Monday, December 5, 2016

WTF Lovecraft? The Dark Chamber

Who wouldn't pick this up with
an endorsement like that?
Branching out of your reading comfort zone can be a good thing--especially when your authorial comfort zone is primarily restricted to dead white guys. But in my avid search to try new fiction, there are bound to be blunders. I'm sorry to report that I've put down more books without completing them in the last six months than I have in as many years. Painfully, The Dark Chamber by Leonard Cline was one of them.

I tried hard. Really, I did. I was very patient for the story to begin as the narrator - whose name or even gender I did not know for at least ten pages - tells his drab tale of a brooding house with people all sensing that catastrophe nears them,  stemming from the undefinable research of Richard Price, the patriarch trying to transcend what he refers to as ancestral memory, which is much like mental time traveling into the consciousness of your ancestors.

It wasn't just the quote on the cover from Lovecraft, saying the book was a "work of art." It was also the back copy, with praise saying it was as good as Dracula or better. To say that these two works are similar in any way would be to say that Jonathan Harker, who comes to act as Dracula's solicitor, is vaguely uneasy in his new surroundings, yet willingly stays on in his post for lack of motivation, and is entirely content to remain with the boring company of Dracula's household as they do nothing all day but dispense idle chatter.
This one tiny scene has more tension than the 100+pages
I read- akin to Dracula my a**.

Because that, so far, is all that's happened. And I was halfway through the book. The characters are dull, their dialogue is dull, and there is no more mood or tension than the narrator's repeated suggestion that everyone is expecting something bad to happen. Except it doesn't, and they all go on with their empty routines.

I suppose I can see what Lovecraft appreciated - the ill-defined character of Price has an eldritch flavor, and there are philosophical theories put forth by Price that harken to Lovecraft's concept of the cosmic. But saying in so many words that you can't see Price's face, and his movements are eerily fluid does not a Cthulhu make. Lovecraft is the superior writer. No surprise there, but what I was appalled at was his seeming lack of a discerning eye for quality, suspenseful, horrific writing. In this case, at least. When reading feels like a chore, you've got a problem.

I didn't read the whole thing, which would normally stop me from reviewing it entirely, but as you see I did have something to say. With that, I'll refrain from a number rating. Just go pick up something else. Dracula, if you're smart.

1 comment: