The Devil of Echo Lake by Douglas Wynne

The Devil of Echo Lake by Douglas Wynne
The Devil of Echo Lake by Douglas Wynne

I love rock n’ roll horror. It’s an under appreciated subgenre rich with untold stories. There isn’t enough quality musical fiction out there. Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box is an obvious exception. Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat fronted a rock band in The Queen of the Damned, as did the pre-emo bloodsucker of S.P. Somtow’s Vampire Junction. Stephen King, Peter Straub and Gary Braunbeck have all made excellent contributions to musical literature, and don’t forget Jeff Gelb’s Shock Rock anthologies.

Douglas Wynne loves rock ‘n roll horror too, and you can feel his passion for music drip off every page of The Devil of Echo Lake. The novel has a retro grunge feel (there are no cell phones and the musicians still record on analog tape) and uses all the rock ‘n roll archetypes — the wicked producer, the brooding rock star, and the overtly sexual groupie.

The story focuses on rookie engineer Jake, who finds himself caught between sinister producer Trevor Rail and tortured artist Billy Moon. Toss in a haunted converted church/recording studio, a couple of savage murders, and a showdown with the Great God Pan, and Jake’s got his hands full. It’s no wonder his love life is falling apart.

Fortunately, love conquers all — with assistance from a ghost and a satyr — and The Devil of Echo Lake ends in perfect harmony, with Jake learning a valuable lesson about the music business.

“You may find that records are kind of like hot dogs. You enjoy them a lot more before you know how they’re made.”

Douglas Wynne has a great sense of character and pacing. Jake is a sympathetic hero, and Billy and Trevor (even grizzled engineer Eddie) are larger-than-life figures that avoid becoming stereotypes. The Devil of Echo Lake hums along nicely, building a nice rhythm of action sequences and suspenseful passages. Wynne’s got style — it’s no surprise The Devil of Echo Lake was named JournalStone Publishing’s First Place Horror Fiction for 2012. The honor is well earned, and I look forward to more musical explorations from Mr. Wynne.

(Unabashed Plug: My own contribution to musical fiction is a novel called Hangman’s Jam. H.P. Lovecraft meets Motley Crue!)

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The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Holden Caulfield, the narrator of J.D. Salinger’s lit class classic, The Catcher in the Rye, is the only sane man in a world full of assholes, and it’s driving him mad.

You can relate. We all can. Holden Caulfield holds a special place in the angst-ridden hearts of teenagers too. The Catcher in the Rye follows Holden’s few days of folly in New York City after getting kicked out of yet another prep school. Holden wants to treat himself to a few days of fun before breaking the bad news to his parents, but it all goes to hell. The women he meets are shallow and dull. He gets excited and asks old flame Sally Hayes to run away with him and live in the wildness, but she declines, thinking him crazy. The Broadway shows he sees are lifeless and uninspired (though he’s impressed with  performances by Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne). He hooks up with a hooker, but the young prostitute makes him sad, so he sends her away. She returns with her pimp, who demands more money. Holden pays it, but the pimp beats him up anyway. Fun NYC visit so far.

Above all else, Holden Caulfield keeps it real, yo. He hates phoniness in all its guises, and he longs to preserve innocence. The novel’s title refers to a bastardized version of the Robert Burns poem, “Comin’ Through The Rye”. Holden fancies himself “a catcher in the rye,” someone who protects children playing in a rye field from falling off an unseen cliff. He’s angered by obscene graffiti on the walls of his little sister’s school and the museum.

“If you had one million years to do it, you couldn’t rub out even half the fuck you signs in the world. It’s impossible.”

Welcome to adulthood, Holden. Fuck you is everywhere.

With nowhere else to turn, Holden visits an old teacher, Mr. Antolini, who offers him sage advice.

“You’re not the first person who was ever confused, and frightened and even sickened by human behavior … Many men have been just as morally and spiritually troubled as you are right now. Happily, some of them the kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them … just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement… It’s history. It’s poetry.”

Then Holden’s pretentious paranoia gets in the way again. Was Mr. Antolini a “flit” (i.e. a homosexual)? Was he hitting on him? Was this more phoniness, another sinister agenda wrapped in the cloak of kindness? Holden flees Mr. Antolini’s home more confused than ever.

In the end, it’s the innocence of little sister Phoebe that saves Holden. He has (yet another) ridiculous plan to move out west and live as a deaf-mute (which, in a way, is kind of what author J.D. Salinger did by withdrawing from publishing and public life after the success of The Catcher in the Rye). When Phoebe agrees to go with him, Holden decides to stay. He never really believed in his crazy  plans, he just needed someone else to. The novel closes with Holden saying he spent  time in a mental hospital but is feeling much better now, thank you very much.

New York City in the 1950s is as vivid a character as any in this book, and the slang Salinger weaves through the prose makes this a kind of timeless time capsule of the era. The Catcher in the Rye shows the eternal struggle of a young man trying to find a moral center in an immoral world.

Good luck with that, Holden.

Meanwhile, why can’t I get The Catcher in the Rye on my Kindle?

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Digitize Salinger and Other Literary Pursuits

JD Salinger
The elusive J.D. Salinger

I was going through a “Why Didn’t I Read This in High School?” phase, and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was up next on my reading list.

I was eager to download a copy of Salinger’s classic novel onto my Kindle. I’m a firm backer of the digital publishing revolution, since ebooks let you:

  1. Change the size and style of the text.
  2. Look up word definitions and background info on the spot.
  3. Highlight, makes notes, and export chunks of text.

These features are incredibly helpful when I’m writing book reviews (bobsbookblog.com), and must be a major timesaver for students working on school essays. (Back in my day we had to write out notes and quotes by hand on index cards, whippersnappers!)

But The Catcher in the Rye isn’t available on Kindle. You can’t get it on your Nook or iPad either. J.D. Salinger never allowed any other editions of his novel other than the one published by Little, Brown and Company in 1951. The breakout success of The Catcher in the Rye spooked Salinger, and he retreated to his rural Vermont home after the book’s publication. Salinger produced three additional books, but didn’t publish again after 1961.

Salinger died in 2010, but his estate still closely guards the copyright on his work, and had never allowed any adaptions. Film directors from Elia Kazan to Steven Spielberg have been turned away, and the Salinger Estate still hasn’t sanctioned audiobooks or digital editions.

If you want to read The Catcher in the Rye (or Salinger’s other work) you have to order the same Little, Brown and Company mass market paperback (now in its 98th printing) that’s been kicking around classrooms since forever. It’s got the original 1951 orangey cover art by E. Michael Mitchell — an ink sketch of a carousel horse and the NYC skyline — on both the front and back. Besides the title and “a novel by J.D. Salinger,” there is no other cover text, no sales copy, no About the Author copy, no blurbs from other authors or academics, and no “New York Times bestselling author.” Nothing.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

The interior of the book is equally sparse. There is no forward or afterword. No advertisements for other books, no offers to join Little, Brown and Company’s Readers Club. There is no About the Author page here either. The Catcher in the Rye is 214 pages of Holden Caulfield’s inimitably cranky narrative, presented exactly how the author intended, and it’s been this way, unchanged, for nearly fifty years.

Salinger’s over-protectiveness guarantees his work is uniformly consumed. I experienced The Catcher in the Rye the same way, in the same font and format, as nearly everyone else who ever read the book. I dog-eared pages, underlined in pencil, and scribbled notes in the margins, the same way lit students have for decades. Salinger’s format constraints demand it.

According to a new documentary on J.D. Salinger, the late author left specific instructions for five books to be published between 2015 and 2020. I don’t know the Salinger Estate or Little, Brown and Company’s publishing plans, but launching new Salinger titles is an ideal time to bring all the author’s work into the digital realm. Contemporary literature should embrace contemporary formats, and ebooks are here to stay. Salinger’s work needs to be readily available, brought into the digital realm, and forever preserved in binary code.

Digitize Salinger! And Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, too!

Check out my review of The Catcher in the Rye here.

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