Monday, April 25, 2011

Laymon Month: Richard Laymon's Heroines Examined by Lisa Mannetti

Opinions about Laymon's work often devolve into gripe sessions about whether or not the books are misogynistic, whether or not the characters and his heroines (especially the latter) are foolish or merely variations on stock types. Conversely, some long time fans posit that in Laymon's work the heroines encounter danger in order to grow and emerge stronger. I suppose a classic example of this plucky, resourceful type would be Slim in The Traveling Vampire Show which garnered Laymon a Bram Stoker Award.

A little research into this area and a rereading of Laymon's Into the Fire sent me into another direction, something a little more offbeat than the usual right and left hand sides of the spectrum.  

The novel itself is a wild tale that opens with its heroine, Pamela, having been abducted by a serial killer who's been fantasizing about her since his less than glorious days back in high school. He's murdered her husband and carried her off into the desert.  About to be killed, Pam is rescued by a very strange man driving a bus full of mannequins.

We're also introduced early on to a college boy named Norman who is shanghaied by an Elvis wannabe named Duke and these two 'characters,' in turn,  pick up a nymphomaniacal hitchhiker known as Boots. As a trio, none of them seem to be drop-outs from the Bonnie and Clyde school of derring-do.

Sound fantastic?

It is; but so was Voltaire's Candide, and it can be argued that Laymon's romp has much in common with both its more famous predecessor's picaresque mode and  its bildingsroman attributes. Viewed in that light, Laymon's treatment of action and motifs in Into the Fire can be seen as a kind of purposeful chaos. In which case, one would not expect to find the typical arc characters follow in more traditional--or even necessarily genre--literature. One would expect (and indeed finds) a series of adventures that increasingly head for over-the-top.

Into the Fire can also be seen squarely in that classical mode with its humor; and, its relentless eroticism could be considered derivative of milesian tales, notably the Decameron.

Dickens and Twain both wrote picaresque tales--but let's not forget Victorian sensibilities:  Sex was given a pass in books like Oliver Twist and Huckleberry Finn.

So, the next time that either/or question comes up about Laymon's characters (and heroines) you can come down on one side or another, or think about Lady Cunegonde (and yes, the name is meant to convey what it is nearly spelled like) and who knows, maybe you'll give Candide a whirl, or Moll Flanders, or The Golden Ass; or give Tom Jones a're sure to find plenty of action, outrageous plotting, and titillating sex.

Lisa Manneti is the 2008 Bram Stoker award winner for her first novel, The Gentling Box.  Her latest offering, Deathwatch, happens to be the best thing I’ve read all year.  She is a true master of the craft with a style that is both beautiful and heart-breaking.  I strongly encourage everyone give her work a try.  You will not be disappointed. You can find out more about Lisa Mannetti at her website.


  1. Hope you have an amazing day! :) Shauna from

  2. Wow, what a fantastic look at Laymon's heroins! Admittedly, I was initially put off by his work with THE CELLAR, particularly because of the female lead, but after IN THE DARK all that changed. I am glad I am able to appreciate his work and view his characters in a less dismissive light.

    Beautifully put, Lisa.

  3. Thanks, Meli...I'm glad you liked my thoughts on another possible take regarding Laymon's plots and characters!

    I appreciate your enthusiasm!



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