The Ancestors, by Brandon Massey, Tananarive Due, and L.A. Banks ★★★☆☆ (Spookathon)

Introduction – 10/13/19

I’m looking forward to this one. Their aren’t a lot of reviews, and what I have read about Banks is not great. That said, I loved Good House by Due, so I am looking forward to her story. It’s very short (9hrs, or <6hrs on fast forward), so I am sure I will finish it even if it is a bad.

Picture courtesy of my Mother.

Table of Contents

  1. Ev’ry Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep by L.A. Banks. ★★★☆☆
  2. The Patriarch by Brandon Massey ★★★☆☆
  3. Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due ★★★★

A discussion on diversity in books is included at the end.

1. Ev’ry Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep by L.A. Banks ★★★☆☆

Banks died of Cancer in 2011. She was a writer of a range of genres beyond dark fantasy and horror. Many of her works are YA or urban fantasy which isn’t my usual preference. I hope I enjoy this story. Even if I don’t, I suspect it is more to do with my own preferences, and I’m glad of the opportunity to experience her work.

This story wasn’t as bad as many reviewers made it out to be. In fact, I thought it was interesting and well written. The urban fantasy side of Banks was recognizable, but overall I thought it was a more on the paranormal side. I think my biggest issue with this story is the take away, the main moral of it all. The concept of our ancestors paving the way for us and even being integral to our own continued success and well being is a endearing thought. In many ways, we should respect what our family has done to help us achieve a better life. This basic concept makes its a good fit for this collection.

The issue stems from the Christianity centered themes that define this story. It is very much a Christian story. It was so extreme, it reminded me of reading the Left Behind books when I was still a christian. Christianity isn’t inherently a turn off. I enjoy Maya Angelou’s works even though her life is built around Christianity. The issue is with the concepts this book pushes. It is about the stories idea of morality and ethics. Essentially, every religion offers a form of goodness that our narrator sees in the form of light. It didn’t have to be just Churches, other religious individuals shared this trait. This may seem like an honorable note, but really it has a horrid implication.

It is as if without religion, there is no goodness to be had in a person. A person must focus all their attention on some god or institution if they have any hope to evade the darkness that seeks them. This story is fiction, and I admire it for how it is told. Nevertheless, the ideas within it are not new, nor are they fictional. Plenty of people believe this. It isn’t just ostracizing to a-religous person; it’s fundamentally insulting to what it means to be human.

The story has other issue. It tries to assign evil to taboo words or curses. Basically, they try and assign arbitrary harm to things religious people don’t like to try and turn a fundamentally amoral issue good and evil. I don’t know if Banks was just translating an important piece of African american history or if she was modern day C.S. Lewis. She wrote urban fantasy on vampires which makes me think it’s just this story, but who knows. This is a good work of fiction in my opinion. It’s where fiction overlaps with society that I have a problem with it. 3.5/5 stars, rounding down.

2. The Patriarch by Brandon Massey ★★★☆☆

Massey is a horror thriller writer who lives near Atlanta, Georgia. Wikipedia says his work often involves contemporary African-American life with elements of horror and the supernatural. This sounds more interesting to me than the first story.

This story is only an hour (sped up), and I’m half way through it. It’s okay. I actually enjoyed Bank’s writing more. It may be because hers was more fantasy or paranormal even from the start, but I think her style was more appealing to me too. I’ll save my overall thoughts post completion.

I didn’t hate this, but I don’t think I am a fan of Massey’s writing. It feels kind of amateur. I’m not sure if I’m knowledgeable enough to make that judgement, but it’s the impression I get nonetheless. The story was okay. It reminded me a lot of Fledgling by Octavia Butler. It was published a year after it, so I don’t know how much influence it might have had in it. Although, part of me wondered if they were set in the same world. General plot points may be spoiled moving forward in this paragraph. It’s the same concept: vampires feed on humans, but they are also a separate species. With the help of Vampires, humans can live longer like in Fledgling. There are vampires who don’t like humans just like the other. There is one subtle difference in how humans are tied to vampires in this story versus that.

Overall, I appreciated the similarity. It wasn’t enough to save the story. It was fine. I liked it, but if I had to choose again, I’d go for something better. 3/5 stars.

3. Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due ★★★★☆

Due is the only author I’ve read, and most reviews suggests this story is the best among them. She is an author and lecturer of black horror and afrofuturism. I really enjoyed the Good House and look forward to this one.

I don’t have a lot to say about this story which is odd because it’s also my favorite. The story was good. I enjoyed it. I wish the other stories were as well written as this one. Due is great at creating an dark tone and atmosphere coupled with characters that feel real. I enjoyed the family dynamic of this story; I felt it gave this story more layers of ancestor allegories than the other two which were much more heavy handed. The ancestors in this story aren’t even strictly the family that are the center of the story. That said, the bond this family has is still its own form type of ancestry.

My biggest problem with this story was that the plot didn’t resonate with me as much as I liked. It was well written and immersive. It was even interesting; I suppose I just came in expecting it to pack a bigger punch emotionally. 4/5 Stars.

Concluding thoughts

I didn’t this book. In fact, my expectations were circumvented in each case. I think the biggest surprise was the Banks’ story and my enjoyment of her writing. Then there was Massey who I thought I would like more. Then it ends on a good note, if not a great one with a story that is at least well crafted in prose and characters if not as much in plot. I will definitely be giving Due more of my time. As far as Banks, I will give her books another look over, but I still am not sure if they’re my cup of tea. The average rating was 3.5/5 stars (rounding down).

Commentary on diversity

I saw a great Booktube video by one vlogger Francina Simone discussing what diversity means in books and how we should approach it. She talks about people fixating on a book as being unique because its diverse. It ignores the story, what a vlog should really be about, and makes it about the boxes it checks. I found it informative. It is definitely something I want to think about when choosing and discussing books.

I chose this book because I wanted to find more black writers of horror. I like to think I am focusing on the stories. I want to find good books that I like. I may choose a book because it is a black author, but it isn’t for the sake of saying I did. What I hope to find are authors that I otherwise haven’t (and perhaps wouldn’t) heard of despite their being worthy of praise. I think Due is a perfect example of that. While I am unlikely to read any other books by Banks, I think her story is the perfect example of me having lower expectations for whatever reason and finding those to be wrong, at least in part.

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