Monday, October 27, 2008

A Halloween Read


I have just finished Richard Laymon's Traveling Vampire Show. What a strange experience.

Let me first say that I've read much of this author and recommend him to those who love horror; most of you who love horror have probably already read his work. If you haven't, then allow me to suggest what I consider to be his best piece "Night In The Lonesome October", which wasn't just an astonishing suspense/horror story, but an astonishing work of fiction. Its prose and timing rivaled Bradbury's darkest work and the characters created by Laymon are entirely believable and worth knowing.

So what's the deal with The Traveling Vampire Show? I have never sat on the edge of my seat for this long with a novel. Page after page I held my breath and felt true dread. That is an amazing feat to pull off for a writer, and what made it even more amazing was that basically nothing was happening. Two thirds of the novel is character development and set up. And yet he manages to scare the poop out of you. It's an astonishing feat, one that I am reviewing right now to see how he does it.

Don't get me wrong, Laymon is not a good writer. A good storyteller, but not a good writer (with the exception of "In The Lonesome October"). He relies too often on the gross out factor and sometimes his plots clank improbably along. This story, told in first person, is about three teens in the early sixties, living in a small rural town. When posters appear around town advertising the arrival of the vampire show (a little bit of a bow to Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes), the characters make plans to attend. All the action that follows occurs through the course of one day.

Unfortunately, when someone spends an entire novel doing set up, it is almost impossible to deliver on what is promised. And this is the case with "Vampire". I'm sure many people will enjoy the final battle royale, but it seems to just degenerate into so much pointless violence and sex. The joy of this novel is everything that happens before the three kids actually get to the show---and that's the lesson for horror writers. The horror comes not from what happens but from the anticipation of what is going to happen and from the relationship the reader forms with the characters. If we don't care about the characters, then what is about to happen to them has no meaning for us.

And by the way...another good read for Halloween would be "Blood Crazy" by Simon Clark (dear god....this one was brilliant. Clark is hit and miss, much like Laymon, but this is a hit...the premise is that for some reason as a species we suddenly turn on anyone under eighteen and try to kill them. Social commentary and apocalyptic horror told from a teen's perspective)

16 comments:

Travis said...

When you mentioned "Night in the Lonesome October", I thought at first you meant the Zelazny book. It's in my library but I've never read it. I'm not even sure how I happened to pick it up.

But now I've grabbed it off the shelf and set it on my to read pile.

Mark Rainey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Rainey said...

You know, for all the horror I've read, I've never read any of Laymon's novels, and I think just a smattering of his short fiction. My only recollection is that I wasn't impressed. I keep threatening to give his work another go; sounds like "October" might be just the ticket.

Damned typos in my original post...

SQT said...

I tried to read Laymon once but never got into it. I don't read a whole lot of horror though. I'm weird. I like books that feature horrible villains (like serial killers) but not so much the blood and gore. I think evil intrigues me more than violence does.

Will Kinshella said...

I agree with SQT on this one. Anyone can write blood and gore. It takes talent to place evil on a page.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I just found out about the Zelazny novel. Now I have to check it out. I am a sucker for anything with October in the title, Travis.

Mark, Laymon is a mixed bag. Or maybe an acquired taste. Some of his stuff can be dead on...and sometimes, sick beyond belief. I remember reading "The Cellar" and being appalled at the excessive violence. It wasn't just the violence though, it was the sexuality of the violence. And not in a bdsm way, more like a....nevermind.

SQT and Will, I agree. It's one reason I don't usually have buckets of blood and intestines scattered through my writing. However, when done right, gore is a powerful weapon.

Charles Gramlich said...

Hum, violence and sex? I'm intrigued. I've read a couple by Laymon and haven't been overly impressed, I'm afraid.

Lisa said...

Hi! This is OT. But can you tell me the name of your story in the Tales Out of Miskatonic University book? Thanx much!

x_X_xThe Black Rabbitx_X_x said...

ZOMBIE ZOMBIE ZOMBIE!

That's all I have to say..


AND ...

Are we ever going to finish the Zombie pix?

Sidney said...

I have liked some Laymon and own a few more I need to read, but I haven't read that one. I'm with Mark, October sounds like a good one to try.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Lisa, I guess I can mention the fact that I'll be appearing in the Tales of Miskatonic. The story? It's called "The Pillars of Canaan". At least I think that's the name. We changed it from another title that was a bit ... boring.

Chuck, I am not a Laymon defender. As I said, he can tell stories, but his writing too often falls short.

Sid, I guess what I liked about the book was how different it was.

Christina said...

Great makeup! lol.

I'm really gearing up for some fun now.

Stewart Sternberg said...

What make up Christine? Thank God for GIMP.

L.A. Mitchell said...

Stewart,
If I have a nightmare about Howard Hesseman tonight, I'm coming after you.

Avery DeBow said...

Now, when we mention pointless violence and sex why does it always has to be with a negative spin? A little pointless physicality never hurt anyone--well, except for the violence part. That might hurt someone a little.

Rick said...

First, Stewart, I love your picture. That is so you.

Second, this was a wonderful book review and I hope you do more of them.

Third, I wish Halloween lasted a little longer so it wouldn't be over so quick.