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.

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.”

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.

Herbert West is perhaps the best-known of Lovecraft’s human characters. While no one would call him “well-developed,” he’s less of a cipher than HPL’s people usually were. So much so that he caught the attention of many subsequent writers, who delved deeper into what made him tick. 

In other words, I know that most of you reading this have also read Audrey Driscoll’s “Herbert West” series. (If you haven’t, you should.) Lovecraft’s sketch pales in comparison to the sprawling epic she wove out of his flimsy raw material.

Prior to reading Friendship of Mortals, my favorite interpretation of Herbert West was that of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, which produced two song parodies that tell you everything you need to know about the character as Lovecraft saw him. The solstice carol “Slay Ride”:

“The work was slow and sordid in a really morbid domain. / Herb was a workaholic with a cold, diabolical brain.”

And these lines from their Fiddler on the Roof parody, “To Life”:

Papa dear, I want to marry Herbert, since he has a power once reserved for God.

I never could say ‘no’ to you, my darling. Even though young West should face a firing squad.

But, today I am reviewing the original tale, not any Herbert West-inspired novels, filks, or musical comedies.

So, Herbert West is this scientist, who, get this, reanimates corpses. Can you believe it?

Apparently, Lovecraft created this as a parody of Frankenstein. Or so Wikipedia claims, citing something somewhere in Lovecraft’s massive body of correspondence. I would like to find a verbatim quote from the author himself on this, because the book doesn’t really feel like a parody. At least, to the extent that parodies are supposed to be funny.

Also, Herbert West is the antithesis of Victor Frankenstein. Whereas Shelley’s scientist is mad only to the extent he is prone to wild flights of passionate emotion and expressing himself in florid romantic speeches, West is hyper-rational, dispassionate, amoral, and unsentimental. Where Frankenstein is wracked with debilitating guilt, West is a sociopath, driven by a desire to prove his theories correct no matter what the cost.

Maybe Lovecraft’s point was that if anyone was going to bring dead bodies back to a kind of “life,” it would be a ruthless and unemotional scientist, not someone who sounds suspiciously like a Byronic poet. And, I guess he’s probably right.

Still, if you’re after the big laughs, Herbert West is not the place to find them. It’s a story in six parts, but each part is essentially the same as the others: 

  • West reanimates a corpse.
  • Reanimated corpse starts wrecking everything.
  • West and the narrator conceal their involvement.
  • Repeat.

This gets tiresome after Part Two. Even Lovecraft got tired of it, and (again Wikipedia is the source for this) only kept writing it because it paid him the princely sum of five dollars per part, which in those days was enough to buy a month’s worth of groceries. 

In many ways, it’s an anti-Lovecraftian Lovecraft story. The monsters, far from being eldritch abominations beyond the comprehension of mere human minds, are just zombies. Admittedly, zombies were more of a novelty a century ago than they are today, but still.

To summarize, it’s one of Lovecraft’s worst stories, and even Lovecraft himself would agree. Possibly, he even meant for it to be bad. But he didn’t even do that right, because it’s not quite bad enough to be funny. It’s just… there. 

Once you’ve read Driscoll’s novels, the original barely even feels like a story. More like a synopsis or a bulleted list of plot developments. If you have read those already, this is barely worth reading, except maybe as a curiosity. 

So, that’s it for the review. Now, I’m going to talk about something else unrelated, which may or may not be of interest.

There is no “cover” proper for Herbert West–Reanimator. The Wikipedia page only shows this disaster. When people talk about the Golden Age of Pulp Art, they ain’t talking about that.

But the post feels naked without an image of some sort. So, I searched the free picture library WordPress provides for some stock art of mad scientists:

I kind of want to see a movie about mad scientists with these two, not gonna lie. 

For some reason, though, I’ve always pictured Herbert West as looking and acting like a blond Tom Lehrer. Basically, a guy with the manner of a brilliant and likable young professor who is happily oblivious to how appalling what he’s saying is.

I’m also exceedingly fond of this alternate cover for The Friendship of Mortals. Most of the HW–R covers on Amazon focus too much on the zombie horror aspect, and not much on what Driscoll correctly identified as the central question of the story, namely: why does the narrator continue hanging around with West for so long?

Just when I thought I couldn’t get any more dazzled by Zachary Shatzer powers of comedic storytelling, he goes and writes a cozy zombie apocalypse story.

Shatzer’s recent book The Beach Wizard cemented his place on my Mount Rushmore of comic novelists. It’s a fantastic mixture of absurd comedy and stoic philosophy. I’ve read it twice since it debuted in August. Everyone should read it.

But, anyway; about this book. It’s the third book in Shatzer’s series of cozy mystery parodies, starring amateur sleuth Roberta Smith, her cat Mr. Bigfluff, and their idyllic (aside from the surprisingly frequent murders) town of Quaintville.

You have to read the first two books in the series to get the most out of this one, but as they’re all extremely short, this shouldn’t be a problem. You can read the whole series in about an hour.

Now, I’ll admit to the possibility that this particular brand of parody might not be for everybody. You have to be familiar with the cozy mystery genre to get why it’s funny. I suppose if you’ve never heard of cozy mysteries before, you’ll find it a bit baffling. But then again, who hasn’t heard of cozy mysteries?

Additionally, an Indie-Skeptic may argue that the books are (a) very short or (b) contain typos. I have seen these arguments made many times by readers who hesitate or outright refuse to spend money on indie books.  Sometimes at the same time, which doesn’t even make sense. It’s like the old joke about the restaurant where the food is terrible and the portions are too small.

The argument that a book is too short doesn’t hold up. You’re not paying for the words, you’re paying for the effect they produce.

As for the typos, I’ve pretty much reached a point as a reader where I hardly notice them, unless they actively impede my understanding. Yes, of course, in an ideal world, there would be no typos, and all spelling and grammar would be perfectly uniform. But we’re not in an ideal world, and this is far from the main reason why.

One of my hobbies is reading old books, especially those from my favorite historical period, the American Revolution. One thing I quickly noticed was that spelling was very much an inexact science in those days. George Washington himself struggled mightily with orthography.

The snobs of the world who sneer at typos in indie books would no doubt say, if transported back to Colonial America, “This man’s letters be full of errors most grievous against our Common Tongue. Hark ye, sirs and ladies, never could he lead a ∫ucce∫sful revolution against the Crown of England!”

Or words to that effect. But old George seemed to do all right for his country, and Zachary Shatzer has done all right for the art of writing comic fiction. Like I said at the outset, folks: Mount Rushmore.

Shatzer’s books never fail to make me laugh out loud, and this one is great for getting in the Halloween spirit. (Not that I need help with that, but…) I highly recommend it.

I have this informal rule that I don’t review books that I beta read. I don’t mind reading an ARC before its official release, but when I’ve read a book in its early stages and made comments, I feel like I shouldn’t then review it.

So, this isn’t a review, exactly. But it is a recommendation. I first read Peter Martuneac’s Mandate of Heaven over a year ago, back when the protagonist had a different name and the book had no publisher. Now it’s an Ethan Chase adventure from Evolved Publishing.

And yes, I made suggestions on the original draft. I think it was in the form of pointing out a missing comma on page 47 or something like that. Mostly, I just reveled in the terrific story Peter has created. And ever since, I’ve been eagerly waiting for the book to be widely released so I can tell you all about it.

Remember my series on ’90s action movies earlier this year, in particular The Mummy? This book has the same feel as movies like that. Imagine Indiana Jones written by Tom Clancy, and you have an idea of what Mandate of Heaven is like.

I’ve enthusiastically recommended Peter’s zombie-dystopia series His Name Was Zach in the past, despite not being a big fan of zombie or dystopia fiction generally. While I like that series a lot, I’ll admit it’s not for everyone. But this book is much more accessible. Good story enjoyers everywhere will love this one. Peter is an up-and-coming author and his work deserves to be widely read. Accordingly, you should absolutely read this book.

I am serious about this. I wouldn’t bother breaking my own rule if it weren’t important. Even if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, at least give it a try, as a favor to me. Authors like Peter don’t come around every day, and it’s important to support them when they do.

You can find links to buy Mandate of Heaven from a variety of booksellers here.

Oh, and if you missed my interview with Peter earlier this week, check it out here.

A classic ghost tale in the Gothic tradition. The protagonist becomes obsessed with the romantic legend of a ghost said to haunt Arlen Hall, and will stop at nothing to meet the specter face-to-face. But, as the cover says, be careful what you wish for…

Speaking of covers, I know we’re not supposed to judge books by them, but simply considered as a standalone artwork, is not that cover perfect? It’s practically a story in itself.

This is a super-short book; easy to read in one sitting, but it’s still highly enjoyable all the same, and a good introduction to Painter’s dark, often ironic sense of humor. Just don’t expect a sprawling novel; this is a more of a quick sketch.

As I write this review, there’s a debate raging on Twitter about whether a traditional mystery story can have supernatural elements. (The word “traditional” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.) This book is a good example of how a story can include the supernatural, yet still be resolved in a logical and consistent manner.

My suggestion is to pick this one up along with some other short Halloween stories, and read all of them on one of these dark October evenings, when the wind is howling and the leaves are rustling, and the rain is lashing at the windows, and there are strange lights in the mist but you can’t remember the neighbors putting out any decorations yet…

There are times when, as a reviewer, I feel unequal to the task. Actually, most times really. Basically, my critical style is just my flimsy pastiche of more talented critics whose work I enjoy.

But then there are times when I simply can’t even attempt to write what I imagine they would write. And with this book, I find myself imagining what Richard Armour could make out of it. He of The Classics Reclassified fame would be just the one to take this on.

If you have not read Classics Reclassified and can’t easily get your hands on a copy, you can at least read Armour’s quotes on Goodreads, which includes some of the gems.

Anyway, on to Frankenstein. You all know the story: mad scientist creates monster in laboratory. It turns out to have been a bad idea. Missing from the story are many of the tropes later created by Hollywood. There is no hunchbacked assistant to the scientist, there is no mix-up with the subject’s brains, and the monster is not destroyed by a mob with pitchforks and torches.

Basically, the executive summary is that, having created the monster, Victor Frankenstein feels really, really bad about it. The monster wanders off on his own and gradually teaches himself spoken and written language, and begins to resent his creator for bringing an abomination such as himself into the world. He then begins a quest of murderous revenge against Frankenstein, attacking those dearest to him in order to make the scientist feel as miserable as his creation.

In broad outlines, this is a decent enough plot, I suppose. But as you may have guessed by now, I did not really like it.

The first reason is that the writing is just too florid. I mean, look at this:

“The hour of my weakness is past, and the period of your power is arrived. Your threats cannot move me to do an act of wickedness; but they confirm me in a resolution of not creating you a companion in vice. Shall I, in cool blood, set loose upon the earth a dæmon, whose delight is in death and wretchedness. Begone! I am firm, and your words will only exasperate my rage.”

That’s dialogue. Frankenstein says it to the monster during one of their many futile interviews.

The whole book is like that. And look, I’ve long been a defender of the slower, more leisurely pace of older books. I don’t mind an author taking their time. What I mind is repetitiveness.

Like, Frankenstein tells us at the beginning of Volume II:

The blood flowed freely in my veins, but a weight of despair and remorse pressed on my heart, which nothing could remove. Sleep fled from my eyes; I wandered like an evil spirit, for I had committed deeds of mischief beyond description horrible, and more, much more, (I persuaded myself) was yet behind. Yet my heart overflowed with kindness, and the love of virtue. I had begun life with benevolent intentions, and thirsted for the moment when I should put them in practice, and make myself useful to my fellow-beings. Now all was blasted: instead of that serenity of conscience, which allowed me to look back upon the past with self-satisfaction, and from thence to gather promise of new hopes, I was seized by remorse and the sense of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures, such as no language can describe.

We got it, you’re sad. So is there any need to remind us in Volume III?

My father was enraptured on finding me freed from the vexations of a criminal charge, that I was again allowed to breathe the fresh atmosphere, and allowed to return to my native country. I did not participate in these feelings; for to me the walls of a dungeon or a palace were alike hateful. The cup of life was poisoned for ever; and although the sun shone upon me, as upon the happy and gay of heart, I saw around me nothing but a dense and frightful darkness, penetrated by no light but the glimmer of two eyes that glared upon me.

I am once again asking you: was Amanda McKittrick Ros really that bad? Or at least, was she so much worse than this? This prose is purple, melodramatic, overwrought, and any other pejorative term for ornate writing you care to employ.

But that’s not a fatal flaw. Writing styles change, and I try to be forgiving and understanding. While we might view these 19th century paragraphs as overly verbose, the writers of the 19th century would probably see us as childishly simplistic and crude in our language. Who is right? Who can say?

No, my problem with this book boils down to something much more serious: Victor Frankenstein is a moron.

I’m going to spoil a pretty major element of the third and final volume, so if you want to be surprised by the book, quit reading now.

The monster demands that Frankenstein make him a mate, and says he will visit the doctor again on the day of his wedding. (The monster, by the way, seemingly has the power to appear and vanish at will, possessing superhuman strength and speed. He is, as we gamers would say, OP as hell.)

Frankenstein nonetheless goes ahead with his marriage, figuring that, if worst comes to worst, the monster will kill him on the day of his wedding. Remember that to date, the monster has already killed Frankenstein’s younger brother and his best friend, as well as framing a friend for the former crime. And yet no other possibility occurs to Frankenstein. He does not provide in his calculations for any other contingency than that the monster will kill him on his wedding day, despite the monster not explicitly saying that.

Can you guess what happens? Well, I’ll leave it to you to put two and two together. Here’s where I’m most reminded of an Armour quote, which I have adapted slightly: “He doesn’t stop to think. He doesn’t even start to think.”

Besides this, Frankenstein is useless, whiny, self-pitying, and melodramatic. He makes Bella Swan look like a Heinlein hero by comparison. He refuses to take responsibility for problems caused by his own arrogance, and then moans and cries about how miserable he is all the time. We’re told repeatedly how awesome he supposedly is, but the way I see it, the dude is a train wreck.

And perhaps the most irritating thing of all is that the book does explore some interesting themes, but it does so in such a ham-fisted way that I couldn’t help but shake my head at the execution, rather than pondering the ideas. Stealing again from Armour describing symbolism: “The monster stands for something. Frankenstein stands for something. The reader has to stand for quite a bit, too.”

Yet, the book is influential. And despite all my criticisms, I can understand why it is influential. In fact, it is a critic’s dream, because it contains all sorts of motifs, philosophies, and references to other texts. It is as though it had been written so that students can produce essays about it.

It deals with timeless and, dare I say it, deathless themes. So it’s no wonder it captured the imaginations of generations despite being, by most technical measures, pretty bad. And in her defense, Shelley was only 19 when she wrote it. When I think about what I wrote when I was 19, it was pretty bad, too. And I can’t say that any of mine inspired countless derivative works. At least, I hope not.

Frankenstein did, though, and it is to these that we will be turning our attention this month. Mary Shelley’s creation, like Frankenstein’s, has taken on a life of its own, for good or for ill.