Help A Reader Out: Stories That Have Escaped Me

There’s a site I used to drop by occasionally called Smart Bitches, Trashy Books; it’s a blog about romance novels, written by two witty and eloquent women, and read by many women who seem to be equally witty. I don’t read romance novels, so much of the discussion went over my head, but the humor (and the snark) in their book reviews was fun to read.

They have a recurring feature called “Help a Bitch Out”: readers write in with vague recollections of novels that they’d read sometime in the hazy past. Other readers try to recall the title and author of the novel for them.

They seem to have a pretty good hit rate. The descriptions sound something like, “I don’t remember the title or the author. It might have been a Harlequin, but I’m not sure. I read it sometime between 1990 and 2000, though it could have been published much earlier than that. It’s set in Scotland (or maybe Ireland?); the heroine’s fiance runs away with her best friend, who was also engaged. The heroine marries her best friend’s ex so she can snag an apartment that can only be rented to married couples and he goes along with it because he doesn’t want to live in the house that he owned with his ex. Eventually, the marriage becomes real, but then the heroine’s best friend comes back…”

And remarkably, other readers can figure out what she’s looking for — or narrow it down to two or three possibilities.

I’m hoping that this works for ghost stories and weird fiction as well. These are stories that I’ve read — somewhere, sometime — that I’ve wanted to write about or work into a blog post, but I can’t find them again.

Of course short stories are more numerous, and most probably have lower readership per story than novels. And I don’t have as many readers as the Smart Bitches do. But here goes. I haven’t the foggiest idea of the title or author of any of these stories.

Photo: Nina Zumel

The House Haunted Before the Fact: I think this is set in the English countryside, early in the Twentieth century (but late enough that cars were somewhat common for the upper middle class). An old house has a reputation for being haunted, but no one remembers why, and only some tenants can hear the ghostly sounds. The two elderly spinsters: no. The married couple and the wife’s mother who lives with them: yes. It turns out that the house is actually waiting for the tenants who will eventually haunt it, and as it waits, it tries each current set of tenants on for size, so to speak. Involves a Mrs Robinson style triangle.

I have a strong memory of reading this on a gloomy afternoon, curled up on the living room couch. I feel like I read it on an ereader (which suggests something I found on Project Gutenberg), but I can’t find it in my ebook collection. Nor can I find it in any of the print anthologies I have to hand (most of my books are still in boxes).

The Vampire, Philip Burne-Jones (1897)
Image: Wikipedia

Snow White, the Vampire Succubus: Told from the stepmother’s point of view. Snow White is a blood sucking succubus, so innocent-looking that she fools everyone. The stepmother, naturally, is innocent (though she is a “witch” of the mananambal type). Snow’s father is a victim, and the Prince is a necrophiliac. Stepmother wants to save the countryside from this young-girl monster. But history is written by the victors, or at least, the ones with better PR.

It’s not Angela Carter (That’s “The Snow Child”, which is quite good, and to my mind, quite dark). I read this in print, and I have a vague memory that the collection it was in had something to do with Neil Gaiman. Whether he compiled it or wrote the foreword to it, or just had a story in it, I don’t remember.

Photo: Nina Zumel

The Fog brings our Angry Ancestors: Specifically, the fog that rolls unseasonably into San Francisco is the manifestation of the angry ancestors of that city’s Chinese immigrants. The fog comes when their descendants displease them. I so want this to be a real folktale or piece of Californiana, but I can’t find it in any of my California folktale collections or California short story collections. The closest I can find is a Dark Horse graphic novel that was sold as co-branded promotional material (is that the right term?) when John Carpenter’s The Fog was remade in 2005. The graphic novel (also called The Fog) is the prequel to the two movies; it tells the stories of the Chinese villagers who caused the original curse that drives the plot of each of the movies, and what became of them.

So that mystery might be solved, but not in a satisfying way.

That’s it. Does anyone out there have any idea who wrote the stories I’m talking about, or what they’re called? How about you? Are there stories or novels that you read, and wish you could reread — if only you could remember what they were?

4 thoughts on “Help A Reader Out: Stories That Have Escaped Me

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