Friday, April 22, 2011

Do We Need to See the Monster, Part 2: Charles Grant's Oxrun Station

So yesterday I talked a bit about my "horror" background - paltry as it is - and my subsequent attempts at boning up on my horror education, then broached upon the subject of Charles Grant, Repairman Jack and the question: "Do we need to see the monster in horror?" 

Please understand. I know I'm not blogging about anything radically unique or broaching topics no one has ever thought about.  However, I'm finding that more and more just thinking about my work and where I want my career to go, what I want my writing to look like isn't sufficient anymore.  I need to write about it, more and more these days, so that's what this is.  We all read what we like.  Some folks want to see the monster; some don't.  Me, I'm just trying to work things out in my head, and this is kinda like a diary of that. 


I noted that in the Oxrun stories I've read by Grant so far, we don't "see" much of the monster - just its "wake" (grabbed that from Justin's comment from yesterday.  Nice!), as some vague, shadowy and slippery but undefined evil/darkness preys on the flaws of weak people.  Those Oxrun novels/novella collections end with a sense of resolution, but there's little or no "victory". 

The victims disappear and are forgotten, and the evil/darkness slides away to hide and sleep in the shadows until next time.  And I'm getting the idea that more than likely, there's no novel revealing the "source" of this evil, no penultimate showdown in which courageous Oxrun citizens face this evil and destroy it once and for all.

Now, in Repairman Jack (F. Paul Wilson - can you tell I'm hooked on two authors at the moment?), Jack gets to face the bad guy in each novel, and for the most part he "wins", even if he's scarred along the way. Not only is there tons of resolution there, but we get a hero to cheer for, too.

I love both of them.  I love Grant's haunting prose, and let's be honest - evil so often wins in our world. Too often.  Those of us harboring a melancholic nature probably think about this more than we should, and something in Grant's dark stories really appeals to me, because something in them comes very close to this admittedly dark world of our own.  

And the Oxrun novella collections - of which I've read Black Carousel, Nightmare Seasons, Dialing the Wind, and The Orchardhave an awesome structure I'd love to copy.  These are collections of four novellas each, framed by the first person narrative of an author living in Oxrun, chronicling the town's dark history through varied means: a book given to him, discovered journals, news reports, even gossip.  

While the novellas themselves may lack resolution because of their open ended nature, the first person frame offers resolution by a recounting of what everyone in town ultimately thinks has happened to these people.  Even better, we're given to believe that this author is Grant himself.  He even signs off on one of them, "Charles Grant, Oxrun Station, New Jersey".
The Oxrun novels and other Charles Grant novels I've read:  The Grave, The Last Call of Mourning, For Fear of the Night, Stunts, The Nestling, and just recently The Tea Party offer what I consider the best of both worlds.  They feature good guys we can root for.  The evil is slightly more defined, but often not given a name...and that's what I like best, I think.  By not giving a specific name or legend or myth or utilizing a particular demon or recognized motif, Grant is latching onto something bigger than just a particular monster.

It's the concept.  The idea.  Something that many, many people from different cultures and beliefs can latch on to.   He's addressing something more universal, which takes more skill, I think.  More knowledge, greater subtlety in storytelling.  Have to be REALLY well-read, with a diverse reading diet to do something like this, to mix and match and swirl all these things together without leaning on a cliche.  

Now, Repairman Jack represents something I'm afraid of never being able to accomplish: a hero we can latch on to and root for, a definite bad guy to beat, but this cosmic war Jack's caught up in - recruited by the Ally to fight agents of the Otherness - is also very universal, and doesn't read as leaning upon tropes...but as explaining the source of all tropes.  Repairman Jack's adventure is the most "Lovecraftian without being Lovecraftian" thing I've ever read.

What's the end of all this?

I want to write something stylistically elegant - like Grant - that invokes that sense of melancholy, inject it with the punch and voice of Paul Wilson and Norman Partridge, while also giving readers heroes like Jack we can relate to and root for.  Even if they might not ultimately win the day.  

Boy.  I'm not asking for much.

So how about you?  Show the monster?  Or go for the concept?