Monday, October 26, 2009

The Worst Books I've Ever Read Part I

Nightmare Flower and When Darkness Loves Us (short stories) by Elizabeth Engstrom

I read these when I was about 12 or 13 years old. Being a fan of Joan Aiken's gothic short fiction for young adults, I thought Engstrom's might be the next step. Wrong-o. Instead of the sustained eeriness I'd already come to expect from artfully crafted horror fiction, I found:
  • a story about a woman trapped for years in a cave system very close to her farm. She gave birth to her daughter alone and raised her in the caves because no one thought to look for her down there. She finally got sick of eating blind fish, so she made a backpack out of lichen and strapped her baby into it. Then she crawled up a well-like tunnel to daylight, inch by inch. It took her a month, and she had to survive by eating slugs and sucking the water out of moss. Srsly.
  • a story about a mentally handicapped woman without a nose. By the end of the story she has a nose, but you really don't want to know where she got it.
  • a story about an experimental community in which every resident's heart and breathing rates are in synch with an electromagnetic pulse that sounds somewhat like the Taos Hum.
I don't recall many details of the title story in Nightmare Flower (thank God), but it involved a carnivorous plant, a new house, and a pregnant woman. I think you can piece it together.

These premises could maybe be worked into something magical by more gifted writers (imagine if J.G. Ballard had written the cave story!). But poor Ms. Engstrom just didn't have the goods. The characters were stiff and soulless, the plots so absurd that they could only be appreciated on a camp level. "Lichen backpack! Ha!"
At least, that's what I thought. Nightmare Flower was actually nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in '92, and When Darkness Loves Us has recently been reissued (Engstrom is even doing a book tour to promote it). More evidence that someone up there hates us.


zydeco fish said...

There are so many bad books. I still think that the worst book I ever read is Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. It sucks so badly ...

Courtney said...

The worst thing I ever read was something by Eudora Welty. Endless, needless description after description. I wanted to gouge my eyes out with red hot sugar spoons.

Wandering Coyote said...

Those stories sound way too creepy for me.

My worst reading memories come from grades 6 & 7 when we had to read all these novels about animals...Gentle Ben, Old Yeller, Spurs for Susanna...My reading level was way above those of my peers (no, I'm not bragging, just stating a fact) and I felt so patronized! It was torture.

Candy Minx said...

Very funny idea for a book review.

These novels sound pretty scary. I remember once, and I was a teen too, my sister had given me this horror novel to read. I think it's probabbly one of the few I've ever read because I was so scared I still get afraid today when I think back on it...

Looking forward to "part 2"


tweetey30 said...

Have to admit i dont remember these stories. But back then I wasnt reading much. i was out running around town more than finding books to read..

tshsmom said...

IMHO you've read WAY worse books than this, but I guess those don't count cuz YOU enjoyed them. *giggle*

BTW, I posted the pics of the new 'puter desk.