Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist

LittleStarWhen I finished John Ajvide Lindqvist’s debut novel Let the Right One In several years ago, I immediately flipped back to the beginning and started reading it all over again. That is the first, and last, time I can remember reading the same novel twice in a row. The offbeat vampire tale blew the door off Dracula’s coffin and Lindqvist’s bleak yet romantic storytelling solidified Let the Right One In as one of my top 5 horror novels of all time.

I was intent on reading anything and everything the Swedish author put out after that, but it wouldn’t be until Little Star was released in late 2012 from Thomas Dunne Books, two novels later, that I would delve into his horrific and brilliant world once again.

Little Star is the story of Theres, discovered as an abandoned baby in the woods by the aged and forgotten musician Lennart. He miraculously saves the child from near death and when she comes to she screams in “a single, clear, pure note” of E. Mesmerized by her fascinating tune, Lennart takes the child home and convinces his wife Lalia to let him keep her, though not without a fight. Drawn to her enigmatic voice and mysterious origins, the couple struggles to keep Theres a secret for fear of losing the child. Still, they can’t avoid the fact that there is an unsettling other-worldliness to Theres and the older she gets the more difficult it is to keep her, and her secret, hidden. Their situation is further complicated by their meddling, deadbeat son Jerry.

I just recently cracked open Andrew Solomon’s sociological examination of “Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity,” Far From the Tree, and was struck by an excerpt in the opening paragraph that offers equal insight into the psychology of Lindqvist’s would-be parents, Lennart and Lalia, and their foundling Theres.

We depend on the guarantee in our children’s faces that we will not die. Children whose defining quality annihilates that fantasy of immortality are a particular insult; we must love them for themselves, and not for the best of ourselves in them, and that is a great deal harder to do.

Like Solomon’s real-life parents, Lindqvist’s fictional parents, too, have selfish reasons for latching on to Theres. While Lennart and Lalia are not her biological parents, what starts as an act of kindness shifts to their need to use the child as an extension of themselves, pinning their musical hopes and dreams on Theres’ success. Lennart “didn’t want to believe that it was only by chance she had ended up with him. There had to be a purpose.” To Lennart, this is a second chance at recognition for his music through Theres, but also to accomplish with her what he couldn’t with Jerry. As such, it is poor Theres, and Jerry to some extent, that suffer from their vain desires, establishing Little Star in part as cautionary tale against parents treating children as an extension of themselves, like an accessory, albeit from an extreme perspective. 

As he did in Let the Right One In, Lindqvist re-envisions the monster as a misunderstood innocent in a world of real life baddies. The adults in Linqvist’s world are the true threat, exacting horrific crimes against the children that exist in it. The reader can’t deny that what we have come to know as “monster” is the least threatening force in a Lindqvist story. Even Jerry, who slowly warms up to Theres, recognizes that “there’s something wrong inside your head. No question…;”  however, I’m sure most readers would agree she poses no real danger to those who don’t deserve it.

Later in the story, we are introduced to admirer and friend to Theres, Theresa. Theresa becomes as integral to the novel as Theres, adding another dimension to the psychology of this tale. The story changes focus from the parent-child relationship to the search for one’s identity, mimicking adolescent development in its tonal shift.

Through Theresa we examine the confusion of adolescence, bullying, the phenomenon of instant celebrity, and the role of technology in all the above via social networking, YouTube, etc. None of her experiences are without cruelty and humiliation, that at times she doles out in equal measure, which all slowly build to the devastating and horrific climax.

The reader is not a passive observer to what happens in Little Star, neither are they disconnected from the characters’ plight. Lindqvist is masterful in gaining empathy from his readers in subtle yet effective ways. When Lennart first finds baby Theres in the forest, for example, Lindqvist uses a rustling plastic bag to illustrate the isolation he feels upon this discovery; “The forest surrounded him, silent and indifferent, and he was all alone in the world with whatever was in the plastic bag.” Later, during a particularly unsettling scene involving an inebriated Theresa and a blow job, Lindqvist, again, presents the scene in a way that demands empathy rather than detached disgust.

Little Star is a complicated, subtle horror novel that mixes dark fantasy with grim reality, it’s Lindqvist’s unique perspective on the world through a skewed lens. At only 532 pages, Little Star is still an epic story though not without a couple lulls along the way and those hoping for a definitive conclusion may be disappointed. But pacing and ending be damned, this book is a must for genre fans looking for an intense horror experience unlike anything they’ve read before. Lindqvist is a brilliant writer who gives his readers something to chew on and his haunting words linger long after the last page.

Lindqvist has been dubbed Sweden’s Stephen King. The description inside the dust jacket of Little Star even refers to the book as a “modern-day Carrie.” I would have to vehemently disagree with the comparison. Only time will tell if he will be as prolific, and while I agree he is equally talented, Lindqvist has a distinctive style that is indefinable. He isn’t the Stephen King of Sweden; he is the John Ajvide Lindqvist of Sweden. I’m sure any author would be thrilled with the comparison and why shouldn’t they be? After all, King is a household name. Yet I can’t help but wince at the number of times I see “Stephen King” in the blurbs scrawled across his books because to me, as a John Ajvide Linqvist fan, I say John Ajvide Lindqvist is the new voice of horror and it booms so loud you can hear it all the way from Sweden!

You can read his books to find out for yourself and you can find his work anywhere cool books are sold.

To chat about Little Star and other horror books, visit The Psychopedia Necronomicon on The Mortuary message boards.


Dreadful Tales Book Club – November Edition

(Thanks to Mark Brown, a.k.a. Dark Mark, for the lovely banner)

Happy belated Halloween, boils and ghouls! Hope you had a spooktacular evening. I’m on this fitness kick thing, so after a long day at the office, instead of passing out candy to little spooksters, I took a jog and chased that with a couple glasses of wine (you know, to hydrate) and topped off the evening with American Horror Story: Asylum. No pumpkins, no costumes, no candy. Well, there was candy, but not for Halloween. I felt a tinge of guilt for being a spoil sport, but then Greg Lamberson posted on his Facebook that “Halloween is for posers,” so turns out I’m actually cooler than I thought. The guilt has washed away and I am clean again.

On to the important business of Book Club. I’ve been excited for every selection we’ve had of course, especially since I usually have a hand in picking out the selection, but I am particularly anxious to read this month’s novel. For November, we’ll be reading John Ajvide Lindquist’s Little Star. Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In settles easily into my top 5 horror novels of all time. While I’ve always intented to read his subsequent work, like Handling the Undead and Harbour, I just haven’t got around to it. Now is my chance!

Here is a synopsis of Little Star from
A man finds a baby in the woods, left for dead. He brings the baby home, and he and his wife raise the girl in their basement. When a shocking and catastrophic incident occurs, the couple’s son Jerry whisks the girl away to Stockholm to start a new life. There, he enters her in a nationwide singing competition. Another young girl who’s never fit in sees the performance on TV, and a spark is struck that will ignite the most terrifying duo in modern fiction.

You can pick up Little Star here or wherever cool books are sold.

I hope you’ll join me this month. Please tell your friends, family, gardener, mechanic, or anyone else you know that loves to read horror. The more the merrier! And don’t forget to stop by the Book Club’s usual haunt, The Mortuary, to share your thoughts.


Nasty Little Things: Meli’s Thanksgiving Day Gross-Outs!

 We enjoy all the diversity horror fiction has to offer here at Dreadful Tales, from a deliberately paced, atmospheric tale to a balls-to-the-wall action piece. While our bookshelves boast eclectic taste, we do love a nasty bit of fiction. The type of reading that not only pushes you out of your comfort zone, but refuses to acknowledge that such a thing exists. This is why we’ve decided to dedicate a monthly column to the nastiest, most brutally extreme gore in the genre in a new feature called Nasty Little Things. Each month could bring something different, but it will always offer examples of the most transgressive, sick, and twisted shit in horror fiction lit. For the inaugural post, I’m flying solo to bring you a list of the sickest gross-out scenes in horror fiction to celebrate the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. For me, this day is all about food and that euphoric tryptophan-induced coma that sweeps over you right after the first meal. A holiday that celebrates eating ’til a near bursting point is the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be terribly uncomfortable and full of regret. Once I’m past the third or fourth helping I just stand at the fridge nibbling right out of the Tupperware. But this year, not to worry because I’ve got a full-proof plan, and full-proof list, to kill even the strongest appetite. For the first edition of Nasty Little Things, I present “Meli’s Thanksgiving Day Gross-Outs,” my picks for the nastiest gross-out scenes in horror fiction that are sure to keep you away from the leftovers with your dignity in tact. Declaring what’s the sickest, grossest, and most depraved in horror lit can be problematic. A lot depends on the reader’s interpretation of the writer’s words or the reader’s own personal phobias etc., so keep in mind these are the scenes that I found to be the nastiest. You can play along at home by leaving your sickest scene in the comments section. Bon appétit!

Book / Author: Pressure by Jeff Strand
The Scene: Cactus Neck Tumor
Why it’s gross: Among the top picks for worst ways to die, I think choking on your own blood (say, from a stab wound to the throat) is pretty high up there. Not only is gagging on your own blood really gross, but you get just enough oxygen to keep you alive and struggling to breathe for hours. OK, that last part may not be scientifically accurate, but it’s definitely a slow, agonizing, and disgusting death. Worse than that? How ‘bout impalement by cactus in the freakin’ neck! The death of one of Strand’s fated characters in Pressure isn’t directly caused by cactus impalement, but it makes their last moments especially horrific. The thought of feeling thousands of little pinpricks in my neck is enough to make the bile rise in my throat because sometimes pain can be so excruciating it’s vomit-inducing. That’s why Strand’s Cactus Neck Tumor scene had to make my Thanksgiving Day Gross-Out list. Because “a large piece of bloody cactus…embedded in her neck” just makes my stomach turn. Big ole nasty, bloody piece of cactus hanging from her neck like a barnacle from another world. Yuck!
Best Served With: Gazpacho

Book / Author: Endless Night by Richard Laymon
The Scene: Pan-fried Finger Foods
Why it’s gross: Laymon has all kinds of nasty bits to choose from, but I have a particular aversion to cannibals. People eating people, people wearing people, it all gives me the creeps and seriously kills my appetite. To this day, I can’t forget what I was eating and drinking the first time I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – Doritos with water! In this particular scene from Endless Night, we find one very disturbed character frying up faces and fingers in the skillet like a macabre breakfast only a sicko can appreciate! He even compares the fingers and thumbs to “stubby little sausages.” As if that wasn’t bad enough he continues to muse, “They were browning up nicely except for the nails, which had curled oddly.” Finally, without any regard for the weak-stomached readers, Laymon has this psycho eat a finger tip! Taken out of context, it may not sound so bad, but it was enough to keep me away from the franks for a while. That little detail about the fingernails helps make this scene particularly cringe-worthy.
Best Served With: Fried bologna sandwiches

Book / Author: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
The Scene: An Intimate Moment with Worms
Why it’s gross: There’s plenty in The Strain to challenge the reader’s gag reflex. These vampires are not the romantic and mysterious figures that daintily nibble your neck, sipping your blood while caressing your bosom. They’re nasty, violent, and ugly. Their curse spreads like a virus, literally. When you try to damage these vile creatures, their wounds secrete a milky white substance writhing with infectious worms. In one of the most unsettling scenes a woman finds herself being invaded by these creatures through every orifice of her body, and I mean every orifice. “There was then a most unnerving wriggling sensation around her crotch – and then a sudden, twisting discomfort in her rectum.” Being violated by capillary worms is a top tier kind of nastiness. Waves of nausea run through my body just thinking of it.
Best Served With: Rice Vermicelli

Book / Author: The Midnight Meat Train by Clive Barker
The Scene: Out with his tongue!
Why it’s gross: Barker is a master of brilliantly twisted worlds and boundary-pushing prose. The Midnight Meat Train is an apt example of his complex storytelling, but also his proclivity for pushing the limits of perversion. Blood flows freely and the innocent are slain with impunity in this story, but it’s the cannibals that come back to haunt me. At the climax of this gruesome tale, one man finds himself up against a great evil, an evil that wants to silence him forever. “Suddenly his tongue was seized tight and twisted on the root… Blood was in his throat, he heard his flesh tearing, and agonies convulsed him.” Tongues being cut, ripped out, or violated in any manner gets my stomach in tumbles, but what happens next tops that. This malevolent force “stuffed the tongue into his own mouth, chewing on it with evident satisfaction.” The texture of a tongue, all slimy and rough, is more repulsive to me than any other body part. Cooked well it might be an appetizing little dish, but raw and right out of a living man’s mouth!? No way.
Best Served With: Blood sausage

Book / Author: Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Scene: The Unstoppable Libido of A Monster
Why it’s gross: Lindqvist is unabashed at representing a truly violent and brutal world full of human monsters. This is a beautiful, sometimes whimsical, tale of a charming friendship amidst a cruel and terrible world with plenty of scenes to make you gasp, wince, and gag. But probably the most disturbing and gut-wrenching is the self-inflicted acid bath one character takes in an effort to obscure his identity. His face is completely disfigured. Melted pieces of flesh hang from bone “as if the head had been replaced by a mass of freshly killed and butchered eels.” His mouth is melted shut, and one eye is melted down onto his cheek. It’s not just his horribly disfigured form that is so grotesque. Driven by a healthy dose of vampire venom and a sexual obsession, we’re treated to this mutilated man enjoying a rather enthusiastic five-knuckle shuffle! His “hand pulled the foreskin aggressively up and back, up and back, and the head of his penis appeared and disappeared, appeared and disappeared like a jack-in-the-box while he uttered a sound of pleasure or suffering.” That ain’t like no jack-in-the-box I ever had as a kid! That’s just plain sick!
Best Served With: Open-faced tuna melt sandwich

Book / Author: Slither by Edward Lee
The Scene: Parasitic Semen
Why it’s gross: No gross-out list could be complete without the maestro of morbid, Edward Lee. He knows how to warp minds and upset stomachs. When I think of gross, Slither is one of the first books that comes to mind. Plenty of nastiness in this book to chose from, but one scene stands out – the parasitic semen! First, a brief explanation, the island in which this sci-fi horror mash-up is set is overrun by worms. There are large ones, chitin-penetrating ones (that means they can penetrate shells), and even small parasitic ones, like those that star in this grossest of gross scenes. A nice gentlemen ejaculates in an equally nice lady’s mouth upon which she immediately spits it out due to the disgusting taste. But this isn’t because it’s her first time and the taste of splooge is foreign to her. It’s because it really tastes awful. And there’s no wonder why because “roiling amid his spat-out semen were hundreds of tiny yellow beads, smaller versions of the ones he’d plucked off his body the other night.” Now that is seriously sick!
Best Served With: Egg drop soup

So, those are my favorite gross-outs, what’s yours?