1.11.2008

High Cotton and Eat The Dark

I skim through about a half-dozen websites each morning to see what's going on in our country. Yesterday, I was pretty surprised to come across this story in the Willamette Week. I like this paper (they've won some impressive national awards for their investigative reporting) and I think the writing is pretty strong.

"Trial by Facebook" is a story with a lot of layers to it. I think, in a situation that is admittedly described as "gray rape" by the victim in this case, the decision by the students to publicly decry Shaw-Fox as a "rapist piece of shit" is a little over the top.

You can call it feminism, and the fact that he was suspended for a term by the college does add some heft to the case, but it's not a criminal complaint. Unless he's a convicted sex offender, I think it's defamation (at the least) to label him a rapist in a public forum.

Sure, it's free speech (unless you maliciously injure a person's reputation or character). Sure, it's posted on a website that's screened only for users with a password (though it was picked up and published on other sites after a short time).

But in a setting such as Lewis and Clark, a small school with about 2,000 students, this type of "he-said/she-said" sexual blame-game can ruin a person's potential to earn an education (his and hers). I'm not sure this should be debated in the public sphere.

Now am I excusing his behavior? No. Please don't think that I am. The guy sounds like a turd (by the way, there's a large distinction here between saying he sounds like a turd and calling him a rapist, mind you). But this is an interesting case-study, if nothing else, in how the internet can work as a vigilante, de-facto court of public opinion. Is he a rapist? Not in the eyes of the American justice system. But on that campus, it sounds like the verdict is in.

I do applaud Hunter's courage in telling the story and holding Shaw-Fox accountable for what sounds like a very unsavory encounter, but am I alone in thinking that the Facebook site was inappropriate? Take a look at the story and let me know what you think.

Eat the Dark is a textbook example of cinematic writing. Joe Schreiber's three and four-page chapters dial up the tension and serve the text admirably in telling a story that unfolds through about six different perspectives. The technique of shifting perspectives is largely successful, though in a few spots it makes me wonder how Frank Snow, the predatory maniac, can be in so many places at once.

Snow is a monster and Schreiber doesn't duck any punches with the gore. There are a few moments that turn the stomach as Snow takes out a team of police officers charged with securing him during a hospital that is scheduled to shut down the next day.

Schreiber does a nice job of building suspense as the characters, with few resources, fumble through the dark corridors of the abandoned hospital. It's this disquieting setting--a place none of us likes in the daylight, let alone in the dark--that adds a layer of fright to the text. We're familiar with the hospital, but it takes on additional dimensions of menace in the context Schreiber has created here.

I also read High Cotton this week. What can I say? Lansdale's stories are tremendous. "Tiny Little Stitches on a Dead Man's Back" is a very fine story that I hadn't read until I picked up this collection (handsomely published by Golden Gryphon Press). It's a heart-breaking tale of the apocalypse that hums along nicely and blends sentimentality with horror.

Lansdale provides notes on these stories, and he mentions that at one point in his career he wrote about a short story a day for three solid months. He writes eloquently about his love of shorts, and this is now up there with Nightmares and Dreamscapes for me as a catalyst for my own work in the short form. I knocked out the word count for my novel today, and so I'm off for a jog and then I'm going to hit the word processor and get in some work on a short. If you haven't read Champion Joe's stuff, go to his website at www.joerlansdale.com and give it a look. He posts a free story each week.

Enjoy the weekend!

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