OMG these stories!
This book is a collection of short stories by Helen Ellis and they are so creepy!
I say that, but they run the gamut from funny to sad to creepy, but it was the creepy ones that had the biggest effect on me because I wasn’t expecting them.
The funny ones include “Dumpster Diving with the Stars” which includes guest appearances from the likes of John Lithgow, making me wonder if he’s as nice in real life as he’s made out to be in the story. A few other participants were clearly based off of other celebrities, but are never named in the story – one is a tennis player and another is an actor who is always referred to as “the Scientologist.”
The best part of Ellis’s writing is the element of surprise – she’s really good at withholding pertinent information until the very end, and that’s really what makes these stories so delicious. So if you’re planning on reading this collection (and I highly recommend you do), I suggest you stop reading now because here be spoilers.
I wonder where Ellis was at in her career when she wrote these stories because several of them include writerly fears. At least a couple include a woman who published one book, but hasn’t managed to publish anything since then.
The one that creeped me out the most was the last one, called, “My Novel Is Brought to You by the Good People at Tampax.” It’s about a woman who has been hired to write a novel to promote Tampax, but when she starts falling behind, Tampax starts taking steps to make sure she makes her deadline. They spy on her, hack her computer, blackmail her, bribe her neighbors into helping out by keeping an eye on her, doing her housework for her, and bringing her meals so she doesn’t get “distracted” by anything other than writing. They even keep her separated from her husband until the book sells a certain number of copies. The story ends with the main character obsessively refreshing the book’s Amazon page to see the reviews and number of copies sold. It’s fear of writer’s block taken to a whole new level, combined with fear of corporations and how they can control our lives and the things they sneak into the “Terms and Conditions” that no one actually reads before clicking “Agree.” It was so, so good!
These stories are also very well written and Ellis’s attention to detail makes the stories so much creepier. My favorite line came from “Dead Doormen,” about a woman who lives in a co-op with her husband. Her husband is the president of the co-op board and anytime an employee, such as a handyman or a doorman, starts to cause problems, the main character (whose name we never learn,) handles it – by “handle it” she means she kills them, but she usually makes it look like a suicide, or is just really good at cleaning up her messes.
The doormen come back to haunt her, but she’s not bothered by this. On the contrary, she takes it as a sign that she did the right thing, especially since the dead handyman is still helping her out around her apartment. My favorite line is in the last paragraph, in which she anticipates her latest kill will come back to haunt her – at which point she’ll “tell him that my husband gave him to me to murder.”
“Gave him to me.” Not, “told me to,” not, “made me.” “Gave him to me.” Yeesh.
This book made me laugh, cry, and shiver. I loved it so much and I recommend it to everyone.
What did you guys read this week? Anything that took you by surprise in the best way?