Halloween 2023


Adding a third kid hasn’t made anything easier, but we are getting a little more done. Perhaps it’s the first two maturing. Perhaps it’s the lack of a big seasonal project. Or perhaps my capacity for parental neglect is just being inexorably stretched. But in 2023 I managed to put up the most Halloween decorations in recent memory.

The crawlspace under the house remains absolutely choked with them, row after row of waterproof crates filled with slumbering skeletons and black styrofoam cats. Retrieving them isn’t much fun–“crawl” isn’t a euphemism here, and this expanse of cluttered and rough concrete is an ideal spot for neighborhood animals to conceal their various awful biological compulsions–but it’s always a pleasure to crack those boxes open and rediscover the spooky treasures I’ve amassed over the years. No smoke machines this time, and I didn’t collect the coffin or animatronics from Kriston’s place (the Halloween Annex). Too scary for kids! But our kitchen is currently festooned with fake cauldrons and the basement is bathed in black light. Not bad. It made for a pretty good kiddo party.

Besides that, I’ve mostly been celebrating by reading a few spooky stories, with mixed results. This volume of ghost stories was easy to find on the Internet Archive, and got off to a bang with The Willows, which I hadn’t read but instantly demonstrated why it’s considered seminal. Does it get too many bonus points for a tidy structural trick at the end? Maybe, but when you consider its relatively early place in the genre and influence on Lovecraft, its impact has to be rated pretty highly indeed.

Other entries have been more underwhelming. Shadows on the Wall amounted to nothing, The Messenger ended far too happily, and The Beast With Five Fingers had some fun stuff–harried pursuit of unraveling protagonists, inexplicable menace–but was ultimately prosaic. Lazarus wins points for its distinctively Russian depressiveness, and perhaps for introducing the BUT SOMETHING CAME BACK WITH HIM trope, but it’s not actually interested in being a ghost story. But it did remind me I need to reread The Great God Pan, which was an inappropriate summertime selection earlier in the year, and quite effective in its evocation of prudish occult disgust, but suffered from me being too sleepy while reading to carefully track its somewhat twistingly episodic plot.

But let’s finish with an even more well-trodden recommendation: I’m revisiting The Turn of the Screw and maybe, finally, appreciating Henry James’ subtlety and the interiority of his narrators. I think I was probably too eager to get to the ghosts the first time through. And frankly, I don’t remember any ghosts at all in The Bostonians or The Golden Bowl. Inexcusable. But I’m starting to think this guy might have some talent despite that poor judgment.

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Tom Lee
By Tom Lee