Staying Home on Black Friday:  Books for the Consumers’ Fifth Column


Thanksgiving is a mellow holiday.  No fireworks, no presents, no hype, just a lot of food.  A buffet at a friend’s house…a short visit to the relatives…football…turkey and dressing…and then a walk on the trail.

Then there is the menace of Black Friday. 

Why, you may ask, do Americans turn into frenzied Bacchantes at the mall on Black Friday? Thanks for what we have on Thursday, then a dance of consumers.

Since I belong to the  Fifth Column (ha, ha) of consumerism, I wait to shop on Small Business Saturday.   Meanwhile, let me recommend some books you are unlikely to find at the mall.  Black Friday is a perfect day to read the dusty books that have sat on your shelves for years.

Many years ago, I read David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, a wildly unconventional philosophical novel published in Lin Carter’s Ballantine Fantasy Series. It has been years since I read it, but found some of it lyrical, some passages overwritten.   Loren Eisley in the introduction called this underground classic “an amalgam of strange philosophies clothed in weird exterior forms that have taken shape in a fantastically gifted if somewhat elusive mind.”  Maybe it’s time to reread it.

I was more intrigued by David Lindsay’s neglected horror novel, The Haunted Woman, which is  wonderfully alluring if  you’re in the mood for something strange. Think of it as a cross between Sheridan le Fanu and George MacDonald. The jacket copy calls it “the story of a man, a woman and an extraordinary house, interwoven in a web of fantastical and inexplorable destiny.”  Staircases appear and disappear.  And women are more in touch with the supernatural.

Charlotte Armstrong’s The Unsuspected (1946) was recently reissued in Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series. If you admire the mysteries of Margaret Millar or Vera Caspary, you will be fascinated but creeped out by Armstrong’ssuspenseful novel about two young people who set out to prove the existence of an unsuspected crime.  A charismatic actor, Luther Grandison, has murdered his secretary after she discovered incriminating papers, and made it look like suicide. Rosaleen’s cousins, Jane and Francis, position themselves in the household so they can investigate.  The return of Luther’s shipwrecked ward, an heiress, and Francis’s deception of her, throws everyone into danger. 

Janet Kauffman’s Collaborators.  I thought this beautifully-written, spare novel had disappeared without a trace, but it is available as an e-book.  The prose is hypnotic, the events unexpected and moving.  The two main characters, a mother and daughter, are Mennonites who do not abide by the rules strictly.  When her mother has a stroke, Dovie feels angry and betrayed.  This is about coming to terms with love and tragedy.

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