Welcome to Week 33 of my horror short fiction review project! A couple of mediocre stories this week, but I did really enjoy Clive Barker’s “Human Remains.” I liked that one a lot, and let’s face it, even so-so Barker is still pretty darn good.
The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, by H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi (Penguin, 2004)
Forgettable. Very brief and very little substance. An early work of Lovecraft’s and I am very glad that he rapidly evolved beyond writing works like this. It’s a fairly simple and incoherent premise. We have an olive grove in Greece containing an anthropomorphized olive tree. Centuries before, two sculptors were invited to compete to create a masterwork. During the competition, one fell ill and died. The other erected a marble tomb for his competitor, though the dying man just asked that some olive twigs be planted near his body, which they did. Over time, the surviving sculptor became haunted by the olive tree that grew over the grave. A storm arose the night before the survivor’s sculpture was to be transported away and one of the tree’s branches fell and destroyed the surviving sculptor and his creation. Not much here unfortunately.
The Dark Descent, edited by David G. Hartwell (Tor, 1987)
“You Can Go Now” by Dennis Etchison
I’ve seen this one described elsewhere as “maddeningly enigmatic,” and I guess that’s as good of a summary description as any. In fact, that’s a downright charitable description. I couldn’t follow this one at all, and have no idea what Etchison was trying to convey. My apologies. I think he was going for a protagonist who is experiencing different alternate dimensions, or timelines; it’s certainly not a strict chronological narrative, nor is it an engaging one. Not a rewarding experience for me.
Books of Blood, Volumes One to Three, by Clive Barker (Berkley, 1998)
Very, very good characterization and an interesting premise, though I thought the ending just kind of trailed off.
Here’s the premise: A bisexual male prostitute is hired for the night be an archaeologist who turns out to have a strange statue of a man, found on an archaeological dig, that is not exactly a normal statue. Over the course of the next few days and weeks, the prostitute finds out that (1) he is being followed by some unknown figure and (2) he apparently has a doppelgänger in London because his acquaintances keep telling him that they’ve encountered him doing things that he didn’t do. This leads to some very violent confrontations with local thugs, because the doppelgänger ends up, alternatively, getting him into trouble with these folks, and saving his life when they try to kill him. Over time the prostitute becomes less and less emotional and connected to the world, while the statue/doppelgänger entity is becoming more and more lifelike. By the end of the story, (I think) the prostitute allows the statue to take over his life while he kind of wanders off. This could have had much more punch if it was clearer what exactly was going on here. I liked the story a lot, just not the ending.
Black Wings of Cthulhu 2, edited by S.T. Joshi (Titan Books, 2012)
“The Other Man” by Nicholas Royle
I have a very similar comment on this story as I did for Royle’s story included in the first Black Wings of Cthulhu collection: this story isn’t bad but it doesn’t belong in the collection. Indeed, it’s even less connected to Lovecraft’s work and themes than “Rotterdam.” Here’s what we’ve got: A married man realizes that he has a doppelgänger living in his house, going to his job, etc. His wife can’t tell the difference. By the end of the story he realizes that the same thing has happened to his wife. It’s a story about disconnection and superficiality, I guess, but that’s not the same as cosmicism. Don’t get me wrong, the premise is interesting enough, but it’s not Lovecraftian at all, and certainly not Mythos-connected in the least.