If you don’t think your life is going to last forever, what are you waiting for? Why the hesitation to change? You don’t have time for this display, you fool. This, whatever you’re doing now, may be your last act on earth.
- Physical change prompts emotional change. Get out of town.
- Remember to leave for vacation only AFTER you have addressed important issues. Be accountable for the feelings of others – and your own.
- Borrow a friend’s dog and go exploring together. Don’t have a friend with a dog – borrow a shelter dog.
- Take yourself on a solo date: watch the sunset by yourself. Eat your favorite snacks. Breathe deeply. Don’t get up until the sky is dark. Don’t invite other people. Learn to love solitude and sitting with yourself.
I liked the solo date one myself. I have just the spot picked out on the Oregon coast too…
While looking around for more great old-time ghost stories, I came across another great website collection of stories here. To avoid the risk of them disappearing, I copy them here (again) for your enjoyment.
Wailing Well – M.R. James
In the Tube – E.F. Benson
The Burned House – Vincent O’Sullivan
Christmas Meeting – Rosemary Timperley
The Little Ghost – Hugh Walpole
W.S. – L.P Hartley
At The Gate – Myla Jo Closser
A Ghost – Guy de Maupassant
Hand in Glove – Elizabeth Bowen
Collections these stories come from for further reading:
Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (1947)
M.R James: Collected Ghost Stories (1992)
The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe (1992)
Gothic Short Stories (ed. David Blair) (2002)
The Virago Book of Ghost Stories (2006)
Ambrose Bierce: The Spook House (2008)
The Oxford Book of Ghost Stories (2008)
The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales (2009)
Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories (2012)
Tales from the Dead of Night: Thirteen Classic Ghost Stories (2013)
Ghost stories exist in just about every culture of the world. You can learn a lot about a culture by the ghost stories they tell. But these stories are not only created in modern times, but also go back as far as the oral traditions of each culture. Just as with Greek odyssey’s and ancient poems like Gilgamesh, ancient ghost stories provide amazing windows to the past and the strange.
Besides a recent adventure through Victorian era ghost stories, I also recently learned of an old ghost story telling tradition in Japanese culture. Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (百物語怪談会, lit., A Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales) was a popular Buddhist-inspired ghost telling parlor game during the Edo period in Japan. The exact origins are unknown, but it was believed to be first played amongst the samurai class as a test of courage. In Ogita Ansei‘s 1660 nursery tale “Otogi Monogatari” a version of the game was described in which the narrative tells of several young samurai telling tales in the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai fashion. In the tale, as one samurai finished the one-hundredth tale, he began to extinguish the candle when suddenly he sees a giant gnarled hand descend upon him from above. While some of the samurai cowered in fear, a swipe of his sword revealed the hand to be merely the shadow of a spider.
According to early texts, the tradition method went like this:
- The game was to be carried out on the night of a new moon when the night is darkest without even moonlight. All light sources should be covered or extinguished.
- The location should be the home of someone in the group in a selection of 3 neighboring rooms. The best configuration is if the rooms are arranged in an ‘L’ shape where one cannot see the room at the top of the L from the room at the bottom right of the L.
- The participants gather in one of the end rooms with a few lanterns. The room next to that is to be pitch black.
- The most secluded room has 100 lit candles or andon (traditional Japanese paper lanterns) and a writing desk with a mirror on top.
- All dangerous items should be removed from the rooms (decorative swords/etc).
- Each person is to wear a blue robe.
- The participants take turns telling 1 ghostly or supernatural story at a time. They should be of ghostly encounters, folkloric tales passed on by villagers who encountered various spirits, and the like. These tales became known as kaidan.
- After each story is told, the teller gets up with a lantern wrapped with blue paper.
- They walk alone through the dark room to the room lit with 100 candles/andon.
- They extinguish one candle, look into the mirror on the table, then return to the story telling room.
- Play proceeds like this with the most secluded room becoming darker and darker until the final story.
- In some versions, only 99 stories are told and play stops until the sun rises to tell the final story.
- In other versions you tell the final story. When you enter the lit room and extinguish the final candle while looking into the mirror – some spirit or image may be evoked.
While this might have started as a test of bravery for aristocratic warrior classes, it quickly spread to the working classes. As it gained widespread popularity in the 1600’s, people began scouring the countryside for mysterious tales and collected them into books. The stories also started merging ghostly vengeance with elements of Buddist karma. The collections and popularity of the game grew and is still deeply in the culture today.
For those that have caught Japanese horror movies and popular Japanese anime/manga/literature, the influence of Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai and the themes those stories created during that era is very clear. Some shows even have mock recreations or clear spinoffs of the very game.
While many of the stories might seem strange to us today, they are also very interesting and often some very similar characteristics as western ghost stories. I recommend picking up one of the many collections of kaidan/ghost stories from Japan and give them a read.
Here are 10 famous Japanese ghost stories to start your journey. See how many themes you recognize.
Who hasn’t thought of chucking it all and moving overseas to some cheap little beach villa or living in some exotic country? When I saw this at the library, I figured I’d pick it up:
First off, this book was written by people who lived what they’re writing about – which makes it highly credible. It is an easy and fast read written like a good buddy chatting about his life over coffee. It is clearly geared for people who are thinking about retiring abroad for the first time as opposed to an in-depth or technical guide. Its main strengths are that it gives you a great broad overview sufficient for you to begin your deeper dives elsewhere, and for the realities/questions to ask yourself to see if retiring abroad is really right for you. Its biggest weaknesses are that it lacks depth in legal/technical/financial matters and definitely paints an overly rosy/optimistic picture on most of its topics.
- Probably the best part of the book is the chapter on if life abroad will mesh with you or not. He tells you to really dig deep and be brutally honest with yourself. I wish he’d gone into this more, but it was a great eye opener. I believe he correctly asserts that the more brutally honest you are with yourself, the better your decision will be. He breaks his points down into about 10 questions and refers you back to them again and again. They boil down to these points:
- Are you ok with change and living as your new country lives? This isn’t a retirement community, it is a lifestyle change to live more as a traveler. Do you love at least a little adventure every day doing even common things like getting around, buying toothpaste, etc – or do you want to ‘nest’ in US comforts?
- You cannot afford to ‘take it with you’ nor will you likely want to. Living abroad on these budgets means you will live and eat as that country lives. Cosmetics, medication, deodorant, snack foods, tv shows, furniture, etc – all will be different. In many cases, you simply can’t live as you did. Electronics here might make no sense in a country with no internet fast enough to stream Netflix – or will not work at all on 220/50hz. That heirloom cloth pattern chair will do nothing but mold on a humid tropical beach. That fancy washing machine will not work with local hookups or water quality/electric . You will also need to eat local foods to live cheaply. Are you ok with that, or need your steak dinners each night?
- Be honest about the weather you like. Are you really a beach person or would mountains suit you better? Are you ready for sand all the time and 100% humidity every day for 6-8 months? Are you ok with rainy seasons? Have you traveled to your country of choice during the ‘worst’ season?
- Are you ready to live, recreate, eat, and pattern your life after how your target country lives? How attached are you to watching US football or sports? How do you spend free time and are you able to get supplies for hobbies there? Are you ok with neighborhood roosters crowing at 6am every day (with no noise ordinances)? Are you ok with the slower, possibly more corrupt pace of business and government services? Poverty, food safety, and animal treatment in your new country may shock you. Will you be ok with building new local friends/connections on relationship and spending time rather than business/utility?
- Are you really ready to leave natural support nets with your grandkids, family, friends, communities, and lifestyle here in favor of skyping/visits? Flying home is one of the biggest costs you’ll have – are you cool with only 1-3 visits a year? Are you ok leaving business associates and other professional contacts behind?
- If you have a spouse, are you evaluating these questions with them and both onboard 100%
- The book is very easy and quick to read. Covers a lot of ground and give a great broad overview.
- Sample real-world budgets of his own living expenses along with discussions about what that buys you (at least in the author’s country).
- Great common-sense advice like:
- Take at least one long trip, and hopefully several/yearly trips, to your destination before moving. Preferably at least once during the ‘worst’ season (hottest/rainiest/etc).
- Don’t decide to buy a home there while drinking a margarita by the beach. Contact a local lawyer and ask yourself the deep soul-searching questions he had above.
- What we would have done differently from those that went there.
- Getting a reputable local lawyer for real estate purchases and protecting surviving spouses by writing contracts properly.
- Don’t expect to make any extra income by working there. The pay will not be sufficient to make up gaps.
- You may not need to become fluent, but if US tax laws confuse you, imagine doing legal documents and taxes in a foreign language. You’re going to need to hire a few lawyers at the beginning for sure.
- Be prepared/able to return if this doesn’t work for you. Some people find it very difficult and give up. Others do great for years, but ultimately decide to return for family.
- The US is based on Common Law, while most of the rest of the Americas are Civil Law. This makes getting a good lawyer for things like buying a home essential.
- He has information about individual countries in the book. The best communities in that country for ex-pats on a budget and interesting social/financial/cultural notes. It’s a great place to get started to dig deeper.
- Basic overview of how medical insurance works in other countries – especially private/public coverage and important key questions/differences to ask to make sure you’re getting the coverage you need.
- Basic information and common issues with buying a house abroad and the fact you will absolutely want a local lawyer for this type of transaction.
- Some basic differences between Common Law and Civil Law:
- You must codify transferral of your home/property to surviving spouses after your death or they might have to go fight for their own home.
- You must do very thorough ownership history checks or you could end up in a legal fight with a great grandchild that never signed a release on property that you purchased.
- Big sections read like just common sense since it doesn’t give enough specifics on many topics. This, however, might be what some romantic types need.
- Focuses primarily on Central and South America, even though none of those (except Mexico) are in the top 10 countries of expats. However, some of the top 10 are likely not livable on $25k/year.
- Feel he paints too rosy a picture of living aboard when it comes to personal safety and health care.
- He makes many valid points about several countries on his list having tentatively ‘better’ healthcare – but that was as defined in an old study he quotes by the UN and his metrics of office wait times. Without specifics of their metrics used, I’m tempted to believe a country might get great marks for maternity care and treating common ailments but may not for what the average 65 year old (til death) will deal with. His budget numbers/livability also assumes you are a ‘relatively healthy 65 year old person’.
- Missing all together is an honest discussion about inevitable end-of-life care you will receive there (terminal cancer, organ failure, etc). There is no discussion about handling or treatment of those permanently disabled by stroke, dementia, etc.
- He asserts more security that I believe is safe. While traveling abroad is usually safe, there are real concerns. A good example is how he talks about how great his own Ecuador is, yet never talks once about the real security threats that a personal friend who was in the Peace Corps encountered. During an uprising, they were evacuated from their mountain towns to the capital, protected under armed guards in a compound, then flown home as things deteriorated. Brazil has serious safety issues in their big cities with paid executions in broad daylight. He doesn’t mention the growing dangers of kidnapping, car jacking, etc in Mexico. At best, he mentions that ‘he has stories’ and that one lady was fleeced in a real estate purchase, but doesn’t give sufficient details for my tastes.
- Not enough really detailed financial advice. I can’t fault the book on this since you could write a whole book on that, but this book simply doesn’t give you enough information on how to handle taxes/etc.
- The book simply is not sufficient to actually plan a move abroad. It gives a great starting point, but you will need to do a lot more.
I recently hosted a night in which my friends and I sat and watched a pile of the over 25 Treehouse of Horror episodes. Since watching them all was impossible, we picked 9 of the best ones.
Here they are:
“TREEHOUSE OF HORROR IV: TERROR AT 5½ FEET,” SEASON 5, EPISODE 5
Bart fights off a demonic little gremlin aka the Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000ft.
“TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VI: HOMER³,” SEASON 7, EPISODE 6
“TREEHOUSE OF HORROR V: TIME AND PUNISHMENT,” SEASON 6, EPISODE 5
“TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VI, NIGHTMARE ON EVERGREEN TERRACE,” SEASON 7, EPISODE 6
“TREEHOUSE OF HORROR III: CLOWN WITHOUT PITY,” SEASON 2, EPISODE 3
“TREEHOUSE OF HORROR XIX: IT’S THE GRAND PUMPKIN, MILHOUSE,” SEASON 20, EPISODE 4
“TREEHOUSE OF HORROR VII: CITIZEN KANG,” SEASON 8, EPISODE 1
The installment from this particular edition where Kang and Kodos come to earth and impersonate Clinton and Dole in their thwarted effort to take over earth. It was brilliant.
“TREEHOUSE OF HORROR I: THE RAVEN,” SEASON 2, EPISODE 3
Homer gives a rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic tale of terror The Raven. Homer as its protagonist, Marge as his lost Lenore, and Bart as the interloping raven.Narration by James Earl Jones.
“TREEHOUSE OF HORROR V: THE SHINNING,” SEASON 6, EPISODE 5
Simpson’s homage to The Shining. The best of them all IMHO.
Autumn is without a doubt my favorite season of the year. The trees turn, pumpkin patches open, corn mazes draw crowds, hoodies, jackets, scarves appear, and fall decorations of leaves are made by children everywhere. As the nights grow+ colder and days shorter, who couldn’t also love a good spooky story told around a campfire while cooking smores and drinking hot cider?
Dana Mele created a list of amazing short spooky stories from solid literary sources. These aren’t your blood and gore stories, gimmicky kiddie tales, or cheap jump scares. Many come from the golden ages of the 1800’s when proper authors would often write short, scary tales. I approve of her entire list. Best yet, each is short enough to read before falling asleep. So pour a warm drink, toss a few logs on the fireplace, and settle in under a warm blacket before bed and read a good story!
(The link to her countdown is here, but I’m always afraid of such beautiful resources getting lost/shut down. So I make a copy here.)
Do you have any spooky stories you would add? Please share!
28. Squire Toby’s Will by J.S. Le Fanu
23. The Friends of the Friends by Henry James
16. Rose Rose by Barry Pain
15. The Confession of Charles Linkworth by E.F. Benson
13. Bone to His Bone by E.G. Swain, PDF version
12. The Taipan by W. Somerset Maugham
11. A Visitor From Down Under by L.P. Hartley
10. Fullcircle by John Buchan
9. The Clock by W.F. Harvey
8. Mr. Jones by Edith Wharton
6. The Little Ghost by Hugh Walpole
5. The Hollow Man by Thomas Burke (small print- view in fullscreen and adjust)
4. Et in Sempiternum Pereant by Charles Williams
3. An Encounter in the Mist by A.N.L. Munby, PDF version
List of Honorable Mentions:
- “Berenice” (1835) by Edgar Allen Poe
- “The Black Cat” (1845) by Edgar Allen Poe
- “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846) by Edgar Allen Poe
- “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845) by Edgar Allen Poe
- “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “Hop-Frog” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “Ligeia” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “Mesmeric Revelation” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “The Premature Burial” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “Some Words With a Mummy” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe
- Other runners up
- Hand in Glove by Elizabeth Bowen
- A Ghost Story by Mark Twain
- The Mortal Immortal by Mary Shelley
- The Tomb by H.P. Lovecraft
- The Tree by H.P. Lovecraft
- The Vampiress by Lord Lytton
- The Vampyre by John Polidori
- THE SKETCH BOOK.
- THE SPECTRE BRIDEGROOM.
- “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” by Stephen King
- “Wolfshead” by Robert E. Howard
- “Varney the Vampire” by James Malcolm Rymer and/or Thomas Preskett Prest
- “The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains” by Neil Gaiman
- “Ma Perkins Comes to Stay” by Ray Bradbury
- “The Oval Portrait” by Edgar Allan Poe
- “Catskin” by Kelly Link
- “Nethescurial” by Thomas Ligotti
- “Trapped Inside the Stoker” by Jack Ketchum
- “Dissolution” by Sarah Langan
- “The Last Man” by Mary Shelley
- “Magdala Amygdala” by Lucy A. Snyder
- “Strange Candy” by Robert McCammon
- “Mexican Moon” by Karen E. Taylor
- “The Goblin’s Collection” by Algernon Blackwood
- “The Repairer of Reputations” by Robert W. Chambers
- “The Rats in the Walls” by H.P. Lovecraft
- “A Death” (The New Yorker, March 2015)
- The Shadow in the Corner by M.E. Braddon
- A Wicked Voice by Vernon Lee
Penpal is a book by Dahan Auerbach – but it didn’t start as a book. It is a terrific story and it’s also a fascinating example of how new kinds of stories and budding authors can come out of nowhere in our new internet world. (note: this is a no spoiler review)
Penpal started as a couple of ‘creepypasta‘ short stories posted in the user-contributed, scary story ‘No Sleep’ area of Reddit. It’s since been turned into illustrations, audio recordings, and even short films made by fans. There’s even a rumor of a movie deal.
The book is a collection of several interconnected/overlapping short stories about a young boy trying to put together some strange events from his childhood. As he goes over his memories, a very strange and terrifying tale begins to emerge from the pieces.
The book itself isn’t terribly long, but really draws you in. I found myself reading at bedtime and next thing I know it’s 1am. By the time I’d finished I felt like I’d had gone on a hair-raising roller-coaster ride and twisted around like a towel getting wrung out – but in a good way. It left me thinking back on my own childhood and wondering about the things that I experienced as a kid and just how right/wrong I had understood them.
Told from the narrator (who is now an adult), the book is an adventure in watching what he as a kid experienced. He does a masterful job capturing what he was feeling and the confusion while describing an unfolding story that would even terrify most adults. You patch together what is going on via his own half-understood descriptions – and your own imagination patches together the rest – often much more terrifyingly than if you actually knew what was going on.
What makes Auerbach’s writing really unique is his ability to capture and communicate the feelings and experiences we had as kids. His simple descriptions bring back a flood of your own memories of hanging out with your childhood best friend(s). I found myself realizing I had the same feelings/fears such as staying back in the woods behind our house a little too late, going into a dark basement, or the little games we play with ourselves like trying to get back into our house before the street lights come on or not breathing while driving through a tunnel. Auerbach also really hits the head on how kids misunderstand adult interactions and the ways we seek out parental love. Indirectly, he also captures the gut-wrenching moral/ethical decisions that adults make to protect their children from the harsh realities of a sometimes frightening world. If you ever had to explain to a kid why grandpa at the nursing home doesn’t remember you between visits – you’ll get an idea of these types of decisions. Auerbach does a masterful job capturing these interactions with simple, approachable style.
Is it scary? I would say that it is. Not a jump-out-of-the-closet kind of scary – but the kind of scary you get because he’s nailing the emotions of childhood but telling them with the full knowledge of an adult. The fact his descriptions are so real makes it even doubly impactful.
Sure, there are a few small plot holes and problems. The biggest is the fact the individual chapters were actually separate clips that were written separately is a little apparent. The flow and overlap are a little messy. Part of the final resolution left me feeling a bit perplexed as well. But it doesn’t matter. All that is easily overlooked by the great experience it is of reading this story.
Overall, I give this a solid A-. It’s a great read. It’s also scary. It won’t win any literary awards or upset any kings of horror, but it describes the experience of kids growing up so well that it’s worth the read alone. It’s also a fascinating snapshot of how publishing is working now – much like how game development is working. People work on a snippet of something, publish it on a forum, and see if it sticks. If it does, they keep at it. If not, it dies.
Regardless of how it was written/found – it’s a great read. At the end, I found myself sitting there and re-visiting my own childhood, friends, and memories and feeling very thankful. That alone is worth the time spent for the read.