Weird Books from my past

I have completed one book for March’s #Weirdathon (hosted by Julianne of Outlandish Lit) and am currently reading another, and their reviews will come in a later post.

Today I wanted to reminisce about several weird books I read a few years before I started this blog. I’m going to steal liberally from my reviews that I did on livejournal and Goodreads – the approximate vintage of both the books and the reviews is 2005 – 2007.


The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian

The Children’s Hospital has a premise that is incredibly strange: the world is destroyed overnight by a flood and the only survivors are the medical staff, patients, and patients’ families of an angelically-designed children’s hospital. This is just the beginning of the story. The main character, Jemma, is a not particularly competent medical student who ends up playing a pivotal role in the destinies of all the survivors.

The Children’s Hospital is a difficult (not to mention lengthy) book, and I thought of giving up several times. I’m glad that I did finish it, because the book is a work of brilliance and mad imagination that one doesn’t encounter often. It’s incredibly epic and has passages that will sweep you away.

The Children’s Hospital is a book that I can only recommend with caution – it does not shy away from the grotesque and the despairing. The book ends up ripping you to shreds and it’s hard to be enthusiastic about recommending that experience to anyone else. However, if you’re looking for a true adventure in reading, give it a shot.


With by Donald Harington

A young girl gets kidnapped and whisked away to a remote abandoned farm in the Ozarks. When her captor dies unexpectedly, she must learn to survive with the help of an intelligent dog named Hreapha and a ghostly-type presence called an inhabit, both of whom narrate some of the story. I really loved this one – I put it on my year-end favorite reads list. The author was an Ozark native and set nearly all of his books in and around a fictional Ozark town called Stay More.


The Zero by Jess Walter

A post-9/11 novel about a first responder who is hired by the government to gather together all the paper scattered in the attacks on the World Trade Center towers. The problem is that there are huge gaps in his memory and he keeps finding himself in increasingly strange places and in the middle of shady transactions, trying to piece it all together. I found this book suspenseful and clever but ultimately not satisfying in how it all ended.


Nice Big American Baby by Judy Budnitz

Favorite Stories (The * marks my two absolute favorite) are listed below. I didn’t care for the other stories in the collection.

Flush – A daughter takes her resistant mother to the doctor’s for a mammogram. This story showcases one of the recurring themes in this book, that of the role reversal that occurs when children become adults and their parents become like children again.

Visitors – A daughter waiting at her home for her parents to arrive on a visit keeps receiving increasingly bizarre phone calls from her mother as their trip progresses.

*Saving Face – In a totalitarian society, an artist’s love for a webbed-feet swimmer ultimately dooms her – the swimmer – to a strange kind of imprisonment.

Miracle – A woman gives birth to a black baby but maintains that her husband (who is white) is still the father.

Sales – In a barren land, a man and his wife trap traveling salesman and keep them penned in their backyard. The man’s younger sister looks on with complicity at first until she gives way to a growing defiance.

*Motherland – An island of mothers proves to be a stultifying place for their daughters who grow up with the wrong ideas about the ways of men.


St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

This collection of stories mostly takes place on an island, somewhere near Florida. The stories are a bit surreal, full of strange customs like a camp for kids with sleeping problems (gnashers, somnabulists, sleep apniacs) or a retirement community where the elderly are housed in old boats. Russell often explores sibling relationships, as well as kids falling into friendships with trouble-making boys. Almost all of the stories end with a feeling of isolation and loneliness and this can make it hard to really want to continue to the next one.

Best stories: “Haunting Olivia” due to exquisitely written passages on ghost fish; “from Children’s Reminiscences of the Westward Migration” – the only story that I thoroughly liked.


Winkie by Clifford Chase

I did not in fact finish this one but its premise is so weird I feel compelled to mention it anyway. As the Goodreads synopsis says, it’s about a teddy bear who ends up on “the wrong side of America’s war on terror”. My small review that I wrote at the time: “I can tolerate some wackiness, but this one was way out there, even for me. Didn’t get far into it before I asked myself, am I remotely interested in what happens to this bear? The answer: no.




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8 responses to “Weird Books from my past

  1. I have never read any of these books! There are lots of weird books out there, though.

    • There are lots of weird books out there, for sure. A few of these authors went on to write more well-known books: Karen Russell with Swamplandia!, Jess Walter with Beautiful Ruins, and Chris Adrian had a recent book out called The New World. Donald Harington was near the end of his literary career when he wrote With. He died a few years ago.

  2. I agree with Kailana. The #weirdathon has introduced me to many new weird books that I hadn’t heard of. So fun!

  3. I remember The Children’s Hospital! I’m trying, now, to remember if I ended up reading the whole thing — I picked it up because the cover was so appealing — or if it got too weird/sad/disturbing towards the middle and I gave up. (This is what happens with books I don’t blog about. Just total amnesia.)

    • It did get really weird and sad and disturbing. There was a whole flashback plotline involving Jemma and her creepy brother, not to mention what all goes on in the hospital. I feel like you would remember the end if you completed it. It was a distressing end.

      I feel like I was a more adventurous reader in that window of time – I was more adventurous with movies as well. I’m not sure how much was connected with ending grad school and being free to read all the books.

  4. I read Chris Adrian’s story collection “A Better Angel” about a million years ago. I can’t remember it at all–but I remembered the author’s name and the cover, so it must have made some kind of impression (I don’t remember fiction as well as I do NF). Don’t know if I’ll try The Children’s Hospital–but might now go look at A Better Angel for a re-read!

    • I haven’t read anything else by Chris Adrian – and actually realized that I couldn’t have named any other titles by him off the top of my head. Just wasn’t an author I followed after that, though I had really been impressed overall with The Children’s Hospital.

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