Sunday, February 27, 2011

Three by Charles L. Grant

As threatened, I've spent the past few nights reading the remaining Charles L. Grant books I bought.  In addition to Night Visions 1, there were three more Oxrun Station novella collections, all done along the lines of the first, Nightmare Seasons.  I don't see any point in writing at length about each of the three, since they're so similar in style and structure, so I've written a paragraph or two about each one.

The Orchard:  This one is, I think, the weakest of the four novella collections.  Grant's language is as poetic as ever, and as a result the endings of three of the four pieces worked all right, but up to that point most of them had been disappointing, lacking the depth of detail and characterization that elevated Nightmare Seasons.  It doesn't help that some of the themes and narrative structures in this collection are similar to those from that one.  Each has: a novella with a series of brutal murders that could be the work of human, animal, or something in between; a novella with a group of characters mysterious trapped in one location; a novella with an elderly character who feels worn-out and useless; a novella about unrequited love.  I'm emphasizing similarities rather than differences, of course, but those similarities were enough to make me a little impatient.  (This is largely my own fault, of course, reading books written several years apart within a single week.)  Also, the linking device here feels a little forced; the titular orchard plays a tangential role in the third and fourth novellas.  The frame story also fell flat for me; the epilogue, which ought to have been moving, seemed overblown because of the weakness of the individual novellas.

And I found the final novella, "Screaming, in the Dark" particularly disappointing; it set up a character and a scenario with a lot of promise-- reporter investigates mysterious goings-on in hospital where he's recuperating-- but doesn't exploit either of them, and the ultimate direction the story takes isn't substantial enough to sustain a novella, and too similar to one of the other pieces as well.  However, I did enjoy "The Last and Dreadful Hour," which feels at first like a illogical series of spooky moments that will never come together into a proper story, but it does, and in a way that makes the randomness of what has come before all the more frightening; and I have a soft spot for "My Mary's Asleep" because it's a story about unrequited love.  But overall, I wouldn't recommend starting your Charles L. Grant reading here.

Dialing the Wind: This one was much stronger.  I wasn't sure about the first, title novella, which again felt too familiar (mysterious deaths, lovelessness), but again, it had a strong ending, and the rest of the collection was strong.  My favorite was "As We Promise, Side by Side," another trapped-characters novella, but one that keeps its central conceit hidden to maximum effect, and offers some of Grant's finest intensity of language, with long sentences that almost dare you to stop reading until you've reached their horrifying conclusions.  I also liked "The Sweetest Kiss," about a very grim midlife crisis.  The frame story worked well, too.

The Black Carousel: A mixed bag.  The opening novella, "Penny Tunes for a Golden Lion," is too straightforward and predictable to offer much of a surprise, and the second, "Will You Be Mine?" is also predictable, albeit less so.  But the third, "Lost in Amber Light," has some excellent nightmare-carnival imagery and a great ending, and the fourth, "The Rain Is Filled with Ghosts Tonight," is one of Grant's best elderly-character stories.  Again, the framing device is unevenly used; the carousel of the title plays no meaningful role in two of the novellas.  The prologue/epilogue is the best in any of the four collections, though, perfectly capturing the awe and melancholy that characterize life in Oxrun Station.

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