Sunday, September 16, 2007

INTO THE FIRE by Richard Laymon

What’s Richard Laymon’s secret? What is it that makes his novels unputdownable? First of all, it’s the sheer strangeness that he imbues in everyday occurrences. He can see, and make us see, the familiar through the naïve – but oh so resilient – eyes of youth. For him, every thing is new. With his characters, we’re just exploring the world for the first time, minds overflowing with heroic and erotic ideals. Even when we find out we’re living in a world of overflowing nightmares.

True, there’s much not to like in his books: the bad guys are usually fat, ugly, filthy and mean; usually they are bums or homeless people. But so are the good guys. Filthy and mean, that is. Remember, they are living the hormone fuelled years of youth. That means meanness, callousness, indifference, larger than life antics and dastardly daring dos.

It’s Laymon’s female characters that are the richest. They are at the same time Justine and Julliette, the virgin and the whore in one single beautiful body. They may be simple wish-fulfilling ideals of a middle age author living an eternal teenage. But they are the lights that attract the moth-readers to the raging fires of his books.

Richard Laymon died five years ago, too soon. His first published novel, The Cellar (1980) was a huge success. And deservedly so. The final chapter, written as an uninterrupted dialog that sheds light on what is going on, should be read in every writing class around the world. His second, The Woods Are Dark (1981) was a not less deservedly flop that almost ended his career then and there. It surely kept him away from the American radars while his reputation grew overseas. The experience was enriching. It helped him find the balance between weirdness and outright pornography. He might have written to formula, but few did it as well as he did.

Into the Fire (2006) is his latest posthumous novel. I confess I don’t really know when it was written or, if unfinished, who did the final writing. The reader who comes to it as a Laymon fan, will find here much familiar territory. Fortunately he won’t find such an abrupt change of style as in No Sanctuary (2003), clearly an unfinished draft completed by a hack, or an hopscotch of earlier writings like Amara (2005).

And, in some ways, Laymon have risen the stakes of weirdness when telling three parallel stories that will intermingle with disastrous results. He treats us to an American geography of madness and meanness, as Pamela (escaping from a mad rapist that has just killed her husband and abducted her to the desert, is saved by a strange and sinister man who drives around in a ancient school bus filled with mannequins) and Duke, Boots and Norman (three teenage hoodlums), converge into the desert ghost town of Pits, where a new breed of cannibals thrive. It is a topography populated with eccentric characters, where the victims are as guilty as the perpetrators, and where minds get twisted by fate.

And, as should be when opening a Laymon book, it oozes sex (here perhaps more openly and unashamedly than in previous novels) and eroticism intermingled with all the violence. It sometimes gets to moments of twisted surrealism, as when Pamela falls asleep having her hurt feet massaged by blonde nordic Nicki: “Her eyes snapped open. The trailer was in near darkness. Peppermint scented the air. Her feet were still being massaged, only… Only differently now. Raising her head a little. She looked down he length of her body. Nicki still knelt by the sofa. She’d removed her sweater. Holding Pamela’s feet by the ankles, she rubbed her big, soft breasts against the soles of her feet. The nipples felt like fingertips” (p.121).

It is not a novel at the same level as The Stake, Bite, Night Games or Funland, but it is pure unadulterated fun with a punch that’s Laymon’s own.

Catchphrase: “He sweated like a pig that’d learned the truth about bacon".

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