Dead Men Naked, Book Review

Image

Dead Men Naked by Dario Cannizzaro

Dead Men Naked, a novel by Dario Cannizzaro

Review by Bill Ectric

Dead Men Naked  is the best novel I’ve read in while, satisfying to the end. All too often, books with supernatural overtones veer into preposterous territory, but not this one. Author Dario Cannizzaro achieves a near-perfect balance of realism and phantasm, humor and melancholy, the familiar and the uncanny. It is an incredibly fun read about soul mates, tequila, occult incantations, death, and visions of a giant crow. The somewhat flippant title derives from a poem by Dylan Thomas called “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” and, indeed, there are people in Dead Men Naked who seek passage beyond death’s veil. Cannizzaro says on his website that while writing this book, he “pestered people with talks about religion, philosophy, death for an incredible amount of time.”

To get an idea of his background, consider this quote from an article Cannizzaro wrote for The Galway Review in 2016. The author talks about skipping school with his friends at age 15 while living in in Italy:

We would go in the city center of Pozzuoli, and hide into a dark alley. In the alley there was a tattoo joint, a hearing aid shop, and a very small library, called Il Nome della Rosa, after Umberto Eco’s book (The Name of the Rose). The owner, Gino, would entertain his guests with delicious comments about books, poetry, literature. It wasn’t long before we started spending our mornings there, talking with Gino and drinking Espresso, while watching the whirlwind of customers – lost souls on the lookout for human connection – writers, poets, mothers, sons; fishermen, shop-owners, unemployed hippies – the whole humanity passed in that library, 20 to 30 square meters of enlightened soil, much like the sacred ground of a secret church.

Dead Men Naked reflects that mixture of ancient mystery and youthful curiosity. The main characters, Lou and Mallory, seem like people I would hang out with for pizza and beer, or in Louis’ case, Tequila. He only sees his friend’s ghost while drinking tequila. Tequila has a mystique unlike any of the other major alcoholic beverages. A Huffington Post article presented by Patrón says, “In the mid-20th century, tequila sales spiked after California residents thought it was a psychedelic. They were just confusing mezcal with mescaline (the psychoactive alkaloid of peyote” (Huffington Post, Oct 06, 2014). Over the years, Jose Quervo has placed magazine ads that depict deeply surreal colorful sunsets over small gatherings of men and women, smiling as though in states of altered consciousness, with various taglines, including “It’s all true” and “Anything can happen.” Special limited edition bottles display gold and silver mustachioed skulls. One might argue that tequila’s mystique is a fabrication, but after all, most magic is about what one believes to be true. “The universe is what you observe,” the Grim Reaper tells Lou. “Whatever you experience in your life, you experience through your senses.” It’s all real.

We get a hint that maybe Mallory has seen beyond the veil, too. She has a collection of books on the occult and she knows how to use them. Something weird happens, resulting in Mallory’s disappearance. Hoping to find Mal at her sister’s house, Lou goes on a road trip with the Grim Reaper in the passenger seat to keep him company and call the shots. They drive through a noir world of seedy bars until they find Mal’s twin sister, Angie. Death takes either a holiday or a back seat when Angie joins Lou on a ride through the desert to an out-of-the way abandoned house where the girls once lived with their mother. It is on this trip that Lou quotes the Dylan Thomas poem, forming an emotional connection between the two, in which “there was no car, no time, no road…no faith, no evil, no sun, no sea… nothing but the nakedness of the word, sliding from me to her and bouncing back from her eyes.” At the mother’s house, in the basement, they find the books and notebooks evincing an in-depth study of dreams, mythology, religion, and “Old Latin spells mixed up with Caribbean voodoo and African juju.” It gets weirder and better.

There are so many good moments in Dead Men Naked, it’s impossible to discuss them all. Worth mentioning are the beguiling passages about crows in chapter twenty-two. Around the world, crows represent, variously, a trickster, a harbinger of death, a sign of transformation, and depending on what direction they are flying, the imminent approach of either your enemy or your true love. The crows in this chapter punctuate Lou’s action as they gather, squawk, and seemingly mock his angst with gawking, open beaks. It’s a great image and better than I can describe it.

I would like to mention one more thing. Perhaps you’ve heard about writers who don’t use quotation marks. Cormac McCarthy comes to mind. When interviewed in 2008 by Oprah Winfrey, McCarthy warns other writers that if they plan to leave out quotation marks, they really need to “write in such a way as to guide people as to who’s speaking.” I’m here to tell you that Dario Cannizzaro pulls off this feat like an expert. Trust me on this: You will have no trouble understanding who is talking to whom in Dead Men Naked.

I highly recommend this book.

Click here to find Dead Men Naked on Amazon.com

Analogue Recording and Hauntology

accda-omega4

From Celluloid Wicker Man, here is Adam Scovell writes “There seems to be an overt connection between analogue recording technology (of both the visual and aural varieties) and the narratives surrounding paranormal activity in 1970s British fantasy television.” He goes on to say:

Of course, there are no doubt connections between the interest in such activity (with the genuine events surrounding the Enfield Haunting for example, recently made into a drama on Sky) and the technological means of the period with which people thought they could capture such activities but, in hindsight, the relationship goes far deeper than mere necessity.  Instead, a better and more interesting way to view this technology is through the aesthetics of physical electronics and how the presence of such material in attempts to find paranormal activity in fictional narratives finds a natural link with reel-to-reel recording equipment, motion sensitive flash-bulb cameras, oscilloscopes and endlessly huge thermo gauges.

Read More

Her Body Electric

       Thelma_Moss_The_Body_Electric         Thelma_Moss_Myself_and_I

Thelma_Schnee_The_Colossus_of_New_York (500x387)

First up, here is Gary Westfahl to give us some background on actress, writer, and psychic researcher with a PhD from the University of California, Thelma Moss, also known as Thelma Schnee:

She wrote screenplays for two episodes of Science Fiction Theatre: “The Negative Man” (story by Ivan TORS) (1955), “The Throwback” (1956); and for the movie The Colossus of New York (story by Willis Goldbeck) (1958).

She acted in “The Devil in Glencairn” (1951), episode of Lights Out and co-produced, with Paul Finder Moss, Ant City (documentary short) (1950).

Schnee ingested LSD as a participant in experimental therapy and wrote a book about her experiences, My Self and I (1962), using the pseudonym Constance A. Newland. Then, she may have recalled the conclusion of “The Negative Man”: having lost his improved senses, the hero resolved to go back to college so he could further research the mysteries of the human mind. And Schnee, now calling herself Thelma Moss, did exactly the same thing, eventually earning a Ph.D. from the Psychology Department of the University of California, Los Angeles, where she also was given a position as a full-time professor. Further, while heading a facility dedicated to parapsychology, she chose to specialize in studying the very stuff of science fiction—psychic powers, ghosts, and astral projections recorded by Kirlian photography. Perhaps these investigations into occult matters represented her effort to reconnect with her late husband, though unlike the heroes of science fiction, she never achieved definitive proof of these phenomena, and while she was a well-respected researcher in the 1970s, her area of expertise is now relegated to the status of pseudoscience. Yet she still commands attention because she effectively gave up writing science fiction in order to prove that science fiction was true.

Read Mr. Westfahl’s complete article on Thelma Schnee here

Next, Wikipedia tells us:

Born Thelma Schnee, a native of Connecticut, she graduated from Carnegie Tech, and originally pursued a career in acting and in writing scripts for film and television. She was one of the earliest members of The Actors Studio; as a scriptwriter, her biggest success was the screenplay for the 1954 Alec Guinness film Father Brown.[2]

And finally, a link to her rare, hard-to-find book, Myself and I (1962) at Biblio.com.

The Ghost From 100 AD

Ghost_Story_Collage

They say there are only so many stories to tell, just different ways to tell them. Take the classic ghost story about a spirit that cannot rest until something or other is resolved. I never realized how old that story was until I saw this.

Pliny the Younger was an elected official in ancient Rome. He and his uncle, Pliny the Elder, were both witnesses to the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79 AD. The elder Pliny was killed during the eruption while attempting to rescue some friends by boat.

Pliny the Younger was also an author who wrote hundreds of letters that have survived to this day. His letters have enabled historians to learn much about ancient Rome. One of the earliest non-Biblical references to Christianity is in a letter from Pliny to the Greek Emperor Trajan, asking for advice on how to conduct trials for Christians (most likely for the crime of not bowing to statues of the Emperor).

Pliny does not necessarily present the ghost story as fiction. In his letter to a Roman Senator named Sura, Pliny writes, “I am extremely desirous to know whether you believe in the existence of ghosts, and that they have real form . . . or only the visionary impression of terrified imagination.”

Pliny follows up his question with two stories. The first story is about a man who sees a vision of a beautiful woman who accurately predicts his death.

The second story begins:

There was at Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad name, so that no one could live there. In the dead of the night a noise, resembling the clashing of iron, was frequently heard, which, if you listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of chains, distant at first, but approaching nearer by degrees: immediately afterwards a spectre appeared in the form of an old man, of extremely emaciated and squalid appearance, with a long beard and dishevelled hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands. The distressed occupants meanwhile passed their wakeful nights under the most dreadful terrors imaginable. This, as it broke their rest, ruined their health, and brought on distempers, their terror grew upon them, and death ensued.

Naturally, no one wants to live in the house. No one, that is, until a philosopher named Athenodorus comes along and, being fully apprised of the fearful circumstances, decides to buy the house and live in it. The story ends when the philosopher sees the apparition one night and follows it:

The ghost slowly stalked along, as if encumbered with its chains, and, turning into the area of the house, suddenly vanished. Athenodorus, being thus deserted, made a mark with some grass and leaves on the spot where the spirit left him. The next day he gave information to the magistrates, and advised them to order that spot to be dug up. This was accordingly done, and the skeleton of a man in chains was found there; for the body, having lain a considerable time in the ground, was putrefied and mouldered away from the fetters. The bones being collected together were publicly buried, and thus after the ghost was appeased by the proper ceremonies, the house was haunted no more.

You can read the entire letter, and all the letters of Pliny the Younger, here at Project Guttenberg. For the “ghost letter” scroll down to LXXXIII — To SURA.

 

Ghost Recognition

A Ghostly CompanyGhosts and Scholars  Supernatural Tales

Cool news from our friends at Wormwoodiana:

“Three stalwarts of the classic ghost story have combined to launch new awards for the best ghost story and the best ghost story collection each year. The journals Ghosts & Scholars and Supernatural Tales and the literary society A Ghostly Company will jointly sponsor the awards. The winners will be chosen by votes of their readers and members.”

Read More

 

Fortean Melancholia and Paranormal Mourning

TamperDeskBannerTwo-600x124

Many thanks to Andrew Wenaus for his review of my novel, Tamper!

Tamper is like the Hardy Boys in that it is a kind of mystery novel in clear/concise language, and it is like (William S.) Burroughs in the sense that there is a presiding desire to break free of some kind of invisible system of control. Yet, the system of control in Ectric’s novel is not the oppressive and determinate force of language (as it is in Burroughs); instead, it is memory, nostalgia, and melancholia. “Tamper” is, in this sense, a coming-of-age novel that is unwilling to ascribe to the rigidity of the coming-of-age narrative. Whit, the central, character does mourn his lost past but continues to revolt against the loss of wonder, imagination, and the possibility that the strangeness of life is more nuanced than we are often enthusiastic to admit.

Read More

Extraordinary Paranormal Noir

Seance on a Wet Afternoon

 

A blog called Film Noir of the Week reviews Séance On A Wet Afternoon, saying:

This is the story of a mentally unstable woman who believes that she communicates with the dead. Her hubris demands that she control and improve her fate, and so she turns to crime in order to satisfy her goals. 

Séance on a Wet Afternoon from director Bryan Forbes has the standard ingredients of noir, and yet this highly unusual film–one of the most unusual noirs to emerge in the 60s–explores those ingredients in a novel way. Myra (Kim Stanley) and Billy Savage (Richard Attenborough) are a middle-aged couple who commit a crime in order to accelerate Myra’s career as a psychic.

Read More