Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review of Freaksome Tales: Ten Hitherto Uncollected Stories of V.V. Swigferd Gloume by William Rosencrans

There is a popular expression: ‘In order to sing the blues, you need to live the blues.’  The same might perhaps be said of horror writing; in order to write it, you need to live it.  Given the mental condition of his parents, the less-than-standard aspects of his childhood development, and the altogether jaded, insular existence that resulted in him living as a grown man with two aged aunts, it is fair to say H.P. Lovecraft may qualify as one whose thoughts found dark, unintentional corners of the brain most others do not.   

One of the most famous writers of horror and weird, the manner in which his personal life leaked into his fiction would seem to have become source material of its own.  In his 2013 collection of short stories titled Freaksome Tales: Ten Hitherto Uncollected Stories of V.V. Swigferd Gloume, William Rosencrans does precisely this; examine the meta-text of Lovecraft in fictional form using classically styled tales from the genre itself.  The result a mix of entertaining stories with veiled commentary, fans of Lovecraft and horror of the early 20th century in general, should continue reading.  

Presented as a collection of stories uncovered years after the (fictional) writer V.V. Swigferd Gloume’s death, Freaksome Tales is at heart late-Victorian/Edwardian/early modern horror.  Underpinned by biographical entries, photographs, and supporting notes, the tales unearth differing aspects of early horror writing, most focusing on the idiosyncrasies of Lovecraft’s behavior and worldview through the fictional lens of Gloume.  From Anglocentrism to paranormal adventure, racism to one of a disembodied head’s revenge, the pieces included are classic yet often politicized.  

Given that Freaksome Tales is parody as much as pointed, a lightness of tone pervades the pages.  From the eccentric character names to the leaps of the supernatural (e.g. a uterus which comes alive, a Groundhog’s Day motif, hair growth gone wild, a serial killer of inhuman proportions, and others) it is obvious Rosencrans is toying with familiar tropes, showing how they can be used to differing effect.  The humor is at times subdued and others blatant, making for moments appreciated with a smile inside and others which are laugh-out-loud.  The stories as a whole may not aspire to make the strong statement The Epiphanist did, but they are fun and engaging.

And it is a varied mix.  In no particular order, there is a story about a man who summons a goblin but gets more than he planned, a Sven Hedin/Indiana Jones type adventure, a doctor’s first-hand encounter with hysteria, a paranormal trip to a barber shop, a pagan story in the vein of Hitchcock’s Psycho, a man’s campaign against vivisection gone horribly wrong, a Faustian exorcism, a health inspector’s investigation in Chinatown, all on top of an interesting appendices which seems to tie much of Gloume’s character to Lovecraft.  

In the end, Freaksome Tales should be of interest to any fan of horror fiction.  Engaging both the entertainment as well as meta-textual side of the genre, Rosencrans nicely synthesizes late-Victorian/Edwardian/early modern tales of the supernatural with sublimated commentary on one of its most famous practitioners, H.P. Lovecraft.  From the photo-shopped cover image to the overt parallels of V.V. Swigferd Gloume’s WASP-ish, xenophobic existence, a warped mind is examined, and ultimately seems to support the idea: in order to write horrors, you need to live them—or at least perceive them.  

It is worth noting: the reader need not be a fan of Lovecraft to enjoy the stories; they work well on their own, but being a fan of horror in general naturally helps.  Likewise, Rosencrans eschews the man’s style, writing in lucid prose that makes the stories far more enjoyable to read than the clunky, verbose narratives Lovecraft produced.

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