Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Horror, by Women

For most of my writing life I've been busy constructing horror stories. Why? Hell if I know!

At any rate, the genre has almost always kept me entertained and almost always fascinated me to the point that I have tried to capture some of what so fascinates me in my own work. It isn't the metaphysical aspects of horror that captivated me, for I have always considered the supernatural to be ridiculous almost even beyond the scope of fiction. I don't believe in any god, in anything beyond science, and so it was always a guilty pleasure for me.

After a while, though, the appeal of it began to dull. Yes, there was always the tedious but somehow alluring art of H.P. Lovecraft, who actually concocted a kind of horror that even an atheist could love. But other than that lone example, the genre began to lose its luster for me. It all just seemed so damned...well...silly.

And what horror could I possibly create in fiction that could compare to the savagery of Mankind? Of the crimes committed by humans, against one another? Racism? No way I could match the fury of that hideous concept. The corporate rape of the planet? I could never mold anything a fraction so poisonous as that. The enslavement of humans by way of patriotism or tribalism or nationalism? It's a horror that no fiction could ever match; no way.

And so I began to despair of the genre and my attempts to work within that moldy ghetto of tired themes and ancient tropes. I almost abandoned it, my first novel barely skirting the genre by way of pulp violence and picking up the machinations of the corporate destruction of the Earth and its denizens.

And, more recently, I stumbled upon a pair of novels so filled with non-supernatural horror that I began to wonder at the use of it as an effective model in fiction. These were a pair of books that some might not even consider to be horror novels, but which I, a lifelong devote' of the form, found to be horrifying in the extreme.

The first of these books was THE BEANS OF EGYPT MAINE by Carolyn Chute. Now, I may be the only person around who would categorize this book as horror. But, to me, it satisfies the definition. In the best tradition of horror, there is the powerful human factor. One feels at once sympathetic to the principals, but at the same time locked in a kind of hideous fascination with the predicaments in which they seem entrapped and the inability to escape. This book remains one of the best horror novels I've read in a very long time.

More recently, I encountered CRUDDY by Lynda Barry, better known to us as the humorist who produces comics. When I picked up this book, on the blog recommendation of Mia Wolff, I expected something much different than what I found. What I expected to read was a funny novel of teenage angst. What I found was a novel of poverty-stricken, working class ignorance of almost indescribable proportion. Here was horror in a pure form, without a whiff of the supernatural, without benefit of the fantastic. Here was humanity at its most base, bereft of anything approaching charity and good will. Was I surprised? Yes, I was. But I was also captivated and was left admiring a talent that I fear I could never match, no matter how hard I might try to reach for such a spot as a creator.

As for me...I'm back on track. Yeah, I'm writing supernatural horror again. Silly concepts? Perhaps. However, I have a new take on the form. I have a new way of looking at it. Humans being what humans are, and all that.

3 comments:

Aaron said...

very interesting

Mia Wolff said...

I was pretty surprised too--also expecting something lighter. She has a deep, odd talent that moves in its own unusual trajectory.

HemlockMan said...

It wasn't that it was bereft of humor--there are some extremely funny lines in the book. It was just the hopelessness that lay about the novel. I stayed up way too late trying to read it all with my one good seeing eye. I fear that was the reason for my post-birthday migraine!