Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cabal by Clive Barker

Cabal is one of those stories that I know is great writing, but I just didn’t enjoy it. Too much blood and guts for me. It is mercifully short, however. There were some great plot twists, but also some faults in logic. For example, the fact that Dr. Decker makes Boone believe that he (Boone) has committed a series of gristly murders that Decker has actually committed it pretty ingenious. But when Boone is running away he coincidentally runs into Narcisse who directs him to Median where Decker is waiting for him. How did Decker know that Boone was going to go to Median? He didn’t send Narcisse (who is one of the Nightbreed and therefore good.)

Lori, Boone’s girlfriend, goes through such hellish nightmares trying to find him. It wasn’t originally set up why the pair have such a bond other than the fact that they are both dysfunctional. I really had to suspend belief to think that Lori wouldn’t have quit pursuing him long before she did. It’s a point of irritation to me when people in books and films keep going and going even when injured beyond the point when they would still be functional. Lori keeps going after she’s been slashed with a knife by Decker.

When Lori’s friend Sheryl goes into the burned out restaurant to look for her date and gets killed, it reminded me of those films where the dumb girl goes into the basement to investigate the strange sound, in other words kind of an idiot plot. We don’t feel sorry that she dies because she deserves it. After that, it’s not very logical that Lori wouldn’t go to the police. There’s a brutal killer on the loose. Come on. Then she finds the scary graveyard where Boone might be and enters, knowing that there’s a maniacal killer on the loose, with this excuse, “The mingled intoxication of blood loss and exhaustion had dulled all fear of this place.” Right.

Another thing that bothers me is that Barker seems to be making up his mythos as he goes along. When Boone is bitten by Peloquin, it changes him into a kind of super-undead. What is he at that point? He isn’t Nightbreed, because they are beings who can’t stand the light and cower at the thought of being food for the monster. When Lori finds the young, wounded animal, she turns out to be Babette, a Nightbreed child, yet nowhere else in the book is it referred to that the Nightbreed turn into animals. Through the course of the story, Babette becomes a vehicle for sympathy for the Nightbreed. We see her living in a refrigerator-sized underground room playing with crude toys she has made herself. When the Nightbreed’s underground is being burned by vigilantes, we see Babette’s struggles to get out, making us feel compassion for her. They are only a different kind of human, after all.

Outside of these little annoyances, Barker does a great job in setting up his dark fantasy world then gives a no-holds-barred depiction of it in all its gristly details. Barker has a great command of language. His descriptions of the brutality read like a stylized film. Barker handles the multiple point of views brilliantly. We see into the heads of the characters with great depth, giving us insight into them

The ending was less than satisfying. I hadn’t realized that Cabal had ended and I continued reading into the next short story, thinking it was a continuation. In looking back it seems as though he is setting it up for a sequel.

In summary, Barker has an evocative style, but it doesn’t resonate with me.

Artwork is by cover artist Dominic Harman.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Shining by Stephen King

In his preface to the new version of The Shining, Stephen King states that this novel was a “crossroads novel” for him. He decided to go deeper and admit Jack Torrence’s love for his father. It gave Jack more dimension and realism and therefore made him scarier. The fact that the killer would be driven by his childhood abuse is very disturbing and blurs the line between supernatural and psychotic. Is it the ghosts of the hotel that drive his killing spree or his own nature?

I hadn’t read the book before or seen the film all the way through, so I didn’t know how it was going to end. I hadn’t been that much of a fan of King before reading this, but I have to admit, it is an amazing book for the way it sets up all of the problems in the beginning then keeps upping the stakes until the climax of the book when the Overlook blows up. The book pulled me in rather quickly and compelled me to spend many late nights reading through to the end.
How does he do it?

From the very opening page I noticed that King fleshes out even the minor characters in the story, case in point, Ullman, the manager. He will play a role later on in the story, but at the beginning, we don’t know that. Also in the very first chapter King establishes the fact that the former caretaker killed himself, his wife and child while spending a long, isolated winter at the Overlook. That sets up the expectation of trouble. Will Jack follow suit or can he somehow overcome the evil of the hotel? He spends pages and pages fleshing out Watson, the furnace caretaker. The fact that the Overlook could blow at any moment if the furnace isn’t maintained hangs over our heads as a point of tension.

Danny’s sensitivity to psychic phenomenon is also set up. Danny thinks about his father “doing the bad thing…until his brain would be quiet and leave him alone.” We know that Danny has an imaginary friend, Tony, who is a troublemaker. This also sets up expectations of impending trouble.
King eases us into the fact that Jack has an explosive temper and a drinking problem, but he loves his child more than anything and would do anything in the world for him. We are in a very deep character perspective in the Shining. The viewpoints characters change by chapter, and every time we are in a character’s head we experience the stream of consciousness of the character as though we were in the characters’ heads. We know the things that haunt them, the things they obsess about over and over and over again.

I have to ask myself if King is Jack Torrent. He seems so familiar with Jack’s demons of having an abusive childhood, tending toward violence, substance abuse and spousal abuse. How could anyone who hasn’t experienced these things write about them so convincingly? Or is he just a damned good writer?

Level of detail King uses ups the realism of the story. We can see the Overlook as though we were really there. We know the pattern of the carpet, what the sconces of the drapes look like. We know the exact layout of the caretaker’s apartment. All of the details of the concrete things make it much easier to believe the concrete details King provides of the unreal things, the topiary that comes to life, the woman-ghost in the bathtub, the midnight ghost revelers.
I think the scariest part of the book is when they are in the caretaker’s apartment, wake up to the sound of mechanical grinding and realize that it’s the elevator. That would absolutely terrify me, mainly because I’d wonder what or who might be in the elevator. My imagination would carry me away and I’d go crazy with terror.

Kings endings are always his weak point. In his own words, “Keep that door closed as long as possible.” Once the monster is actually revealed, the ending is anticlimactic. Actually, I think that this is one of his better endings. Confrontation between Danny and demon-possessed Jack is spellbinding. Even though we know that Jack is being controlled by something beyond his control, we get to see that the humanity is still there within him. Jack breaks down for a moment when Danny appeals to his human side. I actually thought that Danny and his mom would be killed at the end and was surprised that they weren’t.