Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Any reader of horror fiction probably checked out the work of Thomas Ligotti years ago.
Any reader of horror fiction except me, that is. I read Ligotti for the first time just a few nights ago. I knew he was out there, of course, but he was just another one of the multitude of writers I hadn't read yet.
Then I picked up his latest ebook release, DEATH POEMS. It's just what it sounds like -- a collection of poems dealing with death and mortality. It's a short book, and if you're one of those who looks at the ratio of page count to price, maybe you'd be inclined to pass it by, but you shouldn't skip this one. The selections here are lean and mean and very dark. One Amazon reviewer noted that it might be a good idea to avoid this book if you're given to depression. Usually I write such comments off as hyperbole, but in this case maybe not. There is some awfully grim work here -- I'm thinking in particular of "Writing Home," the piece that closes the book, but there are several others just as dark as the closer.
If you're already a fan of Ligotti's fiction, you'll probably want this book even if you don't usually care for poetry -- a number of these poems read like short stories stripped down to the shortest possible length, among them "Memento," "The Note," "Voices," and "Writing Home."
Finally, there are a number of poems here that are not only dark but almost laugh-out-loud funny as well ("Hospital" and "Birthday" for instance) -- though that depends on just how dark your sense of humor happens to be.
In Barry Malzberg's THE ENGINES OF THE NIGHT, there's a short essay on the last days of the great noir writer Cornell Woolrich, with a quote from Woolrich near the end: "Life is death. Death is in life. To hold your own true love in your arms and see the skeleton she will be; to know that your love leads to death, that death is all there is, that is what I know and what I do not want to know and what I cannot bear." Now, that's bleak. Ligotti's DEATH POEMS approach that bleakness, and maybe even surpass it a bit in some of the poems -- Woolrich, nearing the end, recoils from that vision, but I don't get the impression that Ligotti recoils from it at all, at least not yet.
And Ligotti's other books go to the Amazing Colossal To-Be-Read Pile.
Speaking of noir...
I suffer from what might be called New Management Aversion Syndrome. Say you've been going to the same bakery for years, and the head guy retires, and the family keeps it running and it's still good but it's not quite the same. Maybe the new management isn't even trying to be the same, but you can't get around the awareness that the bakery's different now.
So Joe Hill's horror fiction doesn't do it for me the way Stephen King's does. Peter Leonard's suspense novels don't do it for me the way Elmore Leonard's did. Ditto a few others.
Which brings me to Trent Zelazny.
I started noticing his name out there a couple of years ago, and deliberately stayed clear. I was and am an admirer of Roger Zelazny's science fiction and fantasy, and didn't want to find a favorite restaurant open under new management and not quite the same. So for a long time I stayed clear.
That was a major dumb on my part, because Trent Zelazny's not working the same street; he's writing noir. His new novel, VOICELESS, moves like a bullet and so does the previous novel TOO LATE TO CALL TEXAS -- both are fast-paced dark delights; I'm a few chapters into his novel DESTINATION UNKNOWN and so far it looks like the same can be said for that book as well. Shorter works such as "Shadowboxer," "People Person," and "Fractal Despondency" are just as strong. For too long a time, I avoided his work -- he's now one of the writers whose books I'll pre-order the day I see them listed.
Trent Zelazny has reviewed a couple of David Goodis's books on Amazon, and said in one of those reviews that if he hadn't found Goodis he wouldn't be writing the stories he's writing now. There are echoes of Goodis in his work, I think; of Woolrich too. And now and then it seems to me there's a faint flavor of the non-series titles of John D. MacDonald and Bill Pronzini. That's not to say he's an imitator -- he isn't -- but he's from the same neighborhood, and it's a terrific neighborhood to be from.
If you enjoy noir fiction, if you've been thinking that they just don't write 'em like that any more, if you've enjoyed Goodis and Woolrich and Lansdale, take a look at Trent Zelazny's work. I don't think you'll be disappointed -- this guy's good.