Sunday, June 9, 2013

89. Horror fiction notes (2/7) } the broken span.

During a panel at a fantasy convention Peter Straub turned to me and said, “I know you! You’re New Genre.” I moderated the panel. The subject was… oh I don’t remember. We were in the largest ballroom and it was packed with other weirdoes. Straub sparkles at these conventions.

Typically, the “pros” who end up on panels never prepare, but rely on wit they lack. Retread jokes. When I used to attend conventions, whenever I was asked to participate on a panel, I prepared, often well in advance. People pay sometimes hundreds of dollars for travel and admission. It’s rude not to prepare. It’s arrogant.

In 2001, at a convention held in Manhattan, I attended a panel about vampire lit. The assholes on stage knew nothing. Straub, who was in the audience, raised his hand, ostensibly to make a small point, but actually to rescue the idiot panelists. He shared insights he’d had while rereading Bram Stoker’s Dracula in preparation for writing an introduction to a new Modern Library edition. His talk was lively and enlightening.

Afterward, I asked him if he’d write a blurb for New Genre. He did. When I mentioned this to someone else attending the conference, they snickered about Straub tossing out blurbs left and right, but I remained pleased; not just to have a blurb from Straub, but by the content of the blurb:
In speaking to the need for new forums and a greater seriousness, New Genre is extremely welcome. I support the journal whole-heartedly.
“Greater seriousness” is exactly New Genre. For that matter, if you haven’t already sussed, greater seriousness is a mandate I bring to horror fiction generally, not just via New Genre. That’s what makes me such humorless fun.

I haven’t read all of Straub’s short fiction, but all I’ve read is good. “A Short Guide to the City” is good, without much in terms of plot or resolution. I’ve only read pieces of the book the story’s from—Houses Without Doors. I read “Blue Rose” in Dennis Etchison’s Cutting Edge anthology, possibly when that anthology was published in 1987, and “The Juniper Tree” in Douglas Winter’s Prime Evil anthology. Truthfully, I’ve read very little of Straub’s work—I look forward to it.

Ellen Datlow introduces K.W. Jeter’s “The First Time” as “brutal,” which is a mistake, because intended or no, that’s a dare, and inevitably my first reaction was, Well it wasn’t that brutal. I’m not saying Datlow is wrong, mind you, but best to find out for yourself.

“The First Time” is good, a story about a young man brought by his father, his uncle, and their friends to a brothel that provides a very unique service. Jeter is interested in the way men are taught to use women. Especially effective is the image of a diagram charting the parts of a woman’s body a Christian man is allowed to touch before marriage:
One time, when they’d been alone, she’d given him a piece of paper that she’d had folded up in the back pocket of her jeans. The paper had gotten shaped round, the same shape as he butt, and he’d felt funny taking it an unfolding it…. You had to be engaged, with a ring and everything, before you could unhook her bra. He’d kept the piece of paper, tucked in one of his books at home. In a way, it’d been kind of a relief, just to know what was expected of him.
This diagram becomes a talisman of sorts, though in the end it’s only a bitter reminder of something lost.

Jeter’s story reminded me of Robert Aickman’s “The Swords,” which actually takes a violent sexual awakening a lot further than “The First Time,” in spite of Aickman’s choice to eschew gore.

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