Book Review #2

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Witches’ Brew”

A Compilation Curriculum of Terror

By: Shauna Onofrietti

Alfred Hitchcock, a man of many diabolical horrors, wrote a compilation novel in the 1960s featuring 13 chilling supernatural short stories.

Due to the novel containing 13 separate tales, I decided the simplest and most pleasing way to speak of this piece of literature would be to list them in order from my least favorite to my top choice, giving a small review for each story.

Before embarking into the stories of twist endings and peculiar murders, a word of caution: these reviews are not for the faint-hearted. Hitchcock’s cauldron of fright was intended to make one’s heart pound with anticipation, your spine to tingle with trepidation; and if anyone can, it’s him, the master of surprise and murder.

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A photo of the edition I possess, published 1965.

The story’s introduction is a sarcastically humorous account on how Hitchcock was ordered to write an introduction when he absolutely had no time or desire to. His exact words were, “I brindle, I object, I, ultimately, must revolt.”

13. “A Crime Worthy of Me,” by Hal Dresner

Out of every individual tale in “Witches’ Brew,” Dresner’s “A Crime Worthy of Me” took the cake as being the slowest building story. Arnold, a young man working at Bainesville Home Finance and Loan Company, has memorized his boss Mr. Cumberby’s safe combination containing over one hundred thousand dollars. With a first person narrative, Arnold diabolically attempts to create the perfect plan in order to successfully rob the bank and purchase an ideal bachelor pad while attending college.Despite inspiration from an “Investigator McGronskey” story, Arnold finds himself in a very tricky situation much to his own disbelief.

The story has an interesting concept, but I did not find myself impressed by the way Dresner executed it; I believe I would have liked it more outside of “Witches’ Brew,” as it was one of the last tales in the book and it did not fit the eerie vibe. Rather than being spooky, it was more like an over-confident robber plotting to rob his boss just so he could impress women and have an income without working.

Hitchcock has utilized Dresner’s work in other compilation novels, on top of “Witches’ Brew.”

12. “The Big Bajoor,” by Borden Deal

“The Big Bajoor” follows a woman named Vanya who feels pressured to win a big bajoor as her first year of marriage with Sandor comes to an end. It is revealed Sandor purchased Vanya for a large sum of money, as her own mother was known for working a great bajoor back in the day – the big bajoor being a plot to swindle an extensive amount of money from someone.

Vanya finds an old woman and claims she in the queen of the gypsies, therefore she has the incredible ability to bless money and cause the amount to double over time.

Similar to #13, I found this story to be out of place in “Witches’ Brew.” The short-story has a different sort of concept and an unexpected ending, but in no way did I find this story to be creepy – which is what my expectations were set on.

11.“I Had a Hunch, And…,” by Talmage Powell

A young girl named Janet finds herself looking down at her own dead body – she is a ghost. The corpse’s neck is twisted at an odd angle at the bottom of the foyer staircase, hinting toward the idea that she was murdered. She tries her best to recollect the events that took place, and realizes who the culprit is almost instantly.

Janet’s three friends Cricket, Blake and Tom enter the room and Janet realizes nobody can see her ghostly presence. Once they contact police, Janet comes to the realization that she must have justice in order to enjoy the afterlife.

The problem is, she can only direct thoughts and ideas toward people who actually believe in ghosts.

I honestly really enjoyed this story. The ghostly girl seeking justice and attempting to succeed is intriguing and definitely supernatural. My reasoning behind making it #11 is because Powell did not provide an ending that satisfied me.

10. “A Shot From a Dark Night,” by Avram Davidson

Within “A Shot From a Dark Night,” James Calvin “Jaysey” Williams is declared mayor of a fictional town and is admired by all the residents whole-heartedly. They demonstrate their dedication to him by coming together to claim that when he decides between running for state senate and county court, they will automatically vote for him.

When Williams goes to local favorite Turbyfull’s Cafe, a new man named Jemmy is working the counter, who has a very unique appearance. His face was as red as a tomato and promoted battered markings, resulting in Williams inquiring if Jemmy was someone he knew. One of William’s friends, a sheriff, informs him that Jemmy was just released from a state prison. This information brings Williams back to his own past – a past he does not want to remember.

There were a few moments in this story that I thought would lead me to a more fulfilling enjoyment, but all the plot questions were quickly answered. However, I will attest to a suspenseful confusion, meaning you’re not exactly sure what’s going on, but you will not be able to put the book down at least until the next page.

9. “Gone as By Magic,” by Richard Hardwick

“Gone as By Magic” follows Burt Webb, a man who murdered his best friend a year prior to the story taking place. It is revealed that Frank Pilcher had been more successful than Webb their whole lives, which subconsciously made him hit the breaking point.

At first, nobody questioned the concept that Pilcher ran away due to his gambling problem – nobody except his wife, Vera. When Vera informs Webb that she is absolutely broke, he comes to the conclusion that Pilcher must have been hiding money somewhere. With the business his job belonged to shutting down, Webb attempts to unearth the hidden dough.

This story starts off at a slow pace. Viewers learn why Webb murdered Pilcher, but a few pages pass where nothing particularly exhilarating happens. In all honesty, I guessed the outcome of the story before it even made it to the end. Hardwick does an excellent job as an author presenting the story, though.

8. “Please Forgive Me,” by Henry Kane

“Please Forgive Me” presents Paul Matthew, a father and police officer with a growing concern for his teenage son Billy. Billy had been listening to rock and roll music, hanging out with an older crowd, having unexplainable money that he used to purchase a vehicle and gallivants around town at all hours of the night.

Billy’s mother believes his “crazy summer” is temporary, because he is leaving to join the Army in September. His father, however, is not so sure. This leads to an investigation that he realizes he may be better off not knowing.

This piece is relatively curious. As I was reading, I felt trapped between a father not trusting his son, and a boy who had suspicious answers to questions yet showed an immense amount of respect toward his dad. For me, I really enjoy investigative stories, hence the #6 rating.

7. “Just For Kicks,” by Richard Marsten

Richard Marsten’s “Just For Kicks” witnesses the depression of Charlie Franklin, a man who never in his life had experienced pleasure from anything. He discusses his dilemma with friend Ed Bell, who makes him realize there is one thing he never tried before; murder.

This story is excellent and incredibly interesting. Readers are faced with a character who is completely and utterly emotionless, never experiencing any sort of “charge” throughout his entire life. If demented people interest you as much as they interest me, you’ll find this tale highly fascinating.

6. “The Guy That Laughs Last,” by Philip Tremont

At age sixty, main character Big Freddy is known as being a prominent criminal and elaborate practical joker. Freddy becomes smitten with a young woman named Margo, who his co-workers inform as being a strict brakeman‘s daughter.

This is a story I can’t really deliver a detailed plot summary, as it’s only a few pages long and swiftly-paced. I can attest to this story having an awesome twist and made me anticipate each line.

5. “The Gentle Miss Bluebeard,” by Nedra Tyre

Miss Mary Anne Beard is an older woman who is seemingly warm and compassionate, taking care of those who are in pain, have an illness or are just plain depressed. And, well, as a retired old lady, there is not much to do around town besides murder her fellow people.

There is just something about a killing old lady that sends chills down my spine – especially one that appears to be one of those adorable women who bakes cupcakes for their grandchildren and reads books in their spare time. The story by Tyre follows the many people “Miss Bluebeard” meets by mere coincidence whom she believes she needs to put out of misery.

4. “Premonition,” by Charles Mergendahl

“Premonition” features a woman who knows for a fact that she will be murdered by a person killing women in the area. The woman, Martha Ricker, has premonitions of events before they occur, leaving everyone around her, including her husband, to believe she were an absolute basket-case. Ricker must face her fears with caution, completely alone.

With an unexpected conclusion and suspense throughout, it is evident why Hitchcock had this as the opening piece in “Witches’ Brew.”

3. “Diet and Die,” by Wenzell Brown

“Diet and Die,” a first-person narrative, follows the narrator on a quest for love and an exquisite meal. The narrator admires the ability to be a proper chef and instantly falls in love with Yvette, a heavy-set woman whose dish he tastes at an elegant restaurant. He finds her beautiful and wants to marry her; mainly because she can cook him his favorite dishes whenever he wants.

Yvette later begins to lose weight and spend all her time working on creating her ideal appearance, therefore not having any time to waste on cooking or being friendly for that matter.

This is probably one of my favorite short-stories of all time, because it has humorous concepts providing comic relief for the dark formations happening.

2. “A Killing in the Market,” by Robert Bloch

Albert Kessler, a previous Wall Street employee, quits his job after saving three thousand dollars to pursue his desire to make investments in the market. Lon Mariner is a name he recognizes over and over again as making an excessive amount of dough in the market, and Kessler ventures to Chicago in search for the stranger.

When Kessler finally finds Mariner, the stranger disappears and nobody seems to remember him; the hotel they are both staying in does not have a record of a Lon Mariner, despite Kessler witnessing him enter a room and talk to several employees.

This tale was stimulating and engrossing, deliciously compelling. A wide range of questions enter your brain and you cannot possibly put “Witches’ Brew” down.

1. “When Buying a Fine Murder,” by Jack Ritchie

A hit man of twenty-years is sent on a mission – to kill himself. The requester does not know he is the hit man of course, and the main character Ron finds himself suspecting everyone, from the landlord who made the actual request to his beautiful wife who is not telling him something.

This story is pretty unhinged. Ritchie absorbs you in instantaneously, and you won’t regret reading this narrative, either from “Witches’ Brew” or in another piece of literature. It is an excellent tale written beautifully.

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As a whole, I would rate Hitchcock’s compilation “Witches’ Brew” a 9/10. I value his opinion, as his influence is inexpressible. Each tale is unique, hence why I went through them individually. It’s difficult finding one story and saying it demonstrates the entirety of the novel. And, you may have found short-stories to look up through their authors, or you may have decided to purchase the book yourself… for now, farewell.

“There is not terror in the bang, only in the anticipation in it.”

                                                        -Alfred Hitchcock.

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Book Review #1

“The House of the Seven Gables” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: 

A New England Book Review

By: Shauna Onofrietti

Vintage books possess a unique grandeur and the “House of the Seven Gables” is a perfect example.

Antique literature can provide a fresh outlook on modern life, as well as inspire endless ideas to broaden one’s imagination. For as long as I can remember, I’ve adored vintage novels; in fact, I spend more time than I care to admit watching black and white films, exploring antique shops and living through characters within old texts.

Books from before the 21st century generally have a studious sentence structure, with detail and creativity that is rare in this modern era. Most people today dislike spending countless hours patrolling book stores and divulging into the world the mind creates when reading novels. Sometimes the school environment will force students to read critical stories that are supposed to have an impact, but the majority will openly admit not completing the novel and blowing it off instead. Even my interest lessens when assignments start piling up and teachers start badgering these tales onto me.                          I prefer reading on my own terms, at my own pace.

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Ever hear of the Rory Gilmore book challenge? Don’t ask me how many I’ve read from this list.

With this blog I will dedicate my time and ability to structure analysis’ on literature from before the 21st century. This will primarily be a review blog, with a minimal amount of spoilers – if there will be a spoiler, a warning will be issued beforehand.

Now, on to the first book review, one of the most curious books I’ve ever read: “The House of the Seven Gables,” written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I regretfully do not possess my own vintage copy, but I purchased a version from 1999 in Allaire Village located in New Jersey in early autumn of 2016. For those who do not know, Allaire Village is a historical site that is preserved almost in entirety. It is currently a living history museum, where people are costumed in colonial outfits as a job. I wish.

I had been wanting to read “The House of the Seven Gables” for ages, but I had a gigantic stack waiting to be investigated and took awhile to get around to it.

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My edition of the “House of the Seven Gables,” from 1999.

“The House of the Seven Gables” was originally published in 1851, and Hawthorne established the novel’s main events as taking place in the mid-19th century. With this being said, he also uses the concept of flashbacks to discuss the direct history of the gloomy New England house.

Unlike the typical novel, Hawthorne dedicates the whole first chapter to the Pyncheon family, a descriptive archive of the multiple brooding character’s ancestors and establishing the backstory of a haunted past that impact the family’s luck by creating a cursed land – the land which, the seven gables mansion sits on.

With a colonial America theme, it is easy for Hawthorne to grasp the reader’s attention by utilizing his knowledge of moral good verses evil, citing events such as religion, land negotiations, and witchcraft from the Salem Witch Trials that took place in the late 17th century.

Michael Maul, a character based on the flashback portion of the novel’s beginning, was accused of witchcraft and executed, causing well-known Colonel Pyncheon to seize the land that was rightfully Maule’s in the process. The big question is: Did Colonel Pyncheon frame Michael Maule in order to gain access to the ideal land in the perfect heart-of-Salem location?

Before executed, Maul cursed the land and the Pyncheon family. Once Colonel Pyncheon completed the seven gabled building, he threw a boastful party full of desirable members of the Massachusetts society. When Pyncheon fails to join the party, he is found dead in his notable armchair before a burning fire in his study. Above the fireplace is an incredibly realistic portrait of Pyncheon himself. This painting is still sulking in the same location when the book lurches forward.

This background information is relatively quick and to the point, and may even seem exhilarating as a plot. I believe Hawthorne executes this novel beautifully, with such vivid detail and an extensive vocabulary it is nearly impossible for someone not to visit a dictionary or search for a definition online at least once. Despite my utter enjoyment at the challenge, I can attest to the novel being intriguing. It features eccentric yet mysterious characters, betrayal, family passion and hatred, and ghosts with a knack for miserably floating around the house. However, if you aren’t up to a challenge, I would not recommend this particular piece of historic literature. The pace is sluggish, particularly if you’re impatient and aren’t one to enjoy that “steadily climbing to the top of the mountain” sort of plot.

The remainder of the novel follows Hepzibah Pyncheon, an unmarried woman who is of the upper class but is forced to convert the seven gabled house into a penny shop; Holgrave who is a daguerreotypist and is not a member of the Pyncheon family, yet boards with them despite being viewed as odd and dangerous; Phoebe Pyncheon, Hepzibah’s seemingly perfect younger cousin from the country who comes to live at the seven gabled house; Alice Pyncheon, a ghost rumored to haunt the halls of the house; and Clifford Pyncheon, who hasn’t ventured out of the house as he served a lengthy sentence for murder. Oh, and there’s also the pestering Judge Jaffrey who frequently comes to the house in order to harass the inhabitants.  

 “The past is but a coarse and sensual prophecy of the present and the future.” 

                  -Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The House of the Seven Gables.”

I would personally rate “The House of the Seven Gables” as a 9/10. Hawthorne had an excellent way with words, and if you can appreciate sentence structure and vocabulary as much as I do, you won’t be sorry you read this novel. Although, if you on the other hand need an exhilarating plot throughout a book’s entirety, you will probably throw the novel out a window by the fifth page. It’s a wonderful concept, but progresses at a leisurely rate. At times, you may not even realize something is happening until after it already occurred. 

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The Seven Gables Mansion is now a museum. You can view a few pictures of the inside here.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem Massachusetts on July 4, 1804. Hawthorne’s family was thrown into Puritan ideas. An ancestor, William Hathorne, arrived in Salem in 1630 following the trend of England to America emigration, and became a judge. Known for brutal sentencing, his son John followed his father’s footsteps and became a judge. John Hathorne was one of the three judges who participated in the Salem Witch Trials.

Hathorne to Hawthorne? That is no spelling error. Hawthorne was terrified by his ancestor’s decisions and added the “W” in order to distance himself from the family name.

Where did Hawthorne get his ideas for the Seven Gables from? The House of the Seven Gables, also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, was the home to Susanna Ingersoll in the mid-1800s. Ingersoll was Hawthorne’s second cousin, who he visited often when working at the Custom House.