Monday, October 11, 2010

Quickly, now. There's no time to waste.

{Photos by rocketlass.}

I’ve read but one story, the first, in the new collection of Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud’s short fiction, A Life on Paper, but it’s enough to convince me that this book belongs on any October reading list. Here’s how the story, “A Citizen Speaks,” opens:
As for the blight, we call it rust for its color. In reality, whether mold or oxide, its true nature eludes us. Does it not assail stone and slag alike? Both zinc and bronze? Even woodwork corrodes here. The leprosy spares only living things: a tree will spend ten years unscathed, slowly rising over a path, but let a branch be cut, treated, painted, and varnished—that branch will be disease-ridden in a few months. So unerring is it that old men’s complexions often imitate its taint. That was how my father died: reddish, as though life had singed him.
Less than two pages later, the story is finished, having in that brief extent offered up strange and memorable images; a deep sense of loss, resignation, and weariness; and glimpses of the horror of inevitable, inexplicable decay. It’s a lesson in concision, in the way that allowing a voice to speak to the reader as if we already share a substantial amount of underlying knowledge of his world can allow a writer to cut right to the uncanny details of that world; the flat, matter-of-fact tone that results only emphasizes the strangeness of the situation being revealed. Dread edging into horror in two pages—that's an achievement.

More than anything, “A Citizen Speaks” reminds me of the old Robert Arthur–edited Alfred Hitchcock anthologies, and that sense of hope they convey when you find one in a used bookstore: the hope that on any given page you might discover a real gem of a horror story, long-forgotten, by an author who shared the same fate. Fortunately, Chateaureynaud, while little-known here, is far from forgotten, and I have a whole slim volume ahead, but the feeling persists of having been given a mysterious, unexpected gift, one that in mere minutes wiped away my pedestrian surroundings and injected the day with a quiet, slow-building influx of the uncanny.

1 comment:

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