My first contribution to Neil Snowdon's Charles L. Grant blogathon.
It was Charles Grant's Oxrun Station novella quartets which did it for me.
I first discovered Charles Grant when, after reading Norman Pretniss' wonderful novella Invisible Fences, I read Douglas Clegg's blurb for Fences, comparing Norman to some guy named Charles L. Grant. I thought to myself, "If this Grant guy is like Norman Prentiss, I should check him out."
My first several Grant novels I enjoyed. The Grave, For Fear of the Night and Stunts. However, it was the Oxrun Station novella quartets - The Orchard, Nightmare Seasons, Dialing the Wind, and Black Carousel - which grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go. The poetic, tight lyricism of his prose. The subtle, creeping atmosphere. The quiet, looming dread. And the strange town where some people, unfortunately, go missing and are never found, ever again. Or go mad. Or lock themselves inside their homes and never come back out.
And, always, there was the prose:
During the blade-sharp of January a
cold-snap, during the hours when snow immobilizes and breath turns to
short-lived fog, there are the dreams of summer, of green, of walking
with no particular purpose except to savor across the playing fields
of the park beneath hickory and ash and white birch of such
luxuriantly thick foliage that even the still air seems hazed with
mint. In part it is a steeled defiance of numbing temperature that
reduces animals to hibernation and man to bitter complaint; and in
part it is a hypnotic gesture to the pleading of one's senses for an
earnest reassurance that this sort of weather will not last, that
there will indeed be a time when warmth beyond the hearth is a
reality in spite of the fact that it seems now like nothing more, and
nothing less, than attic memory.
But there are worse times than the cold.
And there are worse illusions than memory." - Nightmare Seasons
Oxrun Station joined Greentown, Illinois, Castle Rock, and Cedar Hill as one of my favorite fictional small towns, and in some ways, the best of all of them: Grant was able to masterfully weave his Oxrun Station novella quartets, novels and short stories together without ever becoming too self-referential. Credit this to his subtle touch, I suppose. If you've never read an Oxrun Station story before, side characters seem simply that. But if you're steeped in the town, everything takes on a larger, darkly transcendent meaning.
And of course, like a true addict, I had to collect all the Oxrun books. I devoured them. I still re-read them today. They have had a profound effect on my work and my own mythos; an impact exceeded only by Papa King's.
Grant never revealed exactly what was wrong with Oxrun Station. Perhaps he passed away (too soon) before he could. Somehow, I'm glad he never did pull back the curtain. Oxrun Station is a just a strange, out of the way - maybe lethal - town, and that's just the way things are.
But he wrote about more than Oxrun Station. Tomorrow I'll talk about that.