Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Horror Vs. Europe, part 7

Owls Hoot in the Daytime by Manly Wade Wellman Vs. Fourteen Little Gustavs by Goce Smilevski


Owls Hoot in the Daytime by Manly Wade Wellman: A wandering adventurer meets a noble dwarf hermit in the woods, shares a meal with him, and learns about the scary cave-devil that the self-denying codger has been containing for a lifetime. Guess what happens then. When I was a kid I was entranced by a book titled Jack Tales by Richard Chase; it was a collection of fairy tales retold in an Appalachian idiom. Manly Wade Wellman is working in the same basic idiom. The battle between hero and devil is less interesting than the dinner and conversation between hero and old man. In a Jack tale, the hero would best the Devil with guile and cunning; here, he bests the Devil by pushing real hard. Still, it's Appalachian fantasy; I'll take all I can get.

 Fourteen little Gustavs by Goce Smilevski: In this excerpt from a novel, we learn that visionary painter Gustav Klimt (or at least this fictitious representation of him) didn't treat the women in his life as well as he treats your eyeballs. He sired a bunch of sons with a bunch of ladies, but his actual wife remained childless. This is the story of how she became a caregiver to all those sons, and how they tried to repay her once she was in a position to need help.

Compare/Contrast: Both tales involve self sacrifice that's motivated by necessity. In Owls a man lives alone in the woods, a self-appointed guard protecting travelers from a devil. He's a dwarf compensating for his outsider status, and choosing loneliness and terror over mockery. In Gustavs, a woman compensates for a faithless husband by providing for the children he has with other women.

Verdict: Owls is sweeter candy to me, but Gustavs is a tender meditation on how we make familial ties where we can find them, and how that isn't always enough.
  


Where There's a Will by Richard Matheson and Richard Christian Matheson Vs. Resistance by Stephan Enter:


  
Where There's a Will by Richard Matheson and Richard Christian Matheson: A guy's been buried alive. Little by little he fights his way out of the coffin, out of the grave. Then there's a twist ending (spoiler warning: he's a zombie). Richard Matheson was one of the key figures in 20th century horror; his Twilight Zone scripts alone make him legendary in the field, and Stephen King has cited him as a key influence. Matheson's son RCM is a punchy prosesmith in his own right. Together they craft a taut, detail-oriented action thriller with vivid physical and psychological detail that serves, rather than slows, the rockin' pace.

 Resistance by Stephan Enter: A confessional tale about a guy who regrets a youthful act of peer-pressured ingratitude. Dumb ideas about manliness lead a group of chess-loving boys to sneer at their nebbishy new tutor, even though he turns them into unstoppable chess warriors. If you're ever anguished about bad things you did when you were a kid, this is pretty close to trigger warning territory.

Compare/contrast: in both tales the protagonist fights the good fight, all the way to triumph, only to discover he's a loser in a bigger picture. One's a quick pulse-pounder which follows Poe's dictum that a story should have a continuous tone throughout; the other's a longer bildingsroman-in-a-bag which alternates cheer (it is about a group of boys doing something they enjoy, after all) and melancholy.

 Verdict: Read the first when you want an espresso shot of horror-tainment; read the second when you want to mourn the mentors you never hugged.



Traps by Gahan Wilson Vs. Waves of Stone by Jon Fosse


 Traps by Gahan Wilson: The great cartoonist, whose semi-melting figures are always embroiled in horror, gives us a whimsical tale of exterminators versus cunning rats. It's almost like one of his cartoons in textual form.

Waves of Stone by Jon Fosse: Literary minimalism that builds to a fantastical expressionism. A narrator, in a boat in a fjord, eavesdrops on a couple on a cliff over the sea. The boundaries between human and landscape dissolve, and this slippage between people and landscape takes on mortal significance. If Steve Reich and Magritte collaborated on a short story the result might be something like this.

Compare/contrast: In Traps, rats act like humans, specifically like canny guerrilla warriors, to the astonished horror of humans; in Waves of Stone, a complex slippage between people and landscape suggests that the conservation of mass and energy extends to departing souls.

Verdict: Traps is a bit of fun, though Wilson's cartoons are even more fun and even shorter. I love an ostentatious run-on sentence that utterly justifies itself, and Waves of Stone is built on such sentences, alternating with quick-chop bursts of dialogue. A quietly audacious study of loss and landscape, Waves of Stone is one of the most formally interesting stories in either collection so far.


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