Thursday, October 27, 2016


By Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters
Quirk Books

If you are a regular fan of Ms. Hen, you would know that she is one of Jane’s Austen’s greatest admirers. She has read all her novels. She loves the authenticity of Austen's characters, even though her novels were written around two hundred years ago.

Ms. Hen had read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES a few years back, and she thought it was a lot of fun. She didn’t take it seriously; she couldn’t imagine how Miss Austen would react to it if she were around today. Some people might think this kind of novel is blasphemy, but we have to consider all the rewrites that have been done of Shakespeare: there are hundreds! So why shouldn’t someone rework Austen wildly? Ms. Hen doesn’t think there should be anything wrong with doing this, but she believes these novels should only be read in small doses.

She dived into SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS. It’s a similar tale to the original, but exactly how a reader would imagine it to be, with sea monsters entwined. Ms. Hen was especially intrigued by Colonel Brandon’s character, who sports an octo-beard, a beard made of live tentacles that squirm and reveal his emotions. His picture is on the cover of the novel, with Marianne, whom he pursues.

It’s the same story as Austen: three sisters are sent with their mother to live in a smaller cottage because their funds have been depleted. They socialize in the village and the girls look for suitors. But this novel has little bits of the ocean squeezed into the story, and there are parts that are hilarious.

Miss Steele talks to Elinor about the available men in the vicinity, ”I’m sure there’s a vast many smart beaux in Plymouth; it is a coastal city, drawing its share of adventurous young men interested in murdering sea swine.” All the men do such things in this novel.

Elinor and Marianne go to the undersea Dome, Sub-Marine Station Beta, and enjoy the hospitality of Mrs. Jennings. Marianne, in her despondency, looks out the window of the dome, “She ignored the squid that sat slavering outside the glass, watching her with its giant popeyes, and dragging its tentacle across the Dome-glass.” The Dome is an undersea wonder, and it made Ms. Hen wonder if the author got the idea from the novel 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.

Ms. Hen was confused by the end of the novel. It seems as if the action had reached a climax, but then there were more and more climaxes.  It seems to Ms. Hen as if the author had to pack a quota of sea creatures in at the end of the novel, that she was overwhelmed, and it appeared as if the novel’s pacing lost itself near the end.

It’s not to say that Ms. Hen didn’t like this novel. It’s just that she thinks it is extremely silly, a little sillier even than PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

Ms. Hen read this because she wanted to read a scary novel for Halloween. She enjoyed it, though she has read better. She doesn’t think that Miss Austen would be rolling in her grave. She doesn’t know if our friend Jane had a sense of humor, but she hopes so, because Ms. Hen believes that a sense of humor is the most important thing in life, and if you have one, it can help you through anything. She thinks there’s a possibility that Jane would have enjoyed Colonel Brandon’s octo-beard.

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Mary Shelley
Directed by Tim Burton

Ms. Hen has read the novel FRANKENSTEIN more than she has read any other novel. Every few years, always during October, she pulls the book off her shelf and dives into the story of the sad monster, or the Modern Prometheus. Every time she reads it, she wonders how his story got mangled with the classic film, how he isn’t truly a monster, but a lost soul desirous of a friend whose anger causes him to engage in violence against his maker, Victor Frankenstein.

Earlier this year, Ms. Hen watched the film EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, which she had not seen for a long time. She forgot the details of the charming story of Edward, the man who was fabricated by a master, but left incomplete, with scissors for hands. When she watched the film recently, Ms. Hen was struck by the similarities between FRANKENSTEIN and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Both are about beings that have been put together by a person.

Victor Frankenstein assembles his creatures because he studies science, and wants to see if his ideas would make his vision of a man-made man come true. He creates the being, but the creature haunts him, leaving a trail of murder in his path. The tender side of the monster appears when he tells Frankenstein about the cottagers he witnesses whom he emulated and from whom he learned to speak and read. He loves the people in the cottage, and learns everything about life from them, but is traumatized when they reject him because he is so hideous.

In EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, Edward is discovered by Peg, an Avon lady, making a call to his haunted house on a cliff. She takes him home, and tries to make him feel comfortable, but he doesn’t fit in as a result of his scissors for hands. He sculpts the neighbors' gardens, and cuts pets' and women’s hair, but he thinks he is incomplete because he has no hands. He feels as if he is alone in the world, but he loves Kim, Peg’s daughter. He shows his rage in the end, but he is essentially a gentle soul.

Frankenstein, the monster, and Edward Scissorhands are two creatures that are lonely, angry, and sad about their situations. Edward’s story takes a more humorous route with bright colors and sexual tension, but Frankenstein is gothic in the way there is no hope for the characters. Edward lives, but is alone, and Frankenstein the monster lives, but will probably be tortured for the rest of time. Edward sculpts his topiary garden, and creates snow, but Frankenstein is floating toward the great north, with no known destination.

Both works bring forth the question of a man-made man. What is the destiny of both these men? They are both solitary, and have nobody to share their lives. What is the point of these stories? Ms. Hen thinks the point might be to show that there’s a chance that everyone could be an Edward or a Frankenstein, a creature different from anyone else, floating alone in the sea or in a castle atop a hill.

Orson Wells said, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
Ms. Hen welcomes the Halloween season with this thought.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews GEEK LOVE

Katherine Dunn
Vintage Books

Ms. Hen had read GEEK LOVE previously, many years ago when she was a young graduate student. She was reminded of how much she loved GEEK LOVE when she read WATER FOR ELEPHANTS recently, which is about a circus. GEEK LOVE is about a carnival, and even though there are many similarities between the two novels, there are many differences as well.

This novel is about a family of carnival freaks. Their parents, Crystal Lil and Big Al, decided to experiment with their unborn children because the carnival wasn’t doing so well. Crystal Lil ingested drugs while she was pregnant so she would give birth to abnormal children. The first to survive is Arturo or Arty the Aqua Boy, a fish-like creature. The next to survive are the Siamese twins, Iphy and Elly, who develop an act playing the piano with four hands. The third is Olympia, the novel's narrator, an albino hunchbacked dwarf, and she isn’t really freakish enough for the family, but since they lost so many children, they decided to keep her. The next, and last child is Fortunato, commonly known as Chick; he appears to be completely normal, but has psychic powers.

When Ms. Hen first read this novel, she was struck by how the drama escalated. The reader is brought into a strange world, and it’s acceptable that this world is freaky, but then it gets stranger and stranger and stranger, until it explodes. Ms. Hen thinks this novel is a great example of how to create a bizarre world, then to heighten the drama.

This time, when she read GEEK LOVE, she noticed how the novel talks a lot about beauty, and whether or not it’s necessary, and if a beautiful woman is hindered by her looks, if it’s possible that could prevent her from being a success in life. Between Arty’s show, transforming people into freaks, and Miss Lick, taking attractiveness away from women, Ms. Hen stopped to think about what it truly means to look beautiful and normal, and how it affects a person’s life. Ms. Hen appears to be a normal hen, but deep inside she is not a norm. Ms. Hen likes to look normal, but she doesn’t know what it’s like to be damaged on the outside.

Ms. Hen remembered before she reread this novel that the word “geek” means biting off the heads of live chickens. She is frightened by this, but fascinated at the same time. There are several mentions of chickens and hens in this novel, especially due to the meaning of the word geek. Crystal Lil was a talented geek in her day, but Al didn’t want her to ruin her teeth, even though he thought an attractive geek would be an asset to the show. He considered other people for geeks, “I couldn’t ask Horst the Cat Man, because he was a vegetarian to begin with, and his dentures would disintegrate the first time the hit a chicken neck anyhow.” It makes Ms. Hen sad to imagine chickens being eaten alive, but she knows they’re eaten many different ways, and it’s a carnival, so it makes the process more magical than disgusting.

One of the wonderful aspects of this novel is the language in which it is written. The narrator has a unique voice, and when Ms. Hen read this, she knew she was reading a writer who is a master. Ms. Hen recommends GEEK LOVE for your Halloween haunting reading, or anytime to escape into a dark, mysterious, humorous and unique world.