Friday, June 28, 2019

41. The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker

Ah summer vacation, so much time to read.  I can't remember why this was on my list now (I really need to start noting where my recommendations come from) and was happy to find it at a used for a reasonable price. I was also ready to take a deep dive into an absorbing 600-page epic.

Unfortunately, this book didn't really deliver.  I was never attracted to Clive Barker, mainly because I am not a horror fan but also because the Hellraiser movies always seemed a bit simplistic and watered down for me, mall horror for the trendoids.  Horror books from the 80s also often seemed slightly pornographic where the story was just a delivery vehicle for the titillation of sex and violence.  I was however, like many of my generation, a huge Stephen King fan.  He delivered on the characters and situations and often the actual horror seemed secondary to the story.  I was hoping to have a similar experience here.

The story starts out promisingly with a middle-aged loser guy, Roland Jaffe, stuck in a job in the dead letter office in Omaha Nebraska.  His dick boss forces him to go through all the lost mail and pull out anything of value.  At first, he is resistant but since he had been fired from so many jobs, he does what he is told.  After a while, though, he starts to discover a hidden communication, a world of people grasping for some other world.  By being in the center of the postal world, he is able to glean through scraps of people with hints of it that there is some other power out there.  He even starts to accrue some of this power to himself and when his corrupt boss, stupid but cunning, begins to suspect something, he kills him, burns the building down and starts on a journey to find this Art, as he calls it.

A lot happens in the beginning part of the book, so much that it felt rushed. Jaffe ends up a powerful near-spirit in battle with his nemesis, both trapped in the caverns at the bottom of a small town in Simi Valley.  Here is where most of the rest of the book takes place.  Unfortunately, the storyline keeps going, with more characters and more foundation being laid for the ultimate battle.  Normally, I would welcome a continuing storyline, but it becomes hard to tell what the story is and who are the main players.  Characters that seem central to the mythology disappear and others that have no real background suddenly become prominent.  The revelation of the background cosmology also feels sort of arbitrary and never grabbed me.  It's shame because the portrayal of the town is excellent and he really captures that cheap pseudo-Christian bourgeois morality of the 80s.  Nothing solid is made of it and by the end I was just sort of reading to get through it. Finally, the use of the word cunt felt excessive and arbitrary (or just put there to be titillating; what 16-year old girl refers to her own "cunt"?)

 I am not sure why this book is so loved that it deserved a big reprint.  It's not badly written and there were some freaky ideas and cool moments, but as a whole it just didn't hold together and I certainly wasn't satisfied.  My wife tells me she liked Weaveworld a lot better, so maybe I'll give that a try but so far my opinion on Clive Barker remains skeptical.


Will Errickson said...

The best Barker will always be The Books of Blood, six volumes of his stunning horror stories. His novels vary widely but his short fiction is excellent: his weaknesses are in shorter supply while his strengths--prose, conception, originality--are displayed more brightly.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Ah very good to know. I am not a big short story reader, but will check out at least one of these if they stumble into my path. Thanks!