The Cleft and Other Odd Tales
(St Martin's Press, $23.95, 333 pages, hardcover, November 1998.)
Gahan Wilson? Isn't he the guy who Still Weird and Even
Weirder. Nevertheless, his peculiar vision--an unholy hybrid of
the already macabre Charles Addams and Edward Gorey, with a dash a James
those weird cartoons? Well, yes. Examples of Gahan Wilson's delightfully
fiendish visual imagination are collected in two (unfortunately cheaply
produced) collections from Forge Books,
His new book, The Cleft and Other Odd Tales, is a horse of a
different colour: a collection of twenty-four stories covering his entire
writing career, from a couple of 1962 stories initially published in
Playboy ("Phyllis" and "The Book") to the title story, new to
this volume. There's a bonus treat for fans of his cartoon work: each
story is graced with a new full-page illustration. These illustrations
set the right mood, announcing the off-kilter macabre humour that lurks
within the prose, waiting to pounce on the reader.
Although wit and humour abound throughout this wonderful collection
of stories, the reader shouldn't expect the laugh out-loud antics of
Groucho Marx, Terry Pratchett, or Tom Sharpe. The humour has a rather
insidious quality, tickling the intellect more than the funny bone.
Mr. Wilson's stories are funny in the same bizarre vein as the comics
of Rick Geary, a cartoonist who obviously shares much of Gahan Wilson's
Actually, these stories have a strong visual impact, virtually begging
to be adapted into comics. I can think of no better artist for the task
than the aforementioned Rick Geary, whose ongoing series of books falling
under the banner A Treasury of Victorian Murder amply demonstrate
his qualifications for such an undertaking. An unlikely event, but one
can always dream....
Do not let the mention of humour mislead you. Gahan Wilson's tales
are filled to the brim with murders and murderous intentions, monsters
human and supernatural, despair and suicidal desires, and all the creepy,
eerie stuff nightmares are made of.
These short stories are written with great love for the form and with
an obvious knowledge of its history. The author is writing for his own
pleasure, revelling in the world of his imagination fed and fuelled
by a wealth of literature. The ghosts of Edgar Allen Poe, James Thurber,
H.P. Lovecraft, Sax Rohmer, Oscar Wilde, P.G. Wodehouse and, doubtless,
many others pleasantly haunt these tales. The prose is impeccably precise,
and often reminds me of Thurber's fancier flights of fiction. Actually,
much of this book reads as if Thurber had decided to rewrite Poe in
the hope of submitting the results to the pulp home of H.P. Lovecraft,
Weird Tales. It's all deliciously scrumptious--and oblique.
The author does not explain what he's up to in these stories, leaving
much room for the reader's imagination. The more the reader shares the
author's love for the history of fiction, especially lurid fiction,
the more pleasure is to be squeezed out of each tale--although this
is not an essential prerequisite. The prose is delightful and the imagination
intriguing enough to please any curious reader.
Gahan Wilson is a publishing Renaissance man: cartoonist; novelist
(Everybody's Favorite Duck); book illustrator (Roger Zelazny's
A Night in the Lonesome October); editor of several anthologies
of fantasy, horror, and crime fiction; and an excellent writer of short
fiction, to which The Cleft and Other Odd Tales proudly attests.
A glance at the copyright page reveals that in the '90s, his output
has increased. Hopefully, that means we won't have to wait thirty-six
years for his next collection of fiction.
Originally published, in slightly different form, in The Gazette,
Saturday 31 Oct 1998.
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