October 31, 2015
Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe
by Thomas Ligotti
Penguin Classics, 2015
464 pages / $13.60 Buy from Amazon
There’s a certain thrill in loving out-of-print authors. There’s the feeling of being in on a great secret, plus the hunt for their books in used bookstores is intoxicating. But it sure is nice to be able to easily get what you want, too. That’s why I’m so thrilled that Penguin Classics has reprinted Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe in one easy-to-obtain paperback.
Ligotti’s prose is wonderfully byzantine, like Lovecraft or Poe, but his work has a contemporary, postmodern feel, too. His stories “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story” and “The Library of Byzantium” are absolutely fantastic in their stimulating intellectuality, on top of being creepy, and now easy-to-locate can be added to his stories’ descriptors, too.
In the endnotes, mangaka Junji Ito discusses his (10-year) hiatus from horror comics and tentatively asserts that he’s “got [his] sense for horror back”. Sorry to disagree, Ito-san, but this collection of horror shorts falls, well, short of surreal masterpieces like Uzumaki and Gyo. (For Ito at his ontological best, try the one-shot short “The Enigma of Amigara Fault.”) Readers of his entire ouevre will find more in common with his juvenilia (Tomie was first published in the author’s early twenties), particularly in their urban legend/folktale structure and obsessive reliance on the femme fatale as ultimate source of evil. (There’s even a callback to the author’s roots in Tomio, a recurring male character whose repeated flings with gorgeous witches have predictably dire results.)
It’s not all bad, just disappointing for those of us who’ve seen his best. The climax of “Wooden Spirit” (a bizarre tale about a woman who’s sexually obsessed with a historic house) and “Red Turtleneck” (unfaithful Tomio struggles to keep his severed head attached to his body) show that Ito is still a master of grotesquerie when he puts his mind to it, while the standouts of the collection prove to be the quiet, melancholy tales like “Gentle Goodbye” (a family whose fervent prayers preserve the slowly fading “echoes” of deceased loved ones) and “Whispering Woman” (tracking the increasingly reciprocal link of dependence between a girl who’s unable to make decisions for herself and her governess, a woman trapped in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship). As for the rest, “Blackbird” is nightmarish and byzantine, “Magami Nanasuke” is absurd but ineffectively translated, and “Futon” and “Dissection-chan” are good ideas inexpertly executed.
–Reviewed by Byron Campbell
There’s only a week left until Halloween! In addition to the #VERYSCARY series, we’ll be featuring some capsule reviews this week of some of the spookier books that have come out this year to get you prepped for the best day of the year.