Posts

Patriot (Seasons 1 and 2)

Image
Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous. —Nathanael West, Day of the Locust

1.
I want to say a few words in praise of the Amazon Prime show Patriot, which I never would have watched without a friend saying how strange, surprising, and affecting it is. Because of work and life, I haven't been able to read any fiction more than the occasional short story for a month or so now — my brain is pulled in too many other directions for me to hold a novel's details in mind — and few movies or tv shows have felt like anything other than loud wallpaper. This state of mind probably contributed to my appreciation of Patriot, as its mood fit so well with my own moment.

Patriot does not seem to have gathered many viewers, at least not among people I know or critics I read. (Amazon, like other services, doesn't release viewing numbers, so we can only use anecdotal evidence to guess about popularity or lack of it.) Season 1 got noticed here and there, Season 2 less so. In a media envi…

Ghosts: In Memory of Elizabeth Webb Cheney

Image
My mother died on November 3, 2018. She was, in so many ways, my first reader and my first editor. Five days before her death, she asked me to write her something to read. I went home that night and wrote the following essay. I brought it to her the next day. Her eyesight had weakened, and she didn't have a lot of stamina, but she was able to read a couple paragraphs of it. It turned out to be the last thing I wrote while my mother was alive. I read it at her memorial service, and numerous people asked to have a copy of it, so I am posting it here for all who are interested. 


Ghosts
by Matthew Cheney

A reader of horror stories, and a fan of horror movies, I am familiar with ghosts and hauntings. As I’ve grown older, though, it seems strange to me that ghosts are typically represented as frightening, that being haunted is considered undesireable.

Certainly, screaming banshees flying through the ruins of gothic mansions at midnight aren’t exactly comforting. But I’m thinking of a dif…

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

Image
Mike Flanagan's Netflix miniseries The Haunting of Hill House is not an adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House. The miniseries is a work of its own, separate, unique — but haunted by The Haunting of Hill House. And not only The Haunting of Hill House: the miniseries is also haunted by the first adaptation of Jackson's novel, the classic 1963 film The Haunting, and by numerous other stories and movies (The Legend of Hell House, The Shining, etc.).

During the first few episodes, I thought the connection to Jackson's novel was unnecessary, perhaps even burdensome. I assumed somebody had bought the rights and then, through the tortuous (and torturous) process of Hollywood development, the novel got more and more distant from the project while remaining contractually bound to it. Perhaps, I thought, Flanagan was able to do with this property what he'd done with Ouija: Origin of Evil and convince the producers to let him make the movie he wanted t…

Elsewhere

Image
I've mostly neglected The Mumpsimus this summer because I've been working on other things, including another blog, one related to and in support of my new job as Interim Director of Interdisciplinary Studies at Plymouth State University: a blog called Finite Eyes.

I have drafts of a couple of uncompleted blog posts for this site, and I do hope to get around to finishing them, but I'm not sure when, as the busy-ness of learning a rather big new job does not leave lots of time for extra reading and writing. I'm also trying to turn my dissertation into a book worthy of proposing to a publisher, and this process has proved immensely time consuming and slow. So not a lot going on here, Mumpsimus readers, and not likely to be a lot for the foreseeable future. (Though there will be some, I'm sure, now and then.)

Donald Hall (1928-2018)

Image
Years ago, I picked up a couple of issues of Poetry magazine that Donald Hall had gotten rid of. I don't remember where. A yard sale or library sale, maybe. A random table in a random shop, a random shelf in a random hallway. I have no idea. I remember, though, that I almost passed them by. But I happened to look at the address label. Donald Hall. Eagle Pond Farm. Danbury, NH. No bookish New Hampshire native would have been able to resist.

If you aren't from New Hampshire, or don't live in New Hampshire, Donald Hall's name may not mean a lot to you — maybe you know he's a poet, maybe you remember a children's book he wrote, maybe you read one of his essays in The New Yorker, maybe you heard him on NPR, maybe, maybe...

But for us New Hampshirites, Donald Hall is poetry. His death at the age of eighty-nine (a few months short of his ninetieth birthday) feels, in a literary sense, as monumental as the day the Old Man of the Mountain fell to rubble.

Writing in Crisis

Image
I prefer, where truth is important, to write fiction.  —Virginia Woolf, The PargitersPreface
It seems my doctoral dissertation has hit the ProQuest dissertations databases, so now is perhaps a useful time to say a few words about it here. First, the details for finding it, since there doesn't seem to be an openly accessible link: The title is Lessoning Fiction: Modernist Crisis and the Pedagogy of Form, and it is Dissertation/thesis number 10786319 and ProQuest document ID 2056936547. (If you don't have access to any of those databases and would like a copy of the manuscript, feel free to email me and I will send you a PDF.)

Here's the abstract:
Writers committed to Modernist ideas of artistic autonomy may find that commitment challenged during times of socio-political crisis. This dissertation explores three writers who developed a similar literary strategy at such times: they pushed fictionality toward and beyond its limits, but ultimately preserved that fictionality, re…

Gardner Dozois (1947-2018)

Image
The first rejection letter I ever got was from Gardner Dozois. I was in 6th grade and had just learned about submitting stories to magazines; I had also just started reading my mother's boss's copies of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, which Dozois had recently become editor of. I don't remember anything about the story I submitted, but I'm sure it was awful. I don't think I expected it to be accepted, because what I most remember is how excited I was to get a letter from the editor. My parents were kind and didn't tell me it was a form letter, nor that the signature was printed onto it, not written by the editor himself. I brought it to school to show my teacher. She, too, very kindly did not tell me that thousands of people likely got just this same letter. (After a few more submissions, I figured it out.)

Dozois also edited what may be the single most important anthology in my life: The Year's Best Science Fiction, Third Annual Collection, w…