Feb 08, 12
Read from January 23 to February 08, 2012
This book is different from a lot of horror. I don't mean to say it is better or worse but some horror fans will like it and some will hate it.
Some stories are driven by plot or character or even mood. Ligotti's stories - in this collection at least - seems to be driven by a world-view. He focuses on different aspects of this world-view in different stories but the main character is in all of them not a person or a monster but a conception of the world which speaks through people, places, things, creatures.
Here are some examples of what I mean.
The social/interpersonal aspects of this world-view are highlighted in "Purity"
"The Clown Puppet" delves into the psychological aspects of Ligotti's world-view
"The Red Tower" is about ontology. In a very odd way it is the only story I can think of where existence itself is a character. It was an unsettling experience for me.
"Our Temporary Supervisor" is about the nature of work.
"The Bungalow House" is the most interesting of the book for me. In another of Ligotti's books - "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race" - which I have yet to finish so I may not accurately capture his thoughts here - he makes use of the idea of sublimation which he borrows from Peter Wessel Zapffe. I am probably going to oversimplify this but basically Zapffe/Ligotti believe all of humanity is running from certain basic facts of existence. In a very subtle move, one of the ways we run from this knowledge is to write about/make movies about/sing about the very facts we are trying to escape from and thereby we exert some measure of control over them - albeit in a false and dishonest way. In this story Ligotti demonstrates the paradox in a vivid fashion.
Sublimation - as Zapffe uses the term - reminds me of all the European philosophers I read in college who talk about nothingness as if you could experience it. But talking about it so quickly turns into a verbal game that just puts more distance between you and what you're talking about - or rather the nothing that you aren't talking about.
Taken as a whole, Teatro Grottesco is probably the book that comes closer than any I've read to capturing the quality of a fever dream. Some other stories and novels come close - some of Laird Barron's stories for example - but none I've read capture it as well as this collection. If you like weird, unsettling dreams you will probably enjoy this book.
I will give this warning, though. It can be an exhausting book. I wouldn't want it to be the only book I had on a long plane ride, for example. It is worth it, though.
Ligotti uses the phrase "bland malevolence" in one of the stories. This seems to be the key to understanding this book. Malevolence is so common place in Ligotti's world - if only we hand the eyes to see it - that it is the bland, the mundane, the norm. We just ignore the bland malevolence. And that is why we need to read Teatro Grottesco. We need reminders, not new knowledge.
But the knowledge is rather pointless. Talking about meaninglessness or even writing great books about it is just a dodge as the narrator of "The Bungalow House" and the narrator of "The Shadow, The Darkness" also realize - eventually.