Writer of fiction, poetry and essays.

The story of why I read this book begins with a tweet. The author asked what people thought of the cover.

I have to say, I don’t love the cover. Not that it’s bad; because it isn’t. Rather, it just looks like every other cover out there. I feel like a lot of books have faces on the cover, and small wonder, because the eye is instinctively drawn to human faces. The problem is, book marketers have learned this.

But I was impressed that the author was even asking about this. And so I decided, why not pick the book up and give it a try?

I didn’t expect to like it. Early on, it felt like the sort of book I’d put aside and not re-open, as it begins by introducing us to the rather irritating Isabella Jaramillo, a rich, famous, and altogether spoiled professional time traveler. She has the world at her fingertips, and yet she’s rude, angry, and greedy.

But something made me keep going. I got interested as Isabella’s equally unlikable husband decided to strand her in the past as an act of revenge. Isabella started having to make her own way in a world totally alien to her.

The characters of the medieval town to which she is exiled all felt extremely real, too. The characters were well-written and nuanced, and none of them felt flat or clichéd. I felt like I could understand and sympathize with them, even the antagonists. They are a different people, shaped by the harshness of the time and place they were born into, but still complicated and human. And slowly, Isabella starts to be shaped by it, too.

Then the book shifted back to the future and the time-traveler organization, where Isabella’s father Alfredo is frantically trying to find out what’s become of his daughter. But he too has a murky past, and slowly it becomes clear that there are many conflicting agendas at play. The past, or perhaps I should say the pasts, begin to catch up with the powerful men who play at being Gods.

McTiernan displays a wonderful skill at knowing just when to switch from what plot thread to another, keeping the reader hooked on every development, waiting to see what happened next. In other words, by the time I was a third of the way in, the book had totally won me over, and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.

In last week’s book review, I mentioned the harshness of life as a medieval peasant, contrasted with the ease of our modern age. Well, this book demonstrates exactly that, as Isabella is forced to cast aside all the privileges and luxuries she once enjoyed and survive in brutal and unforgiving circumstances.

So often, when I read books about the past, they make one of two errors: either they make the past just like the present, only with the thinnest veneer of Middle Ages clichés ill-concealing a modern sensibility, or else they paint the past as miserable and unenlightened, a world of nothing but ignorant stock-characters.

I’m happy to report this book avoids both pitfalls. The people of the past feel real; both in terms of being different from ourselves in terms of values and beliefs, while at the same time having a core of humanity that makes them relatable.

The book is both science-fiction and historical fiction; both an alternate future with some dystopian elements as well a good old-fashioned adventure/romance. It’s also brimming with interesting religious themes, though I’m probably the wrong person to analyze those.

I started off thinking I’d hate this book and wouldn’t finish it, and by the end, I loved it and couldn’t wait to see what happens next. It does end on a bit of a cliffhanger, so you should know that not all the questions it raises will be answered in this volume, but it’s still a fantastic story.

From Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences (1895):

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction — some say twenty-two. In “Deerslayer,” Cooper violated eighteen of them. These eighteen require:

1. That a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere. But the “Deerslayer” tale accomplishes nothing and arrives in air.
2. They require that the episodes in a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help to develop it. But as the “Deerslayer” tale is not a tale, and accomplishes nothing and arrives nowhere, the episodes have no rightful place in the work, since there was nothing for them to develop.
3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others. But this detail has often been overlooked in the “Deerslayer” tale.
4. They require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there. But this detail also has been overlooked in the “Deerslayer” tale.
5. They require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say. But this requirement has been ignored from the beginning of the “Deerslayer” tale to the end of it.
6. They require that when the author describes the character of a personage in the tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description. But this law gets little or no attention in the “Deerslayer” tale, as Natty Bumppo’s case will amply prove.
[I omit rule 7 from this list, as it contains language which may shock modern readers–B.G.]
8. They require that crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader as “the craft of the woodsman, the delicate art of the forest,” by either the author or the people in the tale. But this rule is persistently violated in the “Deerslayer” tale.
9. They require that the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable. But these rules are not respected in the “Deerslayer” tale.
10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the “Deerslayer” tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.
11. They require that the characters in a tale shall be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency. But in the “Deerslayer” tale, this rule is vacated.

In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple and straightforward style.

Even these seven are coldly and persistently violated in the “Deerslayer” tale.

Obviously, ol’ Samuel Clemens is not acting in good faith. He has devised these rules specifically in order to ensure that Deerslayer will be in violation of them. I suspect nearly all other purported rules for writers are created through a similar process. Probably not with the same degree of venom as motivated Twain, but in the sense of being designed to fit pre-existing books, and not as independent criteria.

Still, Twain’s essay is hilarious. I’d be honored if someone hated my books this much!

If I made a Mount Rushmore of authors from the millennial generation, it would consist of Peter Martuneac, H.R.R. Gorman, Zachary Shatzer, and Bertocci. I don’t mean to imply they are the only good millennial authors, of course. As Tom Lehrer would say, “there may be many others, but they haven’t been discovered.” It’s just that they are the ones I know about, and each of them, in their own unique ways, captures something about our generation.

And of the four, Bertocci may be the most thoroughly millennial of the lot. Martuneac, Gorman, and Shatzer write of the future and the past, of the supernatural, the fantastic and the bizarre, weaving their millennial themes into their tales. Bertocci, though, writes literary fiction set in the present day, and squarely about millennials.

The Hundred Other Rileys is a perfect example: it follows a woman named Riley who is adrift in life. Here is her description of her job:

[M]y own job is not to understand, it’s to keep track of who’s doing what in Google Sheets and send a lot of emails with exclamation points asking when other people who do things will do them. ‘Riley Bender – Innovation Associate’, my signature reads…

There are versions of me in every sprawling corporation–the hubs, the go-betweens, the copier-pasters and checkers of boxes, whose lot it is neither to know nor to do, but to merely assign, assess, go after, be whatever fills the gap. We look. We circle back. We forward. We facilitate. Sometimes we liaise. We don’t strategize, that’s too serious. We sync. We send updates. We tell ourselves we don’t shuffle papers, it’s all in the digital realm. We thank in advance. No worries if not. We don’t really do what our companies do, but we get on the same page, no worries if not. We do nothing that matters, and we’re all so behind.

Isn’t that dead-on? If you’ve had a job like this, you know how it feels. It isn’t hard… it’s just so blatantly pointless.

But one day Riley sees a picture of a woman who looks like her in an advertisement. And from there, she starts seeing the same stock photo model everywhere, as if mocking her own career’s dead-endedness, alluding to all the other opportunities she missed, all the paths not taken.

What follows is a mind-bending, fourth-wall-breaking, exploration of frustration, stultification and ultimately, how to get past them. There’s even a little bit about writer’s block in it, though I won’t discuss that in detail for fear of spoilers. But every writer I know will want to read it. And that goes double for millennials, to whom Bertocci speaks like no other writer I’ve read.

Be warned, I’m about to speak in broad generalities about an entire generation. Obviously, not every millennial will fit the description I’m about to give. I myself am something of a mixed bag in this regard: in some ways, I fit certain millennial stereotypes to a “t”. In other respects, not so much. So, please don’t think I’m asserting every person born between 1981 and 1996 has all these qualities.

Okay, so what’s up with us millennials? Why, to quote some beloved Boomer family members of mine, are we such whiners? Back in my parents’ day, they had to fight two lions every day… etc. My generation has it so easy!

Well, in a sense, yes, we do have it easy. I was born in 1990. I am much happier I was born in 1990 than in say, 1950, or God forbid, 1850. This is actually an excellent time to be alive in any meaningful historical context.

Are we millennials simply coddled, spoiled, soft, decadent weaklings, like the debased aristocrats of the very late Roman Empire? Are we, or more to the point, all our complaints about society, reflective of nothing but moral turpitude brought on by the proverbial idle hands?

Well, I don’t think so. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

The problem millennials face is exactly the one illustrated by Riley’s obsession with her doppelgänger: we face too many opportunities. In a world of endless possibilities, we all have to choose one, and it’s hard to be sure which one to take. Thus, we end up either choosing one and regretting it later, or worse yet, staying in a holding pattern too long.

Is this a good problem to have? I think so. Certainly, if Riley had been born a peasant in 1327, she would not face the same problems that she does as young person in the 2020s. And it’s hard to argue that the latter set of problems is not preferable.

What Bertocci has masterfully shown in literary form is that abundance can itself be a problem. It may be a better problem than scarcity, but it’s still a problem. And as a species, we’ve had millennia to learn to cope with scarcity. Abundance? That’s something new, weird, and very much foreign to us.  Because biologically speaking, we’re not much different than the peasants of 1327.

That’s not uniquely a millennial issue, of course. Technological progress took off earlier in the 20th century, before the millennials’ parents were even born. Other things that characterize my generation include a sense of humor that relies heavily on cultural references, and a strong desire not to get beaten down by a nose-to-the-grindstone mentality in our work lives. Whether these are positive or negative qualities is something I leave entirely up to you to decide. What I do know is that this book captures all these aspects of the millennial weltanschauung.

This is why I describe Bertocci as, well, the voice of his generation. In many ways, this is the spiritual sequel to Bertocci’s wonderful Samantha, 25, on October 31, which I consider a masterpiece. This book is every bit a worthy successor to Samantha, and in some ways is even more inventive and original. It’s another splendid work of literary fiction, and deserves to be widely read.

[Note: Special thanks to Richard L. Pastore for reading an early draft of this review and making suggestions on how to improve it.] 

I didn’t get to write a proper review of the first book in this series, Mandate of Heaven, for reasons I explained in my not-quite-a-review post when it was published last month. But I was not a beta reader on Solomon’s Fortune, and that means I get to give it the full Ruined Chapel treatment.

Ethan Chase, and his fellow adventurers Frankie and Mei, once again find themselves on a globe-spanning hunt for a legendary treasure. This time they are seeking the Ark of the Covenant, and their journey takes them from the Middle East to Italy to a mysterious island in the Atlantic. At every step, they are forced to contend with rival treasure hunters, including a wealthy and relentless Russian arms dealer.

Of course, because they’re chasing the sacred Ark, one is tempted to compare the book with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indeed, much to Ethan Chase’s chagrin, several of the characters draw this parallel. And why not? In my earlier post, I compared the first book to Indiana Jones. Chase’s objections notwithstanding, there’s no question that this series captures that same spirit of adventure, of wise-cracking heroes racing to stay one step ahead of sadistic villains across many exotic and famous locations.

It’s important to remember that Indiana Jones was itself an homage to the pulp adventure serials of the 1930s. We are always nostalgic for a bygone era of adventure, it seems. I’m reminded of something that somebody (Michael Caine, maybe?) said of The Man Who Would Be King: “Even when it was made, people said, ‘they don’t make films like that anymore.'”

And indeed, in our modern world, when the whole surface of the earth is mapped by satellite imagery and everybody has a digital camera in their pocket, can we even keep alive the dreams of forgotten ruins and lost treasures, of ancient mysteries and supernatural secrets, and above all, of heroism and adventure?

I say we can, thanks to books like this. While I was reading it, I found myself instantly absorbed in Ethan Chase’s world. Its themes are timeless, and its characters are likable. Even the villains have some shreds of humanity left in them, which make them all the more interesting.

These books have a vibe to them, is what I’m saying; an ethos that feels familiar and at the same time refreshing. In fact, fittingly enough, I would go so far as to say they are a treasure. If you like good stories, you should read this book, and if you haven’t read the first book in the series yet, you should read them both, and join Ethan Chase on his thrilling expeditions.

If you’re on Twitter, you know there has been a lot of drama about the future of the site. If you’re not on Twitter, well, now is probably not a good time to join.

I have no idea what will happen to Twitter. All I know is, my follower count is around 250, which is the higher-end estimate of Dunbar’s Number, and thus seems to me to be the perfect amount. I only regularly interact with about 5% of them. But I have alternate ways to get in touch with that 5% without using Twitter. So, even if it goes, it wouldn’t be the end of my world.

What I’m more interested in is what this means for social media as a whole. Frankly, I dislike the term “social media.” It reeks of early-2000s tech speak, in which hackers reinvented terms for well-established human behaviors and thought themselves geniuses.

Of course, the internet is a wonderful way of meeting people, and I’m grateful for all the friends I’ve made through it. (They are, after all, the real treasure.) I would not want to lose touch with them. Fittingly, Twitter is a canary in the coal mine. What happens to it could, in theory, happen to all online relationships.

At times like these, I like to flippantly reference Deus Ex, a 2000 cyberpunk video game in which the world is ravaged by terrorism, poverty, and pandemics, all while sinister global megacorporations scheme to reengineer humanity itself for their own ends.

However, while this game may sound very dated and completely irrelevant to our modern era, the part I’m thinking of is the “Dark Age Ending,” in which the protagonist, J.C. Denton, destroys the global computer network controlled by the tech billionaire villain, plunging the world into a state of anarchic freedom:

(By the way, one high-profile fan of Deus Ex is none other than… Elon Musk.)

Now, before you all get excited and form an anarcho-syndicalist commune, I’m not saying that our future is necessarily small tribes communicating only by letters and carrier pigeons.

Rather, I’m saying we need to think about what the whole goal of online socializing is. What do we want to get out of it? Do we actually want a forum where anyone can say anything to anyone? Maybe we do.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe all we want is a place to talk with our friends. I don’t know; these are tough questions.

But this I do know: it’s got to be about the quality of the relationships, not the quantity. The ability to attract millions of eyeballs is not that important. What’s important is that we cultivate friendships with people that are actually meaningful to us.

Earlier this year, Zachary Shatzer had the idea of creating a new genre called “cozypunk,” as a blend of cyberpunk and cozy mysteries.

I loved this idea, and even thought about trying to write something of the sort myself. But then, when Andrey Popov responded to my call for pleasant, uplifting book recommendations last week, I learned this book existed, and that’s pretty much what it is. And I doubt I could do as good a job of it as Katz does.

This is a short story, set in a “retro-futuristic America.” I was in love already upon reading those words. It follows wandering AI repair technician Clara, whose wanderlust takes her to Seattle, where she meets Sal, a sophisticated robot who manages a small tea shop. Clara soon befriends Sal, but before long, the two are forced to confront a number of challenges, both material and emotional.

The book is a short and sweet sketch of the two major characters, but there was also a sufficient amount of background given to make the world feel grounded. In particular, the threat of violence against sentient AIs helped make the story feel like part of a wider world. It reminded me of Asimov, if Asimov had written lesbian romance.

And it also made me crave tea! I am not even much of a tea drinker; being more of a coffee guy. But every so often, and especially of a rainy November evening, I enjoy a cup of Constant Comment. And that is what I sipped while reading this charming little story. Andrey is exactly right about it; it’s a story that is “kind and full of love.”

I don’t typically put content warnings on my reviews, but today I’m going to. There’s no way to talk about this book without talking about some pretty nasty stuff. The book includes some graphic descriptions of violence as well as plenty of swearing. It’s definitely not for anyone who is sensitive or easily-offended. Also, there are lots of racial slurs in it, although not the one you might be expecting. I can’t blame you if, in these troubled times, you prefer not to have your reading filled with such things.

It is a gritty and realistic account of commando raids, told in the first-person with startling immediacy. In great detail, the author describes the covert missions behind enemy lines undertaken by Rhodesian Light Infantry commandos.

Okay, here’s the deal: this book is supposed to be fiction. It’s in the “war fiction” category on Amazon. There’s a disclaimer in large letters at the beginning confirming its fictional nature.

But it does not read like fiction. I read enough non-fiction war memoirs to know what they’re like, and this reads just like one.

Moreover, it doesn’t have any of the standard features one expects in fiction, such as plot arcs or character development. The narrator mentions his comrades and their names and sometimes one or two minor personality traits, but they aren’t “characters” such as might be found in a novel. They are just guys who went on commando raids with him.

And there is no story, no three-act structure, or anything like that. It’s just a straightforward account of missions the narrator carried out, in chronological order.

If Rische just made all this stuff up from a combination of imagination and research, I’d have to say he did a fine job. It captures the feeling of reality with none of the artificiality of dramatic structure. But… I suspect that’s not what this book is.

Every so often, there’s a scandal where somebody writes something claiming to be a memoir, and it turns out to be largely fictional. (This is the most famous example that comes to mind.)

I struggle to think of a case of the reverse, where someone passed off a factual account as fiction. I mean, what would be the point…? Yet I have to wonder if that’s what’s happening here. It just feels too realistic.

And if it really is a work of fiction, and not a memoir, then it feels like a missed opportunity. Because the thing fiction can do that a memoir can’t is explore multiple perspectives and points of view.

The narrator of this book is not interested in doing that. Time and again, after describing some bloody attack on the enemy, he’ll say something along the lines of, “…but I didn’t feel bad about the brutality. The fact was, if we didn’t do it to them, they would be attacking innocent people.”

It never seems to occur to him that presumably his enemies are thinking the exact same thing. No doubt they could provide their own justifications for their actions, just as the narrator does for the RLI.

And this is of course the ugly logic of war: “do unto them before they do unto you.” And it makes a certain sense, once you are in such a brutal situation, but it is the logic of the vicious circle. At every point, each side’s most “rational” choice is to escalate, leading to utterly inhuman horrors.

Early in the book, there’s a section about the Rhodesian Air Force bombing an enemy camp. The pro-Rhodesia position is that it was a terrorist training facility. The anti-Rhodesia position is that it was a refugee camp. Even if, like me, you know nothing about the Rhodesian Bush war, this sort of dynamic will be familiar to anyone who has read about the Israel-Palestine conflict, or any of the United States’ recent “asymmetric” wars.

Our narrator, of course, believes 100% that it was a terrorist staging ground, and only that, and anyone who says different is just repeating enemy propaganda.

Well, as long as we’re subscribing to the idea that this is “just fiction,” sure, why not? But my sense is that in most real-life cases where things like this happen, it’s usually some combination of the two. A common tactic of the militarily weaker side is to place their agents among civilians, so the stronger side can’t avoid civilian casualties.

Even the wars that we look on as “good” wars have their share of incidents like this. No one really likes to think about it, but in any war, there is some expected amount of loss of innocent life. It’s “priced in,” as it were, when calculating the costs of war.

Do you feel a bit sick thinking about this? I feel pretty sick writing about it. As we should. It would have been interesting if the book had featured a little more introspection, a bit more musing about how the narrator and his beloved country became locked in an inescapable conflict that could only end badly. And did.

But there is no introspection here. Which, again, I would understand in a memoir much more than in a novel. As it is… this is a strange and depressing book. Which, I suppose, makes it an accurate account of how the war must have felt.

This is a cybercrime techno-thriller about a hacker who finds himself entrapped in an elaborate blackmail scheme. He’s forced to recruit old friends from his past in an effort to save himself.

What I liked most about the book was the setting. It’s a classic cyber-dystopia, with omnipresent surveillance and ongoing threats of pandemics. The atmosphere was creepy and disturbing, without being distracting.

Also, the technical details of all the hacking and counter-hacking were well done. I could follow what was going on without getting bogged down in the details.

I did struggle with some of the characters, in particular the protagonist. Let’s just say that, while he is the victim of a crime, he is far from innocent of wrongdoing himself. This made it hard for me to feel much sympathy for him.

However, if you can get past that, the book certainly makes for a fast-paced and exciting page-turner. Also, that cover is spectacular, isn’t it? Makes me think of Ghost in the Shell a little.

Brace up, my friends! Today’s review will be a long one, because today’s book, although small in terms of length, contains vast concepts. Concepts which a mere critic probably cannot adequately address. But, I feel compelled to try anyway. Really, the best decision you could make would be to get this book now and read it before Halloween. Then, come back and read this review if you want. Or better yet, write your own! This is one of those books that I suspect will inspire strong feelings in readers. Lydia Schoch, to whom I owe thanks for bringing this book to my attention, already wrote one yesterday, and I encourage you to read it.

So, what is this book about? Well, as you likely guessed, it’s about a 25 year-old woman named Samantha, born in Ohio and now living in New York City, which she imagined would be glamorous, but is finding her life lacking in purpose and direction. She is unhappy, but she cannot pinpoint exactly why.

Among other things, this book is about millennial angst. The millennials are the generation born between approximately 1981-1996, which makes Samantha one of the last ones.

If you are a millennial, as I am, you probably know what I mean by “millennial angst.” If you’re not, you might be skeptical of this whole phenomenon. And I can’t blame you. It is possible every generation experiences these growing pains, and imagines themselves to be unique when in reality they’re just like their parents, and their grandparents, and so on. When Don McLean sang of “A generation Lost in Space / With no time left to start again,” he wasn’t singing about millennials. But he might as well have been.

So, maybe it’s unfair to call it “millennial angst.” But whatever you call it, this book captures it.

Now, possibly, you are getting nervous. You might be asking yourself, “Is this book part of that sub-genre of literary fiction known as ‘Spoiled People Who Are Unhappy In Vague and Complicated Ways?'” This is a very popular sub-genre among pretentious literary critics and scholars. I hold F. Scott Fitzgerald responsible for this, as his beautifully-written but soulless novel The Great Gatsby taught generations of writers that this is what fiction is supposed to be like.

Gatsby is about unhappy people in New York. Samantha, 25, on October 31 is also about unhappy people in New York. Gatsby is full of symbolism. Perhaps someday the literary critics will get their hands on Samantha, 25, and then they’ll say it’s full of symbolism, too. And perhaps it is, but here at Ruined Chapel we rarely employ such modes of analysis.

Anyway, let me actually answer the question: is this one of those books? No, it isn’t. You might think it is, since it shares common elements, but no. This book is something very different. It is much stranger and much more powerful than that.

Samantha dreams of rediscovering the magic of Halloweens of her childhood. Somehow it slipped away, without her even being aware of it, and now it’s gone and the world is drab and humdrum. This book, then, is not in the tradition of Gatsby, but of Something Wicked This Way Comes and even of Lovecraft’s more esoteric works. I particularly thought of the opening of his never-completed novel Azathoth:

When age fell upon the world, and wonder went out of the minds of men; when grey cities reared to smoky skies tall towers grim and ugly, in whose shadow none might dream of the sun or of Spring’s flowering meads; when learning stripped earth of her mantle of beauty, and poets sang no more save of twisted phantoms seen with bleared and inward looking eyes; when these things had come to pass, and childish hopes had gone away forever, there was a man who traveled out of life on a quest into spaces whither the world’s dreams had fled.

And here, I have written myself into a corner and given lie to my own thesis. Namely, by showing that H.P. Lovecraft, who was about as antithetical to the values of my generation as it is possible to be, nevertheless was feeling some angst of his own.

It is entirely possible that writers in every generation are like this. It may be just some weird mutation that keeps cropping up. We can’t rule out this possibility.

Why is it, do you suppose, that these mystical, irrational ideas persist? What spirit is it that moves Samantha to wish for “spooktacular Halloween adventure?” Is it just the whims of idle youth? Or is it… something else?

We’ll return to this question. But in the meantime, we’ve got to talk about Halloween itself.

What, exactly, is Halloween about? For comparison, think about what every other holiday is about. Every Western holiday I can think of can be traced to something specific, and commemorates a particular thing, whether it’s an actual event, a person, a myth, a miracle, or something of the sort.

Halloween… doesn’t. At least, nothing specific. It’s the night before the Day of the Dead, which, under various names, is the day of remembrance of departed ancestors. But even that’s not Halloween.

Halloween itself is about the mystery of what lurks in the darkness. It’s celebrated when it is because the days are getting shorter, and the sun is sinking lower, and frankly, this was just a rough time of year if you were a pagan farmer. Your thoughts probably weren’t of a cheerful sort during this time.

Of all holidays, Halloween is the most closely associated with the mysterious and the unknown. And, I would contend, it is the holiday that most closely binds us to a darker, more primitive age, when, as HPL might say, “wonder was still in the minds of men.” (And women, too. Like I said, ol’ Howard wasn’t really up to speed with our modern values.)

And now, we’re in a position to evaluate what Samantha wants, and why Halloween is the catalyst for making her want it. As Samantha says at the climax of the book:

“I spent an awful lot of the past two decades and change just kind of following the rules, keep your head down, jump through hoops, impress the teacher, check every box and go to a good school and check the boxes there and now, whoops, that’s all crap because you do that and you work an essential starvation-wage job selling five different kinds of kombucha and no one gives a shit and nothing matters and soon enough society collapses and the best that the people in charge can tell you is keep following the rules.”

I understand if you’re agnostic about the concept of millennial angst. Yet, if it exists at all, this is surely as perfect a summary of it as was ever put to the page.

And that is why Samantha finds herself standing with a bunch of witches around a fire on Halloween night. Because she is tired of following the rules and jumping through the hoops.

It’s a night when rules are broken, and the world seems a little less rote and a little more mysterious.

Friends, the world is not a spreadsheet. It can’t be neatly and efficiently organized, at least not without resorting to methods ripped from dystopian novels. There must always be a sense of indescribable magic in life, or else it’s not really life at all.

Samantha, 25, on October 31 is a great book. There’s no rubric I can use to articulate why, no arithmetic formula I can point to and say, “Ah, there! That is what makes it great!” Only it is, because it has the power to say things I always thought, but never could articulate, even to myself.

Of course, you might disagree. Maybe you’ll read it, and look at me the way I look at people who tell me Gatsby is the Great American Novel. Every book really is like the cave on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back: What’s in it? “Only what you take with you.”

Therefore, I advise you to bring with you the spirit of Halloween; the feeling of curiosity and wonder that all of us keep somewhere in ourselves, and let yourself get lost in the magic of this weird and wonderful holiday.