Burning Down the (Haunted) House: On Alison Rumfitt’s “Tell Me I’m Worthless”

'Tell Me I'm Worthless" cover

Who was the first storyteller to level up the haunted house? To put it another way: tales of houses haunted by restless spirits are unsettling enough. Who was the first person to see a haunted house as a place where existence itself could become malleable? As a concept, you can see wildly different manifestations of it in Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves and Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard’s comic book Home Sick Pilots. And then there’s Alison Rumfitt’s Tell Me I’m Worthless, which also nestles a kind of relentless, indescribable horror between the four walls of a home — but also finds a way to tap into some of the most urgent themes of the present moment.

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Declines and Falls, and Their Literary Influence

Map of Ancient Rome

Edward Gibbon is best-known for his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a work so mammoth that its abridged edition is still a sizable doorstopper, abounding with information about the Roman Empire’s culture, systems of government, and rulers–both good and bad. And if that was all that Gibbon had featured, that would suffice to confirm its classic status. But there’s plenty more to consider in Gibbon’s book, both structurally and in terms of the vast influence it’s had on the centuries of work that followed.

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A Shirley Jackson Primer

Shirley Jackson

It’s now been over a century since Shirley Jackson was born, and her work continues to reveal new facets and delve into the substance of life and our anxieties–both quotidian and cosmic. In a 2017 essay for Nightmare Magazine, author John Langan makes a convincing case that Jackson’s influence on the horror genre remains underrated–and then examines the myriad ways in which her work echoes through a seemingly-disparate array of books written in the decades following her death. 

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Who Writes “The Writer”? Mallory Smart, That’s Who.

Mallory Smart

When I first heard about the AI program, ChatGPT, I didn’t think too much of it.  You type in a question, and it gives you an answer.  You give it commands and it responds in kind.  I assumed it would be a hyped-up program that would be trendy for a bit then fizzle out, like the AI profile pics I had been seeing.  I was wrong, as I often have been about these kind of things (I didn’t think Facebook or Netflix would last very long).  Then I saw people posting whole essays written by the program.  During a conversation with my brother-in-law, I suddenly saw the potential for writers to use this as a creative new tool.  I could write a book much faster.  I put that thought on the backburner.  Maybe it would be a project for a rainy day.  But I knew that this program wasn’t going to fizzle out.  Then shortly before the start of the new year, Mallory Smart tweeted that she would be releasing a human/AI collaboration book on New Year’s Eve.  My first thought was that the literary world is about to change.  My second thought was, I need to talk to Mallory about this.      

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Édouard Levé and Absence

Édoard Levé

Sometimes it’s the absent things that affect me most. But then, what does absence mean? As I write this, I’m alone in my apartment, surrounded by absence, and yet a whole array of nominally absent people, places, and things preoccupy my mind. Some are friends and family I spoke with yesterday; others are spaces that have long since been demolished. Maybe, then, this is the key: the line between presence and absence is no line at all. It’s a matter of perception, or of definition.

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Skulls, Detectives, and the Texas Surreal: Robert Freeman Wexler on Writing “The Silverberg Business”

Robert Freeman Wexler

There’s a point early on in Robert Freeman Wexler‘s novel The Silverberg Business where you might have an idea of where things are heading. Protagonist Shannon is on the trail of a man who disappeared with money intended to benefit Jewish refugees in 1880s Texas. A detective, hot on the trail of an elusive target — it’s the stuff of classic private detective fiction, right? And then a group of skull-headed people show up and, as the saying goes, things get weird. After reading the novel, I was immediately intrigued and sought out Wexler to learn more about the book’s origins — and the music and art that helped inspire it.

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