Friday, October 14, 2016
"The Unnamable" (a book review post)
Now... Does anyone remember that old horror story (it was told by one of the boys in Dead Poets Society) about the person putting together the jigsaw puzzle only to have it reveal a picture of the person in question being murdered, an event which immediately happens upon completion of the puzzle? Yeah, you should just keep that in mind.
This story made me chuckle. It begins as a philosophical discussion between the narrator, who is an author, and his friend, who is a high school principal, about the author's foible of referring to things in his stories as "indescribable" or "unnamable." The principal holds that this is a "puerile device" of the author and is the reason, at least in part, that he has not become more successful. I have to imagine that Lovecraft is here reflecting upon actual comments to him as an author, because it's one of the things that has come to annoy me most about his writing, his constant retreat into saying that something is too horrifying to describe. The narrator, Randolph Carter, attempts to defend himself.
The two men are, of course, sitting on a tomb in a cemetery as they have this conversation. And, of course, something is going to go terribly wrong.
It was a clever set up. Lovecraft offers us pieces of the surroundings as he tells us about the two men talking, the dilapidated house not far away, the tombstone engulfed by a tree, the very tomb they are sitting on. Then, as Carter begins his defense about unnamable things, he relates to his friend a story, and we discover that they are in the very place where the story takes place. If you're paying attention (and, yes, I know I'm ruining this part), it will dawn on you as he tells the story to his friend, but, if not, at the end of the story, his friend says he would really like to see the house from the story. Carter replies that he can, or could have before it got too dark (because it is so dark at that point that the two men can't even see one another), because it's right over there.
And that is when things go to hell.
I liked this one a lot. That Lovecraft was willing to point out and, to a certain extent, even make fun of this failing of his as a writer, even in the midst of defending himself, is interesting to see. The story within the story becoming the setting for what happens in the story was also sufficiently subtle and interesting. I think this is possibly the most sophisticated of the stories I've read by him to date. Even if it does fall back to his favorite style of ending, which is, of course, the point.