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Author Topic: Pseudopod 85: Living in Sepia  (Read 17504 times)

Bdoomed

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on: April 11, 2008, 07:59:14 PM
Pseudopod 85: Living in Sepia

By D. Richard Pearce

Read by Cat Rambo

“I saw the kids this morning,” he said suddenly, as if he knew it was on her mind. “They’re growing like weeds.”

“Yeah,” she nodded vaguely, dumping out the last of the birdseed, “William is just like you. He fell in the canal this morning.”

He laughed at this, and then started walking away toward the barn.

“You wanna come for dinner?” she called out after him, already knowing the answer.

“Cain’t,” he yelled back.

She stood there as he disappeared, then turned back to the doves. Some were coming out now, eyeing her warily as they pecked at her offering. Suddenly she heard squawks from the salt cedar brush, and saw a crow taking off, eggshell and a bloody squab hanging from its beak.


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Kaa

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Reply #1 on: April 11, 2008, 08:59:52 PM
This was one of the rare stories in Pseudopod that I qualify as "chilling."  It built slowly, with the listener getting small clues as to what was going on, as well as tantalizing tidbits of the backstory, and then the ending was, simply, chilling.

I can't say I exactly "enjoyed" the story, because it was massively dark, but I thought it was good and exactly the kind of thing Pseudopod exists to bring to us.

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Bdoomed

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Reply #2 on: April 13, 2008, 05:51:51 AM
I completely agree with you.  It was very chilling.  Grade A pseudopod!

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Listener

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Reply #3 on: April 16, 2008, 12:32:57 PM
I disagree with the previous commenters.

I couldn't follow the story at all.  It started with promise, but then all of a sudden she's killing her kids because her dead father hates her live husband?  WTF?  I found it predictable, and I didn't bother to listen to the ending because I was that blah about it.

I also wasn't a fan of the reading -- how many different ways can Cat Rambo pronounce Selene's name, anyway?  Or was I supposed to intimate that each one was a different facet of her personality?  I also noticed a few double-breaths and other artifacts in the audio portion of the recording, and that drew me out of the world the story was creating.

I might have liked this story better if I had been reading it instead of listening to it, but it sounded to me like yet another paranoid-delusional-mom-kills-kids-in-a-depressing-part-of-the-country story.  Bit of a letdown after "Carbon County", really.

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Reply #4 on: April 16, 2008, 01:05:29 PM
It could have been the sequel to "The Sixth Sense".  The imagery was cool, especially with the sepia references and the shades of brown.  The world was built well, I just didn't dig the story that was going on within it.

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Reply #5 on: April 16, 2008, 03:33:53 PM
I might have liked this story better if I had been reading it instead of listening to it, but it sounded to me like yet another paranoid-delusional-mom-kills-kids-in-a-depressing-part-of-the-country story.  Bit of a letdown after "Carbon County", really.

Seconded.




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Reply #6 on: April 17, 2008, 03:42:54 AM
This felt more like tragedy (in the very Greek sense) than horror.  Maybe it's because I've been around delusional and mentally ill people in the past, and still encounter them at work in the present.   

I'd like to re-emphasize that "in the Greek sense" bit.  I really did know where this was going rather quickly.  It was worthwhile and cathartic (sp?) to experience it, but it wasn't horror in the same way that Carbon County was.

Also, agreed on the pronounciation of Selene.   I always thought it was closer to "Sell - eeen."

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Reply #7 on: April 17, 2008, 05:31:16 AM


Also, agreed on the pronounciation of Selene.   I always thought it was closer to "Sell - eeen."

I was thinking that had to be intentional- there's no way a reader would let that slide.  It added to my already building frustration caused by misplaced he/shes and ultimately made me feel like I had a decent idea of what was going on mixed with no clue at all.
I've got a few theories on what was going on but I felt with a story like this we could have used a more definitive nudge.



eytanz

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Reply #8 on: April 17, 2008, 11:40:26 AM
Did anyone happen to see this story in print? I'm wondering if there was a spelling difference in her name or something that was used as a cue. Otherwise, I hope the pronunciation shift is not deliberate, as incompetence is excusable but a deliberate playing with pronunciation would be an imporper license taken with the story (in the context of PP, from which I expect straight readings).
« Last Edit: April 17, 2008, 12:57:32 PM by eytanz »



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Reply #9 on: April 17, 2008, 12:05:15 PM
It seems like everyone is making much too much of the pronunciation differences in the character's name.  When I was listening to it, I chalked it down to her dad having an endearing nickname he called her (Selenie) vs. what her husband called her and she called herself.  I only listened once and it was days ago, but that's the impression I took away.  If your name is "Michael," you might have different people that call you that, "Mike," or even "Mikey."  Again, that's the impression I got.

You want to hear a truly confusing one, listen to The Iliad.  I tried. I really did. But in no two consecutive cases were the same characters referred to by the same names.  In that style, she would have been "Selene" the first time, then referred to as "Daughter of [her father]," "Wife of [her husband]," "Mother of [oldest child]," "Mother of [next child]," and finally "Mother of [youngest child]."  Like that other story where "The Seamstress" and the child's mother were one and the same, only we didn't know that right away.

Certain things don't do well in audio, alas. 

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eytanz

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Reply #10 on: April 17, 2008, 12:58:37 PM
It seems like everyone is making much too much of the pronunciation differences in the character's name.  When I was listening to it, I chalked it down to her dad having an endearing nickname he called her (Selenie) vs. what her husband called her and she called herself.  I only listened once and it was days ago, but that's the impression I took away.  If your name is "Michael," you might have different people that call you that, "Mike," or even "Mikey."  Again, that's the impression I got.

Well, that's why I was asking about whether it's in the source. I think it's perfectly plausible that there are different ways her name is pronounced. I'm just unsure, from listening to the story, whether this was a choice by the reader or the author. My opinion of it varies by the answer to this question.



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Reply #11 on: April 17, 2008, 09:21:31 PM
I might have liked this story better if I had been reading it instead of listening to it, but it sounded to me like yet another paranoid-delusional-mom-kills-kids-in-a-depressing-part-of-the-country story. 

Okay, I have to ask:  Yet another such story in addition to what other examples?  Have there been a rash of these lately?  I don't always keep up with the times so well, admittedly, so I'm just curious.



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Reply #12 on: April 18, 2008, 04:46:19 AM
I might have liked this story better if I had been reading it instead of listening to it, but it sounded to me like yet another paranoid-delusional-mom-kills-kids-in-a-depressing-part-of-the-country story. 

Okay, I have to ask:  Yet another such story in addition to what other examples?  Have there been a rash of these lately?  I don't always keep up with the times so well, admittedly, so I'm just curious.

"Mother kills children" brings up 15,500 stories within the 2000s.

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Reply #13 on: April 18, 2008, 03:00:05 PM
I really liked this story.  A lot.  I have some quibbles, most of which are already mentioned: the weird pronunciation of the name "Selene" was distracting (though unlike others I actually liked Cat Rambo's reading very much, there was a down-to-earthness to it I thought was perfect for the story), and what seemed like a needless "turning it up to 11" ending tacked onto what was an otherwise understated and gripping piece about loss.  I thought the author put a lot of work into making Selene seem like she could be anyone, and then made her go somewhere the vast majority of people would never go, and while this can be done in such a way as to make you go along for the ride, I felt myself get off the bus when she picked up the gun.  IMO, the impact was minimized by the suicide-murder at the end because tolerating loss is more interesting than throwing in the towel. 

The setting was very well done, even though it was repetitive in some places (I was really tired of hearing about the salt cedars, frex), but the grounding sense-of-place details were top notch.  The language was beautiful and stark and appropriate in tone with the story.  The pacing was good.  The reveal was well-done too, nice and gradual.  It's just the exclamation point at the end I wasn't so thrilled about, especially since it took what was very complex emotional territory of incest, grief and betrayal and distilled it down to basic paranoia.  I know this is going to seem a weird critique, given how everything played out, but the ending seemed easy instead of natural.

But still, I listened to this twice, and really enjoyed it, and overall I consider it a Pseudopod success.

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eytanz

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Reply #14 on: April 18, 2008, 03:17:48 PM
  IMO, the impact was minimized by the suicide-murder at the end because tolerating loss is more interesting than throwing in the towel. 

Wait, who threw in the towel? The suicide was the culmination of what she was doing - everything she did was aimed at destroying her husband, who she hates (because she blames him for the fact she fell in love with him while her father was dying). She killed everyone he loved, and she did it in such a way that he would be blamed for it. If she didn't include herself in that (and he clearly did love her, even if he was oblivious to her madness until it was too late), it would defeat both her entire goal, and the most horrifying element of the story in my opinion (which is the situation he finds himself in at the end).




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Reply #15 on: April 18, 2008, 04:04:08 PM
Wait, who threw in the towel?

Selene did.  The fundamental question of the story is Selene asking herself "Can I stand to live here another day?"  This is explicit, in text, both in her declaration of hatred for the place in the opening and in her later asking herself this very question.

The answer, apparently, is "No.  I can't."  Which is less interesting than "No, but I must." or "Yes, perhaps I can." or even "I'll ask this again tomorrow." or even "Only if my husband is dead."

The suicide was the culmination of what she was doing - everything she did was aimed at destroying her husband,

I will perhaps accept that everything she did in the final quarter of the story was aimed at destroying her husband.  But...she feeds the birds to destroy James?  Gets groceries to destroy him?  Eats a burrito to destroy him?  Takes a nap to destroy him?  I don't think so.  Her actions follow instantly on her decision to get rid of him.  There's no elaborate plan, and barely any forethought. 

She killed everyone he loved, and she did it in such a way that he would be blamed for it. If she didn't include herself in that (and he clearly did love her, even if he was oblivious to her madness until it was too late), it would defeat both her entire goal, and the most horrifying element of the story in my opinion (which is the situation he finds himself in at the end).

Actually, I didn't find that horrifying at all.  He wasn't the character we were supposed to care about.  Maybe I failed the sympathy switch at the end, but I found I didn't give a shit about how he ended up.  I didn't even believe she'd set him up irrevocably.  Why would, for example, you shoot someone then run up to them and get covered in their blood?  And how were his fingerprints going to get on the gun?  How do you shoot a telephone out of someone's hands without hurting them?  It all seemed highly implausible. I thought she did a piss poor job of the setup, because she was crazy delusional girl.  She thought she was setting him up to take the blame, sure, but she also thought she was having conversations with her dead dad so, you know, grain of salt.  In fact, she didn't have to work too hard to set him up, because she thought he was already guilty, she thought he was doing the killing and the shooting (as well as having poisoned her father and now poisoning herself), if we're to believe her POV thoughts.  And ehh, that final becoming completely unhinged bit was so much less interesting than everything that went before, and of course she does these irrevocable things and then doesn't have any consequences because she removes herself from the picture...meh, too easy.

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Reply #16 on: April 18, 2008, 04:14:23 PM
I might have liked this story better if I had been reading it instead of listening to it, but it sounded to me like yet another paranoid-delusional-mom-kills-kids-in-a-depressing-part-of-the-country story. 

Okay, I have to ask:  Yet another such story in addition to what other examples?  Have there been a rash of these lately?  I don't always keep up with the times so well, admittedly, so I'm just curious.

"Mother kills children" brings up 15,500 stories within the 2000s.

I was under the impression Ben was asking about fictional stories.  I could be wrong.

I thought this was generally a well-crafted story, especially the reveal.  I ended up absolutely hating Selene by the end, of course.  I don't know if the ending was a good way to go -- it was such a terrible act, and something we hear about too often in real life, I really lost all sympathy for her.  I think this was the author's intent -- making the descent into madness look completely terrifying by the protagonist's terrible choices -- but it does make me not want to listen to this story again.  I wasn't so into the reading.  The pacing felt a bit off and I heard some of the same other stuff Listener did. 


eytanz

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Reply #17 on: April 18, 2008, 06:26:59 PM
Wait, who threw in the towel?

Selene did.  The fundamental question of the story is Selene asking herself "Can I stand to live here another day?"  This is explicit, in text, both in her declaration of hatred for the place in the opening and in her later asking herself this very question.

The answer, apparently, is "No.  I can't."  Which is less interesting than "No, but I must." or "Yes, perhaps I can." or even "I'll ask this again tomorrow." or even "Only if my husband is dead."

So you meant "throwing in the towel" as the theme for the whole story, instead of just the ending? In that case, I misunderstood before, and I agree.

Quote
The suicide was the culmination of what she was doing - everything she did was aimed at destroying her husband,

I will perhaps accept that everything she did in the final quarter of the story was aimed at destroying her husband.  But...she feeds the birds to destroy James?  Gets groceries to destroy him?  Eats a burrito to destroy him?  Takes a nap to destroy him?  I don't think so.  Her actions follow instantly on her decision to get rid of him.  There's no elaborate plan, and barely any forethought. 

I'm confused by what you're saying here. As far as I understood the story - and I believe this was in the story directly rather than implied - Selene was basically split between two different "personalities", both insane. She was killing her children but at the same time believing her husband was doing it. Her seemingly normal actions in the beginning were an attempt at showing this dichotomy - she didn't *decide* to get rid of him on a concious level, or plan - rather, her delusions reached a breaking point.

I do agree this is a weakness of the story in that it makes it pretty difficult to relate to her insanity. I'm far more terrified by stories about normal people driven to extremes than stories about people who are outright crazy, because I'm not crazy and I find it difficult to imagine I can be*


She killed everyone he loved, and she did it in such a way that he would be blamed for it. If she didn't include herself in that (and he clearly did love her, even if he was oblivious to her madness until it was too late), it would defeat both her entire goal, and the most horrifying element of the story in my opinion (which is the situation he finds himself in at the end).

Actually, I didn't find that horrifying at all.  He wasn't the character we were supposed to care about.  Maybe I failed the sympathy switch at the end, but I found I didn't give a shit about how he ended up. [/quote]

See, the difference between us is that I didn't really care about her as much as I think I was supposed to, so the empathy switch in the end worked pretty well for me.

* Ok, that sentence really has to be followed by "and one day I'll prove it - I'll show them all, and then they'll finally see I'm not crazy. Mua hah hah hah hah!"



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Reply #18 on: April 18, 2008, 10:44:09 PM
So you meant "throwing in the towel" as the theme for the whole story, instead of just the ending? In that case, I misunderstood before, and I agree.

Right, I was perhaps unclear.  The ending answers the thematic question of the whole story, and it answered it in a way I didn't care for.  This isn't necessary a flaw in the story, of course, which should also be said.  I didn't think the ending was incongruous, or unbelievable or didn't fit what preceeded it, except perhaps by going overboard in a way I didn't think was necessary (hence my "turning it to 11" comment).  I just thought the ending didn't arrive with the sort of consequences I was interested in seeing played out.

I'm confused by what you're saying here. As far as I understood the story - and I believe this was in the story directly rather than implied - Selene was basically split between two different "personalities", both insane. She was killing her children but at the same time believing her husband was doing it. Her seemingly normal actions in the beginning were an attempt at showing this dichotomy - she didn't *decide* to get rid of him on a concious level, or plan - rather, her delusions reached a breaking point.

I didn't read Selene as having two personalities.  And I'm glad; the whole split personality trope is one of those that makes me go hunting around for my eyes because they've rolled right out of my head.  Though perhaps that's what the name variations (if they are in the text, which we haven't determined) are intended to assert.  Perhaps too, the migraines were supposed to indicate personality switchovers.  I certainly hope not, though.  Can you be a little more specific about what seemed to be the aspects of the two personalities, the triggers, which one did what things within the context of the story, or is it simply a one personality at the beginning the other at the end?  You say that it's pretty specific in story, but I didn't pick up those clues, where they were presented, so can you guide me to them?

I'm with you on the read of the ending as a complete psychotic break, and as being a set of actions without decision on a conscious level.  I don't think this reading requires split personalities to work, though.

I do agree this is a weakness of the story in that it makes it pretty difficult to relate to her insanity. I'm far more terrified by stories about normal people driven to extremes than stories about people who are outright crazy, because I'm not crazy and I find it difficult to imagine I can be*

Yeah, and it seemed like the author went to a lot of work to make it seem like we should sympathize in the first two thirds of the story, like Selene's frustrations and feelings were normal, and aggravated by her peculiarly cruel circumstances.  To me, the complete psychotic break at the end, even if it's logical and believable, is kind of a "and it was all a dream" conclusion to what was really dense, twisted, troubling material.  She put me in the head of someone who is carrying tremendous guilt, sadness and confusion over some totally fucked up stuff that happened to her and then blew that person's head up.  I wasn't finished with that head.

See, the difference between us is that I didn't really care about her as much as I think I was supposed to, so the empathy switch in the end worked pretty well for me.

I think you were supposed to care for her.  The author perhaps didn't nail that down as well as she should have for you, though that aspect worked for me.  I couldn't identify with the guy because he basically only had one line "Baby."  He also doesn't come into the story except as setting until really late.  I didn't know jack about him.  I just didn't care.  Shoot, the ghost got more dialog than he did, and certainly more thought time from the POV character.  I wouldn't have cared if she'd split open the filing cabinet either.  Or chopped down one of those everpresent salt cedars.    He was an obvious redshirt from the get go to my mind.  And I felt like the kid's deaths, especially William's deserved more weight than the 'I'm setting my husband up for the fall' ending.

I'm also not sure I get the logic, even being flexible and allowing it to be somewhat crazy logic which says "this man is killing me with pills so I will show him by shooting myself."

But again, because it seems to be a flaw of the board that when someone critiques something it must mean they hated! it, I'll repeat: I quite liked the story.  Honest.  I like Neal Stephenson too, and he's never yet gotten an ending right.

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JoeFitz

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Reply #19 on: April 20, 2008, 01:40:12 AM
This episode was ho-hum for me. In reading the comments above, I realize that it was carefully crafted, but I missed it because the story did not draw me in.



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Reply #20 on: April 20, 2008, 02:02:45 PM
There was quite a lot said above about Selene's motivations and planning/lack of planning, but it seems to me you missed the bit about her being truly mad.

That's not to say there can't be a certain logic to the actions of someone who is mentally ill, but if you look back at the shifts in her own perceptions, it's clear that she has totally broken with reality, and isn't competent to carry out a real "plan".  What we are witness to here is a chain of irrational reactions to both external and internal stimuli (if you want to break it down that way) told from Selene's point of view.  And she doesn't necessarily know which is which any more.

And while that might be a cheat if you were trying to write a deep character analysis, it is the realization that she is much further gone than you thought that generates the horror reaction.

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Reply #21 on: April 21, 2008, 05:44:55 PM


Also, agreed on the pronounciation of Selene.   I always thought it was closer to "Sell - eeen."

I was thinking that had to be intentional- there's no way a reader would let that slide.  It added to my already building frustration caused by misplaced he/shes and ultimately made me feel like I had a decent idea of what was going on mixed with no clue at all.
I've got a few theories on what was going on but I felt with a story like this we could have used a more definitive nudge.
I agree.  Perhaps this was meant to convey the POV's confusion?  If so, it was a little too effective.



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Reply #22 on: April 23, 2008, 02:56:57 AM
I didn't like this one. Might be my lest favorite Pseudopod story. It seemed more depressing than chilling. I saw the ending coming. I guess I don't find crazy people all that interesting. I'd rather have an actual supernatural element in the story.

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Reply #23 on: May 08, 2008, 04:45:16 AM
Chocolate-Covered Christ! I certainly didn't see that coming.
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Reply #24 on: July 05, 2008, 10:36:31 PM
As opposed to last week, this was just not very good. Yes, horror encompasses a lot of things but just because a story has no supernatural element does not automatically make it "psychological horror".

Positives first - nice landscape descriptions (if a tad overdone), nice actual setting (stories that admit to the financial downfalls of towns and people are always appreciated, as most genre stories seem inhabited by comfortable, upper-middle class individuals with well-paying jobs, something becoming less true as the economy goes south) and kudos for at least approaching the sticky-wicket area of psychological truth, rarely touched on, where the victims of incest are acknowledged to have more complicated feeling for their abusers, due to familial links, than just absolute hatred.  Oh, and thank to the writer for seemingly not intending the dead-Dad thing to be a twist or reveal.  Saved you a lot of needless work and saved us the internal groan.

But, in the end, the story seemed pointless to me.  Mentally ill women talks to dead father/molester and finally cracks and kills (barely developed) hubby and kids.  As someone said, you can hear similar stories with the same outcome on the news every month and, if such a scenario even requires fictionalizing, there needed to be much more there.  But I'd question even that first assumption (that such scenario requires fictionalizing).

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Reply #25 on: November 03, 2009, 06:41:53 PM
I gave this story a try but after seemingly endless scene description without any substantive content:  next.



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Reply #26 on: July 22, 2010, 12:57:06 AM
I thought a long and hard about this one, but in the end I have to give it a negative reaction.  Although it was good, I can specifically enumerate what it did wrong, but I have very little to say about what it did right.

Firstly, the language: this bugged me the most.  The diction nor tone is nowhere near the hifalutin prose of someone like Johnathan Swift - yet it seemed to make fumbling attempts every now and then.  The inclusion of such "thesaurus words" made the prose seem jarring in some places, particularly when held in contrast to such simplistic phrases as "some stuff" or the in-narration swear words.

The story starts, as many seem to, with a length stretch of description regarding the character and the setting - but not so much as a hint of plot.  This structure is one of my least favorite: 70% characterization & backstory (ie. "slice of life") followed by 30% actual plot.  I appreciated the subtle characterization (particularly regarding the molestation) but was off put because, well, what else was there to this story?

And what of the plot?  The comparison to The 6th Sense is obvious - but in a larger sense, the person who turns out to be a ghost is an old hat.  The unreliable narrator was a nice touch (which has warded off my accusations of withheld information), but I really didn't see much originality or substance to the story in the end.  Likewise, the woman's madness plays out in the typical manner: paranoia that leads to murder.

To see a more subtle, disturbing vision of a woman losing her grip on reality and subsequent (implied) suicide there is nothing better than Ray Bradbury's "The Cistern."  I think he has another, similar story of a woman who dies of a bizarre mix of ennui and dread in Mexico, but I cannot for the life of me remember the name.  It might have been "En La Noche" - anyone else read that story?
« Last Edit: July 22, 2010, 01:04:14 AM by Millenium_King »

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Sgarre1

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Reply #27 on: July 22, 2010, 06:34:14 AM
Quote
I think he has another, similar story of a woman who dies of a bizarre mix of ennui and dread in Mexico, but I cannot for the life of me remember the name.  It might have been "En La Noche" - anyone else read that story?

I haven't read that one but could it have been "The Next In Line" (husband and wife visit Mexican catacombs with mummified peasants - wife slowly goes mad as trip continues) or possibly "Interval In Sunlight" (although the wife doesn't die, she just succumbs to the inevitability of her passive agressive relationship with her husband who's jealous of her nascent writing career)?

“In order for a thing to be horrible, it has to suffer a change you can recognize.”
Ray Bradbury, “The Next In Line”



Millenium_King

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Reply #28 on: July 22, 2010, 09:55:39 PM
"The Next In Line" that's it - thanks!  I couldn't find my damn copy of The October Country but I thought it was one of the ones in there.

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