The Stiff: Chapter 5: Page 208

The Stiff: Chapter 5: Page 208

Happy Almost New Year! As I type this, I’m contemplating whether to read some Richard Laymon novels. He was always under my radar as a horror reader in the ’80s and ’90s, but I figure I owe it to him to read at least one of his 20+ novels (I read a Shaun Hutson novel once, for god’s sake). Do I dare wallow in his filthy splatterpunk gory offensiveness that no less than Ramsey Campbell once dissed? (Well, Campbell dissed the splatterpunk ‘movement,’ not Laymon specifically as far as I know, but…) This is like the new Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: Do I dare to read a Laymon novel? Or is it just a waste of time and mental energy?

NEXT UPDATE: Wednesday!

Discussion (6)¬

  1. Ken Kobori says:

    I must have missed Campbell’s comment dissing the Splatterpunk movement. Certainly it can’t be on account of their graphic excesses (anyone who writes a story like “The Scream” certainly can’t throw stones!) In any case, I think Laymon predates Splatterpunk proper. He’s certainly a more skillful writer that Hutson. I don’t find Laymon very profound, but then how many horror writers are, really?

    If you do decide to sample a Laymon novel, I recommend his first, “The Cellar” or a later novel, “The Stake”. There’s no doubt about it, Laymon is not for the squeamish or the politically-correct. Is he worth reading? I hope he would not be offended if I called him the “In-and-Out Burgers” of horror fiction–yes, it’s only a hamburger and fries, but the quality is pretty consistent, and…well, sometimes you’re just in the mood for a burger and fries!

  2. Jason says:

    Campbell wrote some article in NECROFILE dissociating himself from splatterpunk in the early-mid ’90s when it was trendy — it wasn’t a “moral panic” kind of article, this being Campbell, but it was the sort of “I prefer atmospheric horror, not gore” thing that he’s repeated in a few places. I don’t think he has a distaste for violent horror per se, but he once dissed one of his early stories — the one which ends with the protagonist’s face being torn off and his faceless but still living carcass being discovered by the cops — as an example of “adolescent sadism.” Anyway, as much as I love Campbell, he’s not the only horror author I read. One of his weaknesses, as another friend pointed out, is that he sometimes seems more interested in wordplay & description than in plotting.

    …..and on that note, so I read “The Cellar”! Thank you for recommending it! I have to say that if I’d read it when I was 10 years younger and more morally righteous I’d have been furious… in fact after reading it I read the back-cover text and recalled that I’d seen it in a used bookstore when I was 24 or so and thought “Ehh, no way am I reading this, too pervy.” -_- And it *IS* super pervy, of course. It had stuck in my brain because someone (I forget who) listed it as their favorite novel in “Horror: 100 Best Books.”

    Anyway, I like some things about his writing. I guess the main thing is that his work is very unadorned and to-the-point; it’s the opposite of verbose atmosphere-builder writers like Campbell, Lovecraft, Ligotti etc., but neither is it ‘realistic’ but bloated and rambling like, say, Dean R. Koontz or most modern horror writers in the post-Stephen-King ’80s vein. And you’re right, he’s *way* better than Hutson. He’s *dry*. He doesn’t waste time with a lot of backstory and psychological motivation, in fact frankly there’s almost zero of that in “The Cellar”, but that’s preferable to unconvincing psychological motivations described in unending melodramatic detail, I guess. -_- The other good thing is that the story is structured to ACTUALLY surprise you (if I hadn’t already read the Wikipedia entry, but that’s my fault -_-;;; anyway it was a long time ago so I forgot most of it, whew!). There’s almost no foreshadowing so everything happens blam, blam, blam, right up to the horrible climax/epilogue. And I suppose when I describe Laymon’s writing as “dry,” I’m also describing the completely straight-faced absurd humor that jumps into the story when they discover and read the woman’s diary right before the climax.

    Also, as disgusting as the book is, I was actually pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t gorier/more explicit. I’d heard of Laymon as this legendary creep (and he obviously totally is -_- … fiction-wise, I hope) but in keeping with the nicely sparse quality of his prose, there weren’t the kind of repetitive trying-to-gross-you-out descriptions that you see in, say, Brian Keene’s novels where he has to describe three or four times how maggots were crawling under the zombies’ rotting skin, etc. All that isn’t necessary, and in fact, would probably make the book unbearable. I guess in closing, I respect Laymon for charging straight into his absurd plot without stopping to worry too much about character arcs or believability or anything like that — he just tackled the plot of “The Cellar” like Kool-Aid Man charging through a wall and it’s kind of inspiring. It makes me want to write more, and describe less.

  3. Ken Kobori says:

    I love coming across absurd-sounding juxtapositions. In the CAS website “The Eldritch Dark” the subject was William Hope Hodgson’s rather tortured attempt at writing in an archaic voice in “The Night Land”. To my delight, someone posted comparing it to Dick Van Dyke’s broad cockney accent in “Mary Poppins”. So Finding Richard Laymon and Kool-Aid Man mentioned in the same paragraph made my day!

    I seem to remember that the early story Campbell disavowed as being one of his Cthulhu Mythos tales–specifically, “The Stone on The Island” where the protagonist, kicking out at a dimly-seen face in the library stacks, ruptures the unfortunate target’s eyeball into jelly. But it’s been a long time since I read that…and I don’t remember how the story ends, so maybe it is the same one.

    It’s worth noting that Laymon’s style relaxes a bit after “The Stake”, becoming slightly more interested in the inner lives of his characters and less obsessed with keeping the audience’s attention with relentless (if well-paced) slam-bang action. I still wouldn’t call his new style verbose, though.

    I find horror writing that focuses on the gross-out tiresome. (Edward Lee’s novel “Slither”, about disgusting worms, for instance, tries to be so disgusting that it forgets about being scary). Frankly, if a horror story doesn’t scare me in some way I consider it a failure. And I will admit that I never got Douglas Winter’s “Anti-Horror” genre. I guess some things are just beyond me. Such as why Kool-Aid Man feels the need to wear pants.

  4. Jason says:

    I think “The Stone on the Island” was the same Campbell story! I don’t remember the protagonist kicking somebody’s eyeball out, though.

    I’ve never heard of Edward Lee, though now I may have to masochistically Google hiim…. I’m aware the Pits of Horror (that was the name of another old Campbell column, in the Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, on unintentionally awful horror) holds many terrible things best left unencountered. I just hope that, pantsless or not, the Kool-Aid Man never accidentally charges through a brick wall into a windowless house infested by furcaphallic rat-men.

  5. Tim Vicious says:

    There’s a short story called “The Guide” by Ramsey Campbell which he narrated himself for Dark Fiction Magazine in the UK (I’ve included the link below if you’re interested – the audio is a little less than a half hour). It’s written in the style of the classic antiquarian ghost story and there’s a slight metafictional vibe to it. It was neat to see Campbell emulating James’ style; it reminded me of his early, heavily Lovecraft-influenced work.
    btw, greatly enjoying The Stiff

  6. Jason Thompson says:

    @Tim – Thanks, actually, I had already discovered that awesome recording through the MR James Podcast! :) A very successful Campbell-James fusion, I think… (he really is hugely influenced by James, isn’t he? But “The Guide” is just modernized enough, plus an element of gore James would probably have shunned).