Monday, July 7, 2008

Dog Ears #16: 361

For a while, Dog Ears #16 was going to be H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, but I was unable to even read half of the Lovecraft collection. It seemed like a natural follow-up to Screaming Mimi, as Lovecraft was discovered in pulp horror magazines like Weird Tales and only later gained literary respect.

Ah, to be able to read with 11-year-old eyes again...

I found him painfully gothic, too overblown and repetitive and not creepy enough, although he certainly had his moments of inspired gruesomeness. Maybe his work has been plundered by later-20th century masters of the supernatural like Rod Serling and Stephen King to the point where it seems retroactively trite.

From the Introduction, p.xix

At its best Lovecraft's work becomes a kind of incantation, seducing the mind into a momentary acceptance of the fantastic incidents being related. At its worst it becomes pompous and bombastic.

Too often I sided with the latter, and the book was shelved before I could even finish the titular story Cthulhu. Maybe I need to revisit the 1985 Lovecraft adaptation RE-ANIMATOR, which I remember being disgusting in all the best ways when I saw it in high school.

Title is taken from Roget's Thesaurus's numbered entry for "Killing"

Anyway, when I ditched Cthulhu I had three newly ordered Hard Case Crime paperbacks to choose from so I picked Don Westlake's 361 and dove in. 361 really hit the spot. I can't articulate why, but sometimes there's nothing like the cathartic violence in a bleak tale of revenge to make you feel a touch more alive.

I was lucky enough to meet Don Westlake (who in addition to a celebrated career as a novelist was Oscar nominated for writing THE GRIFTERS) last December at a holiday party in Ancram, NY. I was introduced and asked him a few questions about writing, mostly about the great POINT BLANK (1967) which was based on his book The Hunter (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark). Westlake recounted how the film's star Lee Marvin was in a terrible place personally during the shoot, still apparently affected by the trauma of serving as a sniper in the Marines in WWII and fighting in the Pacific. He also remarked that, as is true with most writers being adapted, he didn't have much to do with the film's production at all. He was very gracious to me and I walked away with the buzz you feel when you meet a legend.

"I bet you're a big Lee Marvin fan, aren't ya?"

Here are some choice excerpts from 361, originally published in 1962 and re-released in 2005 after being out of print for over 40 years.

p37 hang fire phrase
delay or be delayed in taking action or progressing.

p42 "I got the eye from the dresser and went into the head. I washed my face and watched myself put the eye in."
- the protag Ray loses his eye early on and has to get used to a glass eye. I don't know if his wordplay here is deliberate or not, but I got a good chuckle.

p59 "Linda, the little girl, came over and started asking stupid questions. She was like her mother, interesting until she opened her mouth."

p129-30 "To begin with, every man has to have either a home or a purpose. Do you see that? Either a place to be or something to do. Without one or the other, a man goes nuts. Or he loses his manhood, like a hobo. Or he drinks or kills himself or something else. It doesn't matter, it's just that everybody has to have one or the other."

p140-41 "Aren't you gonna help him out of the water?"
"No, I wasn't playing. I don't play."
- I love that people were saying "I don't play" 45 years ago!

p173 "William Cheever's name was fourth of four on the frosted glass panel of the door. It wasn't a law firm, it was one of those set-ups where a number of unsuccessful professional men get together to share the rent and the receptionist and the futility."

p203 "I went into the first bar I came to on Lexington Avenue, but it was lunchtime and full of bland smooth people."

BONUS DOGEARS from The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories

p9 cenotaph |ˈsenəˌtaf|
a tomblike monument to someone buried elsewhere, esp. one commemorating people who died in a war.

p16 mésalliancemāzəˈəns; ˌmāˌzalˈ n s|
a marriage with a person thought to be unsuitable or of a lower social position.

p24 (from the story Celephaïs)
"There are not many persons who know what wonders are opened to them in the stories and visions of their youth; for when as children we listen and dream, we think but half-formed thoughts, and when as men we try and remember, we are dulled and prosaic with the poison of life."

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