“I am certain only that we came to a high, dark place beneath brilliant stars and perched at the edge of a precarious precipice, so that with the slightest tumble, not to mention an intentional leap, we could have hurled ourselves off into the black sea of infinity forever.”
Well, I have to confess (I feel comfortable doing that with you, my fellow cultists, and pray that trust is not misplaced) that when I looked in my notes and saw the title of this next story that was up for review I had a brief moment of panic because I didn’t remember the first thing about it. I thought, ‘Have I gotten too far ahead in my reading that I’m beginning to not be able to recall the ones I’ve finished?’ But then I looked at my list, and no, I remembered each other one that was on the list. So, I’m afraid the first thing I have to say about this story tonight is that for me, it was not very memorable. Even when I went back and looked at it again, I have to say that not only was it not very memorable, but I wasn’t all that interested in it. So, that’s my confession to you, and you’ll have to decide for yourselves whether my feeble brain is just too addled from blasphemous texts and forgotten rites, or whether this story just doesn’t cut the mustard. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.
It’s a tough call to make, I assure you, as our author is not only a well respected and very prolific author in the field of weird fiction, but he was, from 1988 to 2007 the editor of a little magazine you may have heard about called Weird Tales. I came across the story in Black Wings of Cthulhu, Vol. 1, edited by none other than the estimable S.T. Joshi, the preeminent Lovecraft scholar, and published by Titan Books in 2012. Since then, this venerable series of Lovecraftian anthologies is up to volume six, so it’s only natural that not all stories will resonate with all readers. This one tells the tale of Joseph (who goes unnamed until the end) in the first person, who lives a somewhat tragic life and is taken on noctural journeys through time and space by a spooky “stone man whose eyes do not really glow.” You get the sense that perhaps he is really going on these weird trips, but perhaps he is not; perhaps he is just wandering around outside, silently suffering some sort of mental break from reality on account of his circumstances. His mother hints at this possibility when, after she catches him wet and cold from being outside, she asks, “Are you crazy? You’ll catch your death of cold!” But when the narrator could provide no explanation, “Mom began to talk about doctors and psychiatrists.”
The stone man takes him on trips through the blackness of night with increasingly regularity, seemingly coinciding with the progressively horrid conditions of his life. He was beaten regularly, his parents screamed at each other, his sister gained obscene amounts of weight without end. Further and further afield he is taken, but perhaps it is just further and further down into a severely depressed psyche. “If we are to achieve our place in the whirling darkness beyond the stars, he explained to me, inside my head without words, we must become nihil, nothing.” Eventually two of his family members suicide and the flying demons of his night jaunts close in. He is institutionalized, spends time with doctors for whom he doesn’t have much respect, and is finally released. He must have achieved some sort of equilibrium as he marries, has a daughter, and moves away. But the stone man and all the inhabitants of the darkness, his darkness, follow him. More tragedy strikes, and finally, the descent into madness, or to the lost plateau of Leng, is near complete.
Like I said, this one really didn’t do a whole lot for me, nor can I really recommend it with any force. It’s well written, I’ll give it that. Schweitzer knows his craft. It just left me cold in the end, and not in a particularly Lovecraftian way. (Lovecraft’s stories actually never leave me cold. I always end up feeling something: awe, wonder, fear, and so on.) Perhaps, though, that is the point of this, to be an exposition on numbness, that particular demon of depression.
I’ve never suffered from it, thank the dim star of Carcosa, but I know many who have and do, and it’s no joke. If that was Schweitzer’s goal, I’ll hand him credit where credit is due, he succeeded in writing a story about depression that left me numb, cold, and unfeeling. And I didn’t like it. Again, though, maybe that was the point. Beyond that, it’s not particularly Lovecraftian, nor is it startingly scary in any way. But it might be a good story, despite not fitting in this genre in my modest opinion. I suppose you could argue that the Lovecraftian nature of it comes in the expansive visions of the cosmos to which the narrator is exposed: “Now the stars swirl around us in a vast whirlpool, and then there are more dark dust clouds whirling, obscuring the light, and we pass through, borne by our captors, for I believe that is what they are, the ones to whom we have surrendered ourselves.” It’s beautiful, evocative imagery, but for some reason, it just doesn’t scream HPL at me. Put another way, were this story not in this book, I’d likely never associate it with Lovecraft.
That about does it for this review, but before I go, let me say this again. Depression is no joke. If you’re suffering from it, you do not have to do so alone. Reach out. Tell someone you trust. Leave a comment for me if all else fails, for heaven’s sake. There is help. If you’re thinking of harming yourself, that is not the answer. This is National Suicide Awareness Week, and so for my part, I urge you, if you’re having thoughts of suicide, call this number:
This review was composed listening to Maurice Ravel’s “Miroirs,” “Pavane pour une infante défunte,” and my personal favorite, “Gaspard de la nuit,” which is an insanity all of its own.
Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,