If you haunt any sort of literary sites on the internet then you probably know Meli. Her unbridled enthusiasm regarding genre fiction is unmatched! She inspires me to read more and more and more! I am ecstatic to have her share her first real "Laymon experience" with us here at Grade Z Horror. After you read her wonderful review, head on over to Destroy The Brain and bask in her awesomeness!
In The Dark
Headline Book Publishing (1994)
I am probably the newest fan of Richard Laymon among the contributors celebrating Grade Z Horror’s Laymon Month. I am also, most likely, the least familiar with his work. In fact, it is thanks to a few of these fine writers that I decided to give Laymon a read. I logon almost daily to talk horror fiction with a group of Grim Readers by way of the Rue Morgue Mortuary (the Rue Morgue Magazine message board) and it was there that I first heard the name Laymon. Before I joined the ranks of horror fiction obsessives, my horror reading was mostly dedicated to the classics, like H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, and E.T.A. Hoffman. I was a late bloomer, but luckily Colum of Paperback Horror, Capt Murdock, Dark Mark and other board members helped me familiarize myself with contemporary horror writers and revealed an entire library of sick and twisted fiction. These members would go weeks it seemed reading nothing but Laymon and I later discovered he inspired and influenced many of my newfound favorite authors.
Unlike Jeff Strand (see April 4th guest post), I had the convenience of the internet when I finally decided to give Laymon a turn. A couple clicks and my copy of The Cellar (1980) was on its way to my front door. A simple google search and brief skim of Wikipedia informed me that this was his first novel, so of course this would be a good place to start, right? It was sick and twisted, mixing real life horrors with the unimaginable. To quote In The Dark of which I am about to review, I felt “fear, revulsion, and an unexpected surge of desire” reading The Cellar. Unfortunately, there was one scene in the book that completely pulled me out of the story and I was left underwhelmed by my first Laymon outing.
I returned to my online cohorts with strong criticisms of Laymon’s The Cellar, particularly regarding the paper thin woman he cast as his lead. Looking back, I can’t say for sure why I was so quick to write off the novel. Maybe the scene was really ridiculous enough to ruin the entire story; perhaps my head wasn’t in it; or it’s possible I had specific expectations that inhibited my enjoyment. Whatever the case may be, to the credit of Grade Z Horror’s celebratory Laymon Month and the kindness of Colum at Paperback Horror for sending me a copy of In The Dark I gave Laymon another chance. If I continue to devour Laymon’s novels with the same amount of fervor as I did In The Dark, I will always remember this as the book that sparked my obsession.
When In the dark opens, we find Jane Kerry behind the circulation desk of the library where she works just as she discovers an envelope simply marked “JANE.” Inside she finds a letter with a cryptic message to “look homeward, angel,” signed only “Master of Games” accompanied by a crisp $50 bill. Upon solving the clue, she finds another letter promising further rewards for playing the game and a $100 bill. This simple hook drives the rest of the story in an unrelenting, and often brutal, treasure hunt of horrors. Once I started I couldn’t stop. I took the book everywhere I went. Any free moment was spent reading In The Dark.
In The Dark has all the best elements of a great horror film put to print – gripping plotline, shocking twists, sweat-inducing tension, brazen nudity and sex – but has a sophisticated edge as well. The reader is equal parts participant and voyeur which allows Laymon to compel the reader to consider philosophical and moral issues. As Jane pushes her own moral boundaries the reader will wonder, how far he or she would be willing to go and for how much? As our Master of Games, or Mog as he / she is also known, continues to up the ante and Jane progresses further into these exploits you will ponder that age-old philosophical riddle. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Or in Jane’s case, if no one’s watching, is it really happening? Would it be more exciting if they were? Laymon cleverly coerces the reader into these theoretical quandaries without upsetting the flow of his fast-paced plot. I shifted naturally between being an active player – pondering what I would do in Jane’s situation – to being the spectator of this sadomasochistic game of puzzles. If no one’s watching me watching, am I really watching? Ah-ha! Clever, Laymon, very clever.
The less you know about how this sinister game unfolds, and to what extent, the better. Laymon’s novel is a successful representation of H.P. Lovecraft’s famous quote, “…the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” But Laymon doesn’t just play on his audiences’ worst fears; he also manipulates our dark sexual desires making this a phantasmagoric cocktail of fear and perversion. The reader may be shocked by their own reaction to developments in the story and, like Jane, find your terror mixed with an “unexpected surge of desire,” but, I’m sure that was Laymon’s intention.
You probably wouldn’t be reading this right now if you weren’t already a fan or at least curious, but just in case here is a fair warning: Laymon is not for the faint of heart or easily offended. His writing is often gory, graphic, and limitless in its brutality. If you are a fan of authors like Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Bryan Smith, and Jeff Strand, to name a few, Laymon is a must.
Perhaps it is premature to claim membership in the club of diehard Laymon fans with just two books under my belt, especially since I was lukewarm on the first, but I can admit with absolute certainty that In The Dark is just the beginning of my journey into the subversive world of this author. As this appreciation month proves, there is definitely no shortage of Laymon lit to keep me busy. With more than thirty novels and sixty short stories to his credit, I have plenty to whet my appetite for the strange and perverse and maybe even chew over some deep philosophical questions too!